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Beyond the Friday Funnies 

Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

Is That the Worst You’ve Got?

Posted May 3, 2012

“I question the need for this insulting, unprofessional message,” the email read. I’ll say one thing for the occasional anti-kudo that rolls in for the Friday Funnies. They don’t beat around the bush. Here are a few more examples:

   • “I was appalled at the degrading tone.”
   • “I find it offensive and out-of-line.”
   • “Most weeks I'm just moderately annoyed at your flippant tone and condescending manner.” This guy was steamed about something, but at least he kept reading the messages.
   • Another accused me of “opening up the armed forces for public ridicule and making light of other service member’s and coworker’s misfortunes.”

The long-standing Naval Safety Center message has always generated feedback—mostly positive, with a few “I don’t get it” and a smattering like those just listed. We value all these responses. I’m glad to explore the limitations of someone’s sense of humor.

I always thank them for their two cents worth and recommend our serious products (which, other than the Photo of the Week, is basically everything else). I explain that we probably aren’t going to cancel the Funnies because a small minority of the target audience hates them. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

One correspondent recently wrote to tell me he was “greatly disappointed” in the most recent Summary of Mishaps. His concern was that “the mishaps reported are very insignificant, and other than the guy lighting his eyeball on fire (which is simply awesome!) are everyday things that are simply going to happen. These messages used to be full of stories of people doing amazingly stupid activities, not people who twist an ankle playing with their dog or breaking a bone in their hand while building something at home. My initial thought while reading the message was ‘Why bother releasing this message if that's the worst they could come up with?’”

He continued, “This message makes me not want to report minor injuries for fear of becoming internationally famous for a trivial, everyday mishap. It also unfairly ridicules service members for simple accidents that happen to all of us. Please bring back the days of Marines playing catch with K-Bars and drunk Sailors doing handstands off the 3rd floor barracks railing.”

This note engaged me in several ways. First, I enjoyed the implied compliment of “internationally famous.” Second, I never miss a chance to point out that accidents don’t “happen”—they’re caused by people. Third, I appreciated the fact that the writer had read a bunch of past issues. He didn’t deserve the if-you-don’t-like-my-peaches response.

I assured him that I wasn’t avoiding the juicy incidents. I'm limited to what I can find scouring through WESS reports, which I plow through by the bushel (out of 100 narratives, one or two seems promising, in terms of knuckleheadedness). If “asking for trouble” was one of the official WESS data fields, my job would be easier. I, too, much prefer ones like the homemade propane potato gun or the nautical raccoon rescue.

“I guess your message has been received by the fleet,” he replied. “If a sprained ankle is one of the worst things, then we are doing a great job.” I could tell he was still disappointed, though. I believe that even with minor mishaps, things could always have been worse. If you can get a handle on the small things, you can avoid some of the bigger (albeit more dramatic) things.

I don’t think I’m supposed to encourage Sailors to do stupider stuff, just so that I have better material. That would be the buddy system in reverse, and I don’t need any more examples of that particular type of failure.

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