Fuck That Gator! BuzzFeed Article: Part 2 on American Culture

So, the title is out in the open. I don’t feel too embarrassed. If our president can choose salty language with which to utter his thoughts, I, too, can get crusty. If you have read the article, you have found “it’s complicated”. What seems obvious at first glance becomes something else the more you are informed. Thank heavens. If you haven’t read the article and are intrigued enough to invest more time, click on the above link and dive in. My own take after reading the article is that Tommie is an example of what is wrong with many citizens in America: they are too independent of the group, too lax in their appreciation for community expectations and their actions impact us and their own welfares on so many levels. Though, of all the things described in the article, his voting record and interest in politics were not covered. I suspect he is not part of the electorate. That is a good thing, actually. Would you agree?

I read the article with my own biases, but wanted to evaluate it based on it being considered for a prize in journalism. Where does it merit this accolade and what is the point of the article? First of all, it must inform. Does it need to entertain us? Should it tell us what to think about the collected information contained therein? Does it answer in the affirmative to any of these questions? If yes, it is diminished as a journalistic example of news.

So, what does it do? It tells you that a young man, drunk (how drunk? unknown. No test was administered to the corpse), comes out of a bar shortly after 2 AM. He is known at the bar and they have his welfare in mind. He decides, along with his female companion, to jump in the adjoining bayou to swim. The barmaid, who knows there have been alligators recently seen in the vicinity (because of that the owner has posted no swimming signs explicitly mentioning alligators), warns him off and pleads with him to desist. To no avail, though. Soon after jumping in he is attacked and his companion is nearby. She seeks help, 911 is called and help arrives in minutes, followed by Game Wardens, also notified in the process. He is not found immediately. It is claimed that the last thing he said to the barmaid, warning him of the danger and of alligators…..”Fuck That Gator!. (It could be argued that this is where editorializing took place…should there be an exclamation point?) There are competing ideas about this version from his family.

The lead for the article is, Tommie Woodward yelled, “Fuck that gator!” just before he was killed by one in Texas, and his death instantly became a national joke. For his family, grieving means having to rescue the person from the punchline. Okay, his death was a national joke. He was in Texas. His family wanted the public to know more than this about Tommie. But, what else follows? The character description of Tommie in the second paragraph paints him as a bit bullheaded, but others in the area had even swum with alligators in the bayou, which mitigated the threat to some degree, apparently, in Tommie or the author’s minds. We find out later in the article, though, there was real danger lurking that night in the bayou’s waters. The bartender, after trying to dissuade Tommie, went back to her duties. Our first impression of Tommie is that he is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and he would have earned any he received. He was warned. But….

According to the next paragraph, the female companion immediately saw the gator and warned Tommie, who yelled his tombstone epitaph for all in earshot to hear. Turns out not too many heard as you read further. Did he? The companion, once he was attacked, ventured in and was told not to, after which she went inside for help. The barmaid came out with a flashlight and found Tommie after some few minutes, but he was pulled down and eventually disappeared in this first part of the incident. He was not found until two hours later. What do we, should we, think about Tommie at this time?

The next paragraph tells us this is the first death in Texas by alligator since 1836, but, more ironically and with some interesting wording (are we being entertained), the reference to the unfortunate contrast between the two deaths in that one occurred prior to television and social media on the internet. Because a lot of people took issue with Tommie’s character, his family, especially his sister, wanted everyone to know he was a person who was talented, enthusiastic, loved his nephew, worked hard and played hard in the outdoors. She said, “I was severely pissed off at a lot of people that I’ve never met before,” his sister” “I was mad at everybody.” We can all get behind her feelings after reading something on the internet, especially if it was disparaging your baby brother.

The next paragraph is a short one: But no one was affected like Brian was.

brianThe article immediately shifts from present tense to the description of the past tense when the author met Tommie’s twin brother, Brian.

The following many paragraphs that describe Brian are important. They describe his work ethic, what he thinks about wealth, employment opportunities and pay, what his skills at work are, his thoughts on rules, how much he drinks and what he can eat. He loves his mom. Is this informative? Important? What do you think so far…are you changing your original judgment? Also, how many beers are in a case? I found this a problematic question, but there is a near consensus on the number.

After the characterization of Brian is complete, the article returns to Tommie’s death and the official responses by the First Responders. It is here that the article gives the reader a more complete representation of what actually happened, the competing versions, the libertarian/mavericks who became involved, the legal ramifications and explanations for why the gator was dangerous at this particular time and who ended up killing the culprit that had drowned Tommie.

Once all of the information is provided, we, the more reasonable, find that the public reactions were too hasty, the legal response to the alligator’s killer reasoned and that, with full knowledge by all involved, even the deceased Tommie, there would be a very different version of this story.

My opinion is that this article, written by a trained individual who is at the top of his craft, demonstrates that society is best left to the experts and that we should seek to know the full story before we pop off. If we all did that outcomes would be best for the individual using the information and best for all of us….for damned sure. Bring on November’s election options for 2018, please.

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