Where’s Wally: The Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 Edition

Dominica Cao ’19
Contributing Writer

After a search of over 600 days, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has finally been “found”. From the creator of shipyourenemiesglitter.com now comes a children’s book parody of “Where’s Wally?” titled, “Where’s MH370: How Long Until You Give Up?” For only $15, you can reach egotistical glory through a seek-and-find experience by searching for one of the 21st century’s greatest mysteries.

Self-described “evil genius” Matthew Carpenter has unashamedly released his MH370 children’s book — though the target audience is likely not kids. Instead of searching for the plane, readers look for debris such as the black box, suitcases, oxygen masks and captain’s hat. There are twelve search locations, from North Korea to Hell, where you can find C-list celebrities and political figures. Many other Easter eggs fill the pages including hard-to-find figures like God and Osama Bin Laden (the joke is that you’ll probably find them before you find the plane).

As Carpenter says, the book is something “no one wants or needs, yet somehow [it] finds an audience,” which, strangely enough, explains why I found myself on the reservation list for its public release. While the book has gained many enthusiasts, some have found it distasteful. So, is it too soon to laugh at the recent tragedy?

This is not the first time we’ve asked ourselves when comedy is appropriate. As Mark Twain put it, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” On the other hand, too much time makes a joke outdated. The question remains: how do we find the sweet spot when something is not too early to be offensive and yet not too late to be boring? Is such a thing even possible?

Last year, Dr. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner co-published “The Humor Code” in their search for what makes things funny. The book defines two components to comedy: violation severity and psychological distance. First, we have to consider the effect the joke has on us. How “bad” is it? Secondly, we have to ask how removed we are from the joke. Does it hit too close to home? Their conclusion is the Benign Violation Theory, where humor’s sweet spot is when it is both wrong (a violation) and okay (benign).

The well-known satirical newspaper The Onion faced a huge dilemma during the week of the 9/11 attacks. The company had just moved its headquarters from Wisconsin to New York and was preparing to release its first issue on Sept. 11. But with the Twin Towers attacks, comedy and laughter were ripped away, and the issue never went to print. With a tragedy so horrific and close to home, much time was needed to recover. Two weeks following the attacks, The Onion released a 9/11 issue completely based on terrorist attacks.  While one might be taken aback at how gutsy that move was, The Onion released a 9/11 issue completely based on terrorist attacks.  While one might be taken aback at how gutsy that move was, The Onion 9/11 issue was, interestingly enough, their most praised release.

During the attack of Sept. 11, a no-comedy zone hit every household in the U.S. Satire allowed people to laugh again, despite it being a time of mourning and uncertainty. The Onion stayed an appropriate distance from the horrors. Instead of attacking victims who died or the terror of flying, their articles made terrorists look like clowns (“Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell”) and poked fun at the nation’s uncertainty (“Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake”). Thousands of grateful people nationwide faxed many words of thanks to the company.

The important takeaway is that it is not about when you joke but what or who your joke is about. Carpenter’s MH370 book is clearly doing what The Onion, McGraw and Warner would find remarkable. It isn’t making fun of those who are lost or the families that mourn for them. Instead, this book lets us marvel at this puzzle and laugh about other mysteries that we too have also given up looking trying to solve.

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