one-off at the wrist

23 skedaddle

Up! Down! Flying around. Looping the loop and defying the ground

Those magnificent men in their flying machines, Soundtrack, 1965, Ron Goodwin.

Tuesday evening I watched [or more accurately re23-watched – i.e. easily seen at least twenty three times since 1991] Dimension Jump [the twenty-third episode in the series run overall] of the science fiction sit-com Red Dwarf. I was struck by the scene where the boys, their spacecraft [non-air craft] on collision course with another, are scrambling around looking for the ‘crash procedure cards’. “It should be in the netting behind the seats. Haven’t we got to sit behind a woman clutching a baby?”

This got me to thinking 1) Why is the air-crash so often a theme for humour? [think the really funny scene in the movie Airplane where the Captain’s announcement “to adopt crash positions” results in the passengers calculatedly taking up postures of broken limbs, sprawled all over the floor and seats and each other, even though the flight is currently as normal]. 2) The impossibility of creating a universal/culturally independent signage system and therefore the often unintentional humour inherent in aircraft safety cards.

Presumably the answer to the first thought is not to be found in the chances of death resulting from aeroplane use, [as air-transport is statistically one of the safest ways to travel] and hence an inflated sense of gallows humour. Arguably it results from a “if God had wanted us to fly he would have given us wings” instinctive knowledge of how absolutely ‘peculiar’ the notion of flight is [for non-winged humans at least]. Afterall it is only a mere two hundred years since the first passengers of Stephenson’s Rocket believed that speeds much in excess of  20 mph would result in death.

An outcome and condition which aircraft safety instruction cards obviously try their hardest to distance from your mind.

I study the people on the laminated airline seat card … people calm as Hindu cows reach up from their seats toward oxygen masks sprung out of the ceiling. This must be an emergency.

Chuck PalahniukFight Club

Though the graphic representations [cross-cultural studies have determined that people prefer illustrations instead of photographs, presumably as that way there is a certain ‘neutrality’ to the chaos of the depicted event] necessary for accessibility [to those speaking a different language, children and the illiterate] make these cards works of imagination and therefore prone to ‘mistakes’, which can all to readily be interpreted as humorous [if not downright ‘scary’, as in the AeroMexico safety card (part of shown above) where the man though otherwise realistic, has no face!] even without the need for satirical input.


This article, posted 25th – written 24th – inspired by thoughts on 23rd. The train/aeroplane of thoughts was inspired by the Apophenian coincidences surrounding its birth, and knowledge of the contribution of an airplane disaster in the creation of the 23 enigma.


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