Getting in Trouble

This page written circa 24 June, 2023.

In January 1986 the Challenger space shuttle exploded soon after launch. I remember that day the way I remember November 1963 when JFK was shot (I did not understand the significance, but I could see the adults did) and September 2001 when we were all glued to our TVs watching the progress of the twin towers terrorist disaster. However, there was a content difference in the case of the Challenger: Once the shock and technical wonder had subsided, and within hours, I mostly recall being surprised at the proliferation of "shuttle disaster jokes". There was by then electronic communication between high tech universities, and that facilitated rapid transfer of ideas.

There has always been a struggle between the need to show respect and share pain when bad things happen, and the need for some comic relief. When the world communicated mainly through printed and permanent newspapers, a tasteless, potentially disrespectful joke would invite negative responses that might stick. Neither google nor duckduckgo nor I know of any jokes around the fire bombing of Dresden, unless you count the humour in Slaughterhouse Five; it is still a matter of debate as to whether it was a war crime as well as a humanitarian disaster. In contrast, email offered (at the time of the Challenger incident) an ephemeral channel with a selective audience, much like Signal today, but with a particular, narrow audience. The atmosphere of closed communication with a like mind was more conducive to risque exchanges.

The shuttle jokes I remember are funny, although I imagine there were many whose humour was not sufficient to negate the curse of tastelessness and disrespect. Indeed there are web sites full of them still. Examples of worthy ones include:
What does NASA stand for? (Need Another Seven Astronauts)
What do astronauts drink? (Seven Up with a dash of Teachers)
Did you know Christa McAuliffe had blue eyes? (One blew this way, one blew that way)
...and for a solid bit of social commentary
Why did NASA have only one black astronaut in the Challenger crew? (They did not know it was going to blow up).
There is a literature on the genre. Freud published on "tendentious jokes". I recommend "Challenger Jokes and the Humor of Disaster" by Willie Smith, who points out that many are variations on past jokes updated for topical relevance. This is not a new event, even if the beginnings of the internet allowed it to hit me more quickly.

There is much debate in the press around jokes relevant to the recent catastrophic loss of the submersible visiting the Titanic. In this time of wild-west social media the riff-raff flood the airwaves. It is tedious to weed out the rubbish to find jokes about OceanGate's Titan submarine that might be redeemable. A main issue is that it contained only very wealthy people and the masses latch onto that as a cause for disrespectful comment more than the fact that it is a submarine or associated with the Titanic, or simply a horrific event. Amazon is removing reviews of the Logitech controller used in the submarine that contain comments such as "not recommended for use in submarines", although that is not bad at all, in my view. tells us that a TikTok with 1.4M views quips "It's crazy to think we might only have another 30 hours or so of being able to make fun of the people on the submarine," but equally someone comments "Why are we stressed about rich people lost on a joy ride in a goddamned submarine? Over 45k Americans die annually because they don't have health insurance so how about we shut the f**k up about the submarine." Reactions such as this last are common, Smith believes. There is a decent, if rather right-wing article in the Washington Post criticising the views of the mass of jokers. A Forbes article comments "...such nasty comments get 'Likes' even as just a few years ago, such jokes would have seen a professional comic booed off the stage. It also isn't just limited to jokey statements and nasty memes either. Users on social media increasingly feel the need to tear down those that they disagree with like never before."

One of the best things I have watched recently is "Fleishman is in Trouble". Mostly about interpersonal relationships, we see Toby Fleishman as his ex-wife disappears leaving him holding the kids and the can, and him coping with this, not so well. Flashbacks show her being preoccupied with business and success, and we are left feeling that this might have been a predictable outcome. Yet, by the end of the film the arc comes around and we see that the issues were not one sided, and indeed husband has contributed to the mess. I gather that the film is more balanced and hopeful than the book.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that I like disaster jokes. I am good at getting myself in trouble. Often I have spoken my mind and offended quite a bit. These days I find myself lost for words because I can think of nothing positive to say, but at least I register that honesty might not be the best policy. As the recent Eurovision song lyrics go "Got raven hair, it's dark as night, icy eyes, outta sight ... heart, in spite, is warm and bright".

Are there actually any good Titan Sub jokes? Reddit has the occasional one, but frankly the bottom has fallen out of the business.
Is it called the Titan because it's just a smaller version of the Titanic?
Like Reddit's tagline goes - "Dive into anything".

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