Shock Horror: Folklore of Disaster 9


SHOCK HORROR: The Folklore of Disaster


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© Warren Fahey

[page 9]

The following, showing the effect of television on the development of humour, takes the form of a Jay Leno/David Letterman check list:

Top 10 Good Things about the WTC Attack

10. There are now 18 fewer Arab taxi drivers terrorizing the streets.
9. Flight training schools proved that they are expensive but worth it.
8. People are learning how to spell “Afghanistan” correctly.
7. Plenty of parking available at airports now.
6. Jerry Springer Show was off the air for a whole week.
5. Sales for U.S. flags are way up.
4. Several new job openings now at NYPD and NYFD.
3. Much lower electric bills for Manhattan.
2. Home videos of the WTC attack more spectacular than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last 5 movies.
And the number one …
1. Some great new unobstructed views of Manhattan now.

After two months of the War Against Terrorism the late-night variety television shows started to address the hysteria through humour. The humour was guarded and, at the same time, aimed at belittling the fundamentalist Muslims. One such program on the 7th December 2001 demonstrated possible fantasy Christmas presents including toys that were based on visual gags. Instead of a kid’s tent there was a cave complete with two tiny Taliban tots. Another had a series of Osama bin Laden bouncing heads that you hit with a mallet. All fairly feeble and aimed at reinforcing the American position through ridicule of the perceived enemy. 

Two email distributed items used television characters to reinforce the muscle flexing of retaliation. ‘Batman’s’ offsider Robin is seen riding under the wing of a fighter plane and the flashcard of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ asks Osama bin Laden: ‘What chance have you got of seeing Christmas?’

And in a similar vein for music lovers:

World Trade Centre Playlist

1. ACDC – I feel safe in New York City
2. Geri Haliwell – It’s raining men
3. Celine Dion – Falling into you
4. Cold Play – Don’t panic
5. Dead can dance – The fatal impact
6. Louis Armstrong – What a wonderful world
7. Monty Python – Never be rude to an Arab
8. Boomfunk Mc’s – Sky’s The Limit
9. Queen – Heaven for everyone
10. R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly
11. The Doors – Light my fire
12. Bob Segar – Fire down below
13. George Michael – Let’s go outside
14. Thin Lizzy – Massacre
15. Van Halen – Jump
16. Queen – Who wants to live forever
17. Savage Garden – Crash and burn
18. Jimi Hendrix – Fire
19. Thin Lizzy – Suicide
20. Shania Twain – That Don`t Impress Me Much

Islamic fundamentalists’ edition also includes:
REM – first we take Manhattan

Music, being an internationally recognised cultural expression, produced more than its share of PhotoShop jokes including the expected parody of the heavy metal band Anthrax. There was also a series of posters modelled on the current live festival circuit using the same type and design as events like Gatecrasher, Ministry of Sound and Vibes on a Summer’s Day. I suspect these are an Australian contribution because of their relationship with Australian music events. One has bin Laden as a rapper asking “Is it ‘cos I am Taliban?”

And the following line, a joke in a weak disguise, will be familiar to anyone who has watched the peculiar quiz show ‘The Weakest Link’:

Floor 106 – –

               —  you ARE the weakest link — goodbye.

Mention should also be made of the role of the mobile telephone in distributing folklore and jokes in particular. This is obviously a new technology however as it is about to enter phase three it will no doubt become very important as we continue to text ourselves silly. I have already tracked several jokes that appear to be exclusively disseminated by text message and at least two concerning the recent terrorist attacks. Oddly enough neither joke appeared to have email circulation and considering they both used strong language one needs to consider the private role of the mobile screen compared to the more public office screen. There are also many examples of cartoon illustration text jokes that currently receive wide circulation and a detailed study needs to be made on the folklore associated with this technology.

There were also some jokes that although they appeared to be spoken jokes were predominately spread via the Internet.

The FBI has arrested the head of advertising at the Empire State Building for involvement in the WTC disaster. A spokesman said he was caught with ‘Empire State: We’re Back!’ T-shirts in his office…

A man walks into a hotel bar and sees George Bush and Colin Powell having a drink.
He decides to ask them what they’re talking about.
“Well,” says Bush, “we’re discussing world war three.”
“Really, what’s going to happen?” asks the man.
And Bush says, “Well, we’re going to kill 100 million Afghans and a television journalist”
“A television journalist!” the obviously shocked man exclaimed.
And Bush turns to Powell and says “See, I told you no one would care about 100 Afghans.”

The Americans should enlist the support of Reader’s Digest to track down bin Laden.
I have travelled to eight different countries in the past five years, lived in three different countries and since moving to Australia three years ago I have moved house and home three times and Reader’s Digest still manages to find us.

 So-called ‘sick jokes’ are another thing again. These are intended to solicit a shock response of revulsion from the listener. Like many areas of humour jokes come in waves and there was a time when ‘sick jokes’ were extremely popular (circa 1960s). This was also around the same time as ‘Mommy, Mommy’ and ‘Elephant’ jokes and in many ways a preferred joke genre for children who wanted to shock their elders. In the case of disasters it obviously trivialises a taboo subject which normally would not be addressed in humour. The shock approach allows us to address the taboo although the teller and the listener both express feigned horror at the joke itself.  

Q: What was good about the crash of the WTC?
A: It really proved New York comes together in a crunch!

Q: Why has the World Trade Center restaurant three seating areas?
A: smoking, non-smoking and burned beyond recognition.

Q: Why are police and firemen New York’s finest?
A: Because now you can run them through a sieve.


Q: Why don’t they need any more volunteers at the WTC?

A: They have already found 5000 extra pairs of hands.

Q: Why didn’t Superman stop the planes from hitting the Trade Towers?
A: Because he’s a quadriplegic!