Burning up vs. Blowing up

sidewalk artSaw this on a W. North Avenue sidewalk in Chicago recently. The caption reads “falling for you.”

They say “tragedy plus time equals comedy…” so exactly how long will it be before 9-11 humor makes its way to the mainstream? I tried to work this out by recalling the first time I heard a Pearl Harbor joke… and realized that I’ve never heard a Pearl Harbor joke. Nor a Hindenburg joke. You’d think the burning of a Nazi airship would be fair game after 69 years.

On the other hand, I remember when I heard the first Challenger joke following the loss of that space shuttle in 1986. It went like this: “What color were Christa McAuliffe’s eyes? Answer: Blue. One blew this way, the other blew that way…”

Tasteless, I know, but stay with me. What inspires people to tell jokes about one tragedy but not another? An obvious answer is the number of people who die. But look at the numbers:

Hindenburg: 36
Pearl Harbor: 2,403
Challenger: 7
9-11: 2,973 (not including hijackers)

So, are we to believe the cutoff falls somewhere between 7 and 36? I’m not buying that. I think the difference lies in the type of disaster.

Wile E. CoyoteTaking a clue from the above joke, here’s a hypothesis:

Blowing up = funny.
Burning up = not funny.

As proof, I offer Wile E. Coyote. As many times as you’ve seen him blow up, have you ever seen him on fire? No. No, you haven’t.

I’m glad we’ve gotten to the bottom of this issue. Thanks for your input.

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