Roger Ebert Vilified for Saying What Everyone Else Was Thinking

Roger Ebert's tweet Ryan Dunn
This Roger Ebert tweet has gone viral!
Roger Ebert can't catch a break after he made a very iffy joke yesterday on Twitter about Jackass star Ryan Dunn's death being caused by drinking and driving, which is still, despite growing evidence, unconfirmed. Facebook even temporarily removed Ebert's page today, which Ebert claims was surely due to being reported by several Jackass fans.

I have to admit that my own thought process yesterday wasn't far from Ebert's. Let's face it. The Jackass fellows aren't exactly known for using safety precautions and good judgment, so when I heard a Jackass star had died, I immediately assumed the accident must have occurred during a stupid Jackass-style stunt. Then, once I heard it was a car accident and that Dunn had tweeted a drinking photo from a bar just hours earlier, I admit, I thought about writing a headline along the lines of Ebert's too-true-to-be-funny joke: "Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive." It's cruel, yes, but the truth often is.


Of course, there's a big difference between going through this natural thought process that we all know is steeped in stereotypes and assumptions and gossip-mongering and taking pause before deciding what to do with those thoughts -- and doing what Roger Ebert did with his. He, maybe even impulsively, wrote his witty but thoughtless remark online for the world to see within hours of the news of a man's death -- in a very real case of "just because you think of a witty tweet doesn't mean you have to tweet it." Of course, Ebert has every right to do so, but he can't be shocked that it struck a nerve with friends and fans of Dunn.

Roger Ebert also had to know that putting a humorous spin on his commentary was going to open him up to criticism. He is simply too smart to think otherwise. If you want to use humor to mess with the bull of truth during tough times, then you're bound to get the horns.

Sure, there is a part of me that understands where Roger Ebert was coming from. Drinking and driving is serious frickin' business. I get it. Lives were lost in this case, possibly due to this dangerous combination. Innocent lives may have been put at risk as well. However, if we call Dunn out now for drinking and driving, isn't our message getting lost? Because Ryan Dunn, who may or may not have been driving while drunk, died. He isn't getting the message. He's dead.

So who is this message for? The family, friends, and fans who are in deep turmoil over his death? Or for all Ebert's readers who may partake in drinking and driving? Is this sarcastic, holier-than-thou tweet really going to stop them? Is this really a message written to help people? Because it is my opinion that Ebert chose to go for the dark laugh, in this case, not to get an important message out to anyone. I have made this same mistake myself in writing for this blog.

So what now? Is there ever a good time to talk about this? As a society, do we need to talk about the devastating consequences of drinking and driving if it turns out alcohol was a factor in this violent accident that sent Dunn and his friend Zachary Hartwell sailing off the road and 40 yards through the trees before killing them either on impact or when Dunn's Porsche burst into flames? Of course, we do.

However, we need to do so with some respect for Dunn's loved ones. And if we simply must make jokes at Dunn's expense, we have to be willing to take the pain-driven backlash from those who loved him and will never ever find his death funny. And honestly, drinking and driving might be a case that just doesn't have any room for humor, as people die every day as a consequence. Maybe it's time to realize that some things can never really be funny.

Is Roger Ebert totally brave to say what was on everyone else's mind or a total heartless jerk? Should he have used a different approach?


Image via Twitter

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