Long live Harold Ramis.
Although he has never fully received his full due in the popular imagination on the par with one of his most devoted collaborators, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis is nonetheless a vital figure of American film comedy. A major creative voice behind popular comedies from the late 1970s throughout the 1990s. Ramis deserves an enduring place in the canon of American humor. Consider his productive six-year run as writer, in particular: Animal House (1978); Meatballs (1979); Caddyshack (1980); Stripes (1981); National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983); and Ghostbusters (1984). He would later put together him most ambitious comedic film narrative with Groundhog Day (1993), a beautiful romantic comedy. For the long 1980s (I just coined that phrase–the long 1980s, which runs from 1977 -1992, from “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols to the election of Bill Clinton, but I digress), no other director/writer/actor was so integral to establishing the comedy best of the era while also effectively drawing on mainstream American comedic traditions.
His timing, his content, his comic framing were all on point. May his memory and that Egon hair stick with us.
For my take, the four films that should remain firmly within our popular and critical imaginations are Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, and National Lampoon’s Vacation. They exploit the most persistent and beloved of American comedic tropes–the tension between mainstream forces of respectability and the marginal forces of subversion, or, to be more concise: the snobs versus the slobs.
From the barbarians at the gates who emerged Animal House to the subversive caddy-underworld of an elite country club, to the ne’er-do-well losers who join the army out of desperation, to the bumbling, ever-failing American suburban father–the beloved marginal characters in these Ramis films exploit our communal desires to root for the underdogs, the Cinderella stories out of nowhere. Out of everywhere.
If the United States is the funniest nation in the world (it is), and if it boasts the strongest military in the world (it does), then it would follow that humor built around the military would be pretty darn funny. It is.
Veteran’s Day seems like an ideal time to celebrate that rich tradition as we salute those who have served the country. If so many Americans have been willing to take on the formidable sacrifices associated with military service, it seems only fitting that there should be plenty of opportunity to laugh about it.
Type in “military humor” in Google and you will the find over 40 million options to choose from. Much of this material is from YouTube videos and websites dedicated to gathering and sharing “military humor” in a wide array of context. Much of it is topic and audience specific, and is often divided into teasing between the services and even antagonism between the services. A good clearing house for such jokes is on usmilitary.about.com (http://usmilitary.about.com/od/militaryhumor/). Here is an example;
The U.S. Navy answers the question: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Naval Education and Training Command (NAVEDTRA): The purpose is to familiarize the chicken with road-crossing procedures. Road-crossing should be performed only between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Solo chickens must have at least three miles of visibility and a safety observer.
Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS): Due to the needs of the Navy, chicken was involuntarily reassigned to the other side of the road. This will be 3-year unaccompanied tour and we promise to give the chicken a good-deal assignment afterwards. Every chicken will be required to do one road-crossing during its career, and this will not affect its opportunities for future promotion.
Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC): This event will need confirmation; we need to repeat it using varied chicken breeds, road types, and weather conditions to confirm whether it can actually happen within the parameters specified for chickens and the remote possibility that they might cross thruways designated by some as “roads.”
Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe (CINCUSNAVEUR): The purpose is not important. What is important is that the chicken remained under the OPCON of COMSIXTHFLEET and did not CHOP to the theater on the other side of the road. Without Chopping, the chicken was able to achieve a seamless road-crossing with near perfect, real-time in-transit visibility.
Naval Intelligence: What chicken?
That joke clearly comes from someone who has to suffer through the frustrations of jargon and acronyms gone wild. The next joke has no source identified, but my hunch is that the source is a Marine. See if you agree:
U.S. Marine Corps Rules:
1. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.
2. Decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.
3. Have a plan.
4. Have a back-up plan, because the first one probably won’t work.
5. Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
6. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun whose caliber does not start with a “4.”
7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
8. Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend. (Lateral & diagonal preferred.)
9. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.
10. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.
11. Always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
12. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived.
13. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating your intention to shoot.
Navy SEALS Rules:
1. Look very cool in sunglasses.
2. Kill every living thing within view.
3. Adjust speedo.
4. Check hair in mirror.
U.S. Army Rangers Rules:
1. Walk in 50 miles wearing 75-pound rucksack while starving.
2. Locate individuals requiring killing.
3. Request permission via radio from “Higher” to perform killing.
4. Curse bitterly when mission is aborted.
5. Walk out 50 miles wearing a 75-pound rucksack while starving.
U.S. Army Rules:
1. Select a new beret to wear.
2. Sew patches on right shoulder.
3. Change the color of beret you decide to wear.
US Air Force Rules:
1. Have a cocktail.
2. Adjust temperature on air-conditioner.
3. See what’s on HBO.
4. Ask “what is a gunfight?”
5. Request more funding from Congress with a “killer” PowerPoint presentation.
6. Wine & dine ‘key’ Congressmen, invite DOD & defense industry executives.
7. Receive funding, set up new command and assemble assets.
8. Declare the assets “strategic” and never deploy them operationally.
9. Hurry to make 13:45 tee-time.
US Navy Rules:
1. Go to Sea.
2. Drink Coffee.
3. Watch porn.
4. Deploy the Marines.
All humor seeks to offer escape from the drudgery or pain of everyday life. This is especially important when the potential for everyday death is real. The persistence of humor created among active service members and veterans demonstrates not only the ever-present stress of living in harm’s way but also the capacity for those most directly affected by the vagaries of politics and the American public to find solace and affirmation in humor. That is as good a reason as anything for celebrating both humor and veterans every day of the year.
In closing, here is a classic speech by a character played by Bill Murray. It is one of the four film speeches given by Bill Murray in his career that should have received notice from the Academy, but I digress. From Stripes, that wonderfully absurd bit of pure-Hollywood military humor from the summer of 1981.
Thank you, veterans: “We’re 10 and 1.”