No Laughing Allowed

Posted on April 18, 2008, by Hanna Ingber, under Crime.

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I have been dying to discuss this. Finally, I have my own blog! So…does anyone else think it’s a little strange/anti-American that we can’t make jokes at the airport? As you go through security in American airports (at least the ones I’ve been in - i.e. ones on either coast), there are big signs telling you it’s against the law to make jokes about bombs. Such jokes have led to travelers being charged with a felony disorderly conduct and falsely making a terrorist threat.

The rule wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that what else do you do when you’re passing through airport security besides make a bomb joke? I flew last night from Los Angeles to New York for Passover with the fam, and sure enough I was at LAX airport security and couldn’t resist - despite all the rules, I had to make a bomb joke. As we were going through security, my husband, Aung Moe, left his carry-on suitcase in the line unattended as we both stepped aside to get our boarding passes stamped. I came back to the line and found a man staring at the lonely suitcase, looking like he was contemplating alerting the troops. I grabbed the bag and said: “Don’t worry - no bomb.” We both smiled. “Ooops,” I continued. “No bomb jokes allowed.”

It’s shocking how often this happens to me. I suspect many people are in the same boat. When we have been bombarded (ignore the pun) with messages about terrorism at airports, to the point that it’s become part of our national psyche, you can’t (or at least I can’t) go through airport security without thinking about bombs.

It’s also hard not to find the security effectiveness laughable. I must take off my shoes and sweater as I pass through, but the pepper spray on my keychain has accidentally slipped through undetected countless times. Back when I was a smoker (approximately 28.5 days ago), the lighters and matches in the bottom of my purse passed through unnoticed on almost every trip. Yet my water bottle was seized.

When did our nation become so scared about a bomber in the airport that we decided to chuck the First Amendment? When did we get to the point where poking fun or using comedy was against the law? Or right, on September 11, 2001. (Though it’s not just us - people have been arrested for making bomb jokes at airports in Edinburgh, Manila, Devon and elsewhere.) It’s always been against the law to make a fake bomb threat, but did 9/11 make us willing to prioritize so-called security over everything else?

I was living in Denmark on 9/11. While I felt tremendous grief for the victims and their families, I did not experience the collective trauma like most Americans. From Copenhagen, I couldn’t understand why it was necessary to throw American Flags on every SUV and front porch in the country. And now, when I go through airports, as sick as this might be, I just want to make a cynical joke. Safety is obviously incredibly important, and the country should invest in better security. But as an American, I feel like the right to laugh and joke shouldn’t be sacrificed so easily. At least not without some discussion. What do you think?

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2 Replies to "No Laughing Allowed"

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chitcool  on April 18, 2008

all those rules are paternalistic and intrusive. if caution is the central dynamic of FAA’s bureaucracy, insensitivity to commonsense is its approach.

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Woman Arrested for Airport “Joke” Responds | Hanna Ingber Win  on May 28, 2008

[...] wrote a post on April 22 highlighting the illegality of making a bomb joke at airports by discussing the arrest of a woman, Rosalinda Baez, for doing just that at JFK. A [...]

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