In the early morning hours of June 20, 2011, news broke that “Jackass” star Ryan Dunn had died in a horrifying car accident, losing control of his Porsche at 110 miles per hour, flying 40 feet through the trees before crashing and bursting into flames. They were only able to identify him by his tattoos. He was 34.
There was an outpouring of mourning and support from fans to Dunn’s friends and family almost immediately after the news broke. A few hours after the initial reports, Roger Ebert tweeted the above tweet about the incident, which lead to a near instantaneous reaction from the Twittersphere. Many claimed the tweet was insensitive and ill-timed, a claim that I agree with, to an extent.
In the case of a death of anyone, people who are mourning are often looking for answers and support. I know from the moment I heard the news, I went into “Celebrity Death Obsession Mode,” reading articles and reactions anywhere I could find them. I’m sure the people closest to him were doing the exact same thing. So when something like what Ebert tweeted shows up, friends and family aren’t going to take too kindly to it, a reaction that was personified by Bam Margera, Dunn’s closest friend. In a two-part tweet, Bam said:
I just lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterically for a full day and piece of sh__ roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents [a]bout a jackass drunk driving and his is one, f__k you! Millions of people are crying right now, shut your fat f__king mouth!
The pure sadness and anger that is evident in Bam’s tweets show just how much friends and family were hurting, and with the news so fresh to everyone, trying to impose moral lessons is completely inappropriate. Allow the grieving process to begin first, and then feel free to play Aesop.
Ebert has since defended his tweet, saying that he didn’t mean to call Dunn a “jackass,” but instead was using “Twitter shorthand” to “[refer] to his association with ‘Jackass.’” But all he was doing with his explanation is exacerbate the problem. By saying “this is why I did this” and not apologizing and admitting that, perhaps, he was a bit rash in the tweet, he is only adding fuel to the flames.
The people don’t want an explanation. They want solace.
All day yesterday, I was wondering why the tweet bothered me, and someone pointed it out in the comments of the Ebert post from today:
You’re full of it Roger. If you had been referring to the show Jackass you would have capitalized the J. You spoke from a place of cynicism and hate in a time when a lot of people were looking for answers and support.
That’s exactly it. If the tweet had read, “Friends don’t let Jackasses drink and drive,” the reference to the franchise would have been more obvious.
I believe Roger Ebert is a smart man. He’s a writer, a person who knows how to use words to their maximum impact, and a simple capitalization error–whether it’s really an error or not–caused an enormous uproar. It would be akin to, if someone broke into Ebert’s house and murdered him, someone tweeting, “Two thumbs down for Roger Ebert’s home security system.” It’s tasteless.
If the original tweet had included a positive, specific reference to Ryan Dunn, such as, “Friends don’t let Jackasses drink and drive. Rest in peace, Ryan Dunn,” it would have lessened the blow while still getting the point across. But in the immediate aftermath of such devastating news, maybe it’s not the time to be making a point.
Despite all of this, Ryan Dunn was one of my favorite Jackasses. His humor and love for life will live on with everyone he has encountered, and as far as celebrity deaths go, bursting into flame in his Porsche could not have been a better fit.
The world will miss you, Dunn. “Jackass” will never be the same.