Each month in the Premium edition (only), I run a Tagline Challenge, where I include an extra story without my usual “tagline” and let readers suggest how they think the story should end. This month the Challenge was indeed a challenge.
I introduced it last week by noting that I sometimes use the taglines as a forum to express disgust or outrage about a story, or at least note an opinion or irony — my tags aren’t always meant to be humorous. I noted that this month’s Tagline Challenge story is a platform for just such outrage. Exactly 99 entries came in — plus one disagreement, from Michael in Connecticut:
I never thought I’d be writing this sort of thing but there’s a line out there, and I fear you’ve crossed it with the, shall we say, appropriateness of [the story of] three dead young people in a stupid car collision (not really an ‘accident,’ was it?). I buried a son a few years ago following a much less explicable car accident. Let me suggest that you’ve not buried a child nor do you know intimately anyone who has. Otherwise I think you’d have given that story a pass entirely.
My “Harsh” Reply First: Please don’t ever assume you know what my experience is; I’ve seen far more tragedy up close than anyone should ever have to see. Have you ever had to do CPR on a 7-year-old child? I have — and he didn’t make it. (He was not, however, my child.)
My other, more empathetic response is: I’m very sorry you had to go through that, Michael, and I’m sorry the story brought your memory to the fore. (Though I know you probably think about your son just about every day.)
I do believe, however, it is vitally important to tell these sorts of stories, even though I’m quite sure you’re not the only reader, even on the Premium distribution, who has lost a child.
People need to know about the pain their actions cause not just to themselves, but to the people that are left behind, and the families of the victims they take with them. If a touch of humor helps people talk about it, fine. Because you know that many, many parents who get True used the story as an opportunity to bring up the subject of being responsible drivers to their teens, and you know most of those teens think the kid’s excuse is beyond lame. If that helps them slow down and be more careful with their friends’ lives, then I did my job very well!
So enough intro, here’s the story:
Joseph S. Fitzgerald, 16, of Omaha, Neb., had his driver’s license for three days and was driving his Toyota Solara with four teen friends when “everyone” decided they should imitate a commercial for the car. In the commercial, the speeding car jumps over a bridge. Instead, Fitzgerald, who investigators say was driving “at least” 90 mph, went out of control when the car got airborne and crashed into a tree. Brian Brooks, 14, Bryan Riggs, 15, and KJ Robinson, 17, were killed. Fitzgerald and Tony Wakefield, 15, were injured. Fitzgerald says he’s “upset” about his friends’ deaths, but he shouldn’t be to blame. “It’s not really my fault,” he says. “Anybody can drive off the road and hit a tree.” He has been charged with three counts of felony motor-vehicle homicide, but as a juvenile the harshest sentence he can receive is juvenile detention until his 19th birthday. (Omaha World-Herald) …
Readers Respond with their Tagline Suggestions
As noted, there were 99 entries — readers rising to the challenge of producing an ending for this tragic story and, as expected, most were “ironic” or “angry.” But a few adventurous souls even went for humor.
The most common entries had to do with “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” — and suggestions that the case would surely show up in my other publication, the True Stella Awards (which features ridiculous-but-true lawsuits). They were all disqualified for “obviousness.” The best of the rest fell into several broad categories:
- The “ironic” entries include Deb in New Zealand: “…Which will be a small birthday party.” Rich in Virginia: “…Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on a juvenile. Maybe the judge could offer him the choice of rotating house arrest at the Brooks, Riggs and Robinson residences instead?” Craig in Minnesota: “…With ‘Jackass’ canceled, idiots now have to look to commercials for inspiration.” Mark in Queensland, Australia: “…One friend killed for each day you were licensed: one hell of a driving record.” And Clark in Arkansas: “…Tony Wakefield is extremely glad Joe didn’t have that license for FOUR days.”
- The “angry” entries start with Liam in Massachusetts: “…As opposed to his friends, who received ‘life’ sentences.” Andy in California: “…More fitting: juvenile detention until his three friends celebrate their 19th birthdays.” Marcus in Texas: “…Yeah, anybody can drive off the road and hit a tree, but it takes a really special moron to be talked into doing it.” Mark in Washington: “…In today’s society, the harshest sentence is, ‘It REALLY IS your fault.'” Ethan in Utah: “…American-style consistency: Adult privilege, adult decision, juvenile punishment.”
- There were two alliterations. From Loreina in California: “…Peabrained pubescent potentially politically proficient, primarily predicted by prolific parallels to presidential practices and paltry penalties produced.” And Dave in Japan: “…Dumb driver denies deaths, purports peer pressure persuaded proceeding, shakes stiff sentence.”
- In the “darkly humorous” category, Clifton in Arizona offers “…You know what? He’s right. Any idiot COULD do what he did.” Sadie in California: “…If ‘anybody’ can drive off the road and hit a tree, why can’t ‘anybody’ be tried as an adult?” Paul in California paraphrases a line by a comedian (though a Google search attributes it to so many different people I don’t know who said it first): “…He later said, ‘I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like the friends in my car.'” Barry in Virginia: “…Caution: objects in mirror may be more stupid than they appear.”
I choose winners by selecting the one that’s most like what I would write. This month that’s Ruth in Pennsylvania: “…What to do after he turns 19? Well, he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.”
But Henry in Connecticut adds more discussion:
I don’t have a tagline to submit for the Challenge, but I do have a mini-rant. When I saw the statements ‘It’s not really my fault’ and ‘anybody can drive off the road and hit a tree’, it made me wonder: wouldn’t if be interesting to try to devise an additional component to a driver’s test? Various situations like the one above would be described. Three or four possible logical statements would then be made about the scenarios, such as ‘A) He is not responsible. Anyone can drive off the road and hit a tree. B) He is responsible. He shouldn’t have driven that fast. C) He is not responsible until the possibility of a mechanical fault in the car is eliminated. D) He is responsible. Fully and completely. No questions, no excuses.’ If they fail the bank of questions they don’t even bother taking the rest of the test until they get some counseling.
Reexamining the idea that we can’t teach people how to think logically might help society in all kinds of ways, from understanding the sham arguments of politicians to deciphering the silly claims made by advertisers to helping to curb poor drivers. And, I guess, that’s an underlying principal behind this publication, huh?
Yep. You hit it right on the head, Henry.
I look forward to the Comments on this one. They’re open below.
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