You can drive a jackass to death, but don't let him drink

Film critic Roger Ebert got blasted recently when he tweeted that the friends of "Jackass" movie star Ryan Dunn should not have let him drink and drive. Dunn died when he slammed his car into a bank of trees at a speed in excess of 130 miles. Earlier that evening, he had consumed 11 alcoholic beverages. A toxicology reported showed that his blood alcohol level was 0.196% — more than twice the state's legal limit of 0.08%.

Notwithstanding these facts, Dunn's friend and fellow "Jackass" performer Bam Margera responded to Ebert's comment by tweeting back, "Fuck you! Millions of people are crying right now, shut your fat fucking mouth."

I'm sure Margera is genuinely grieving, but his attack on Ebert and other comments that Margera has made since Dunn's death suggest to me that he was part of the reason for this tragic accident. It is obvious, both from the circumstances on the night Dunn died and from Margera's subsequent statements, that Dunn and Margera were part of a social circle which glorifies drinking and at least tolerated Dunn's habit of speeding and dangerous driving.

The accident that killed Dunn was not in fact his first automobile accident. In 1995, Bam Margera was one of the passengers when Dunn lost control of a vehicle, which "flipped 8½ times" into incoming traffic and caused multiple injuries. The accident that killed him is not his first time driving drunk either. Dunn was pulled over in 2005 with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.16% and had to undergo safe driving classes and substance abuse counseling to avoid jail time — counseling that he evidently disregarded.

As for Bam Margera, he has a history himself of alcohol, drug abuse and dangerous driving. In July 2009, he was taken from his home to the hospital by paramedics and state troopers following a four-day drinking binge. Margera's comment on the incident? He blamed his wife for driving him to drink, declaring, "I may get a divorce ... booze helps." YouTube actually has an assortment of videos that show Margera falling down drunk and getting into fights at bars. And check out this video, which captures Margera in the driver's seat (with Dunn in the passenger's seat) snickering at a state trooper after being pulled over for what the officer describes as "speeding, reckless endangerment, careless driving, and passing people on the shoulder of the interstate."

You might expect that Margera would learn something from the death of his friend, but so far it doesn't seem that he has. In an interview a week after the accident, Margera — obviously impaired and slurring his words — downplayed alcohol as a cause for the crash. "That doesn't really matter at all," he said. "Like, it really doesn't. First of all, I'll say it about myself. It takes me three beers to feel normal. For real. So like if he  drinks three beers and like three girly shots, like, whatever. It has nothing to do with that."

These comments are a classic example of an alcoholic using his own substance abuse as a yardstick by which to declare his friend's behavior normal. Margera thinks that because he himself needs to have several beers to "feel normal," somehow this negates the effect that drinking would have on Dunn's reflexes and judgment. In fact, heavy drinkers do develop some tolerance for alcohol, but they typically compensate for that tolerance by simply drinking more, which is what Dunn did on the night of his death. The number of drinks he consumed and the amount of alcohol in his blood would have significantly impaired even a heavy drinker.

Even when Margera managed last week to admit that people should not drink and drive, he contradicted himself. "I would never drink and drive from now on," he told a radio show. "I might have a beer or two or whatever, but I would never officially drink and drive." Evidently Margera believes there is an "unofficial" way to behave which still involves drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel.

This whole sad incident reminds me of the dedication that science fictiion write Philip K. Dick appended to his novel, A Scanner Darkly, in which he lamented the death and suffering of friends with whom had been doing drugs during the sixties:

This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed -- run over, maimed, destroyed -- but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it. ...

Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is "Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying," but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory. ...

These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The "enemy" was their mistake in playing. Let them all play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.

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