Not Funny: The Rules of Humor Changed on Sept. 11

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2001; 9:38 AM

The time, for all those keeping score, was 5 days 2 hours 8 minutes and 1 second. That was the hiatus between the arrival of the first plane at the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and the arrival of the first known attempt at Internet humor on the subject.

I stress "attempt." It was feeble, and mercifully off-point: Just a list of anagrams of the name Osama bin Laden. ("Is a banal demon." "I am a bland nose." "No! A mad lesbian." "Animals on a bed.") For the anonymous individual who scattershotted this item across a bleeding America, it seemed almost a hiccup, some impulse that simply had to come out. He or she -- I'm guessing he -- was uncomfortable enough about it to have appended a verse that he may or may not have known was by Melville, written in grief and anger after Lincoln's assassination:

There is sobbing of the strong

And a pall upon the land

But the people in their weeping

Bare the iron hand.

Beware the people weeping

When they bare the iron hand.

So, no, the e-mail doesn't really qualify as humor.

And even it was five days in the making. For gallows humor, five days is an eternity; hours after the Challenger explosion, phones were crackling with bad jokes.

No, we don't need sick humor, not now or ever. The problem is, we are finding no humor, anywhere.

When will we be able to laugh again?


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