August 8, 2006
Iraq, cellphones, and black humor
The New York Times explores new depths of dark humor in today's article about the popularity of cellphones in Iraq, and the new and inventive ways Iraqis use them to avoid being killed, or to try to cope with the horror of their daily lives. Giving different phone models nicknames like the Allawi, the Apache, or the Humvee, many kids and adults trade in their old phones for a newer model every few months. As the article says, "It is the relentless violence — which now claims dozens of Iraqis every day — that seems to have fertilized the industry’s growth."
But the tone of the article is so dark it's hard to tell if it's meant to be funny, or just wry commentary on how precarious life in Iraq is today. This stuff is insane:
His sons, Amjad, 17, and Muhammad, 15, said that cellphones were desirable not just because they were cool but also because they provided one of the country’s only safe forms of teenage self-expression. In May, a tennis coach and two of his players were shot to death in Baghdad because they were wearing shorts. Cellphones, in contrast, have attracted little religious outrage.
That teenage self-expression often takes the form of death-oriented jokes:
Iraqis also use their phones to record torture and attacks, or to make jokes about torture and attacks:
...A popular video captures young men trying to decapitate a victim with a fake, dull knife and failing.
In case readers don't get these hilarious jokes, an Iraqi teenager helpfully explains the irony for us.
Firas al-Taie, 19, after showing the clip, laughed and tried to explain why Iraqis find the segment entertaining. “It’s not matching the reality,” he said, in halting English. “They said this thing and then something else happened.”
Hahaha! They said they would wipe America from the map, and now they're the ones being wiped from the map!
As a sociologist at Baghdad University says, “In Iraq, there is such an accumulation of frustration. If an Iraqi does not embrace humor in his life, he’s finished.”
Sadly, a lot of Iraqis with great senses of humor are finished, too.
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