Song Parody

"Strangers on my Flight."

EDITED TO ADD (1/8): This post has generated much more controversy than I expected. Yes, it's in very poor taste. No, I don't agree with the sentiment in the words. And no, I don't know anything about the provenance of the lyrics or the sentiment of the person who wrote or sang them.

I probably should have said that, instead of just posting the link.

I apologize to anyone I offended by including this link. And I am going to close comments on this thread.

Posted on January 5, 2007 at 12:22 PM • 33 Comments


WLWJanuary 5, 2007 1:13 PM

Can we spell profiling? I get the humor in poking fun at profilers, but I fear a number of folks will not get it and will agree with the sentiments of the song.

That being said, props for a clever idea using Sinatra.

rootJanuary 5, 2007 1:36 PM

"I fear a number of folks will not get it and will agree with the sentiments of the song."

Borat thinking you still get it not. Comrade Kaufman agreeing.

Carl the CanukJanuary 5, 2007 2:03 PM

Thanks for posting this.

I know this parody was done with comedy in mind, but "humor" like this isn't very funny, and anyone beyond 5th year of school should understand why.

Misplaced fear such as the sort this type of thing breeds, is never a good thing. This is how terrorists win. This is what perpetuates racism, hatred, and religious bias. Three things this world would do well to eliminate in the future.

Some may think I should "lighten up", and laugh a bit more...but I'm thinking that too many people have already paid the price for this type of "fun", and I'll have none of it.

I hope that goes for millions more.

RichVJanuary 5, 2007 2:12 PM

I'd like for this to be making fun of profilers but what element of the song shows that? It's a common defense for racist entertainment to say it makes fun of racists, but the singer doesn't get any comeuppance and there is no other twist. It's just full indulgence in their bigoted fantasy.

ramananJanuary 5, 2007 2:26 PM

It's basically just an obnoxious (racist?) song. Is there any reason to think there is some hidden meaning that maybe I'm missing?

David Dyer-BennetJanuary 5, 2007 2:27 PM

I dunno; the first verse is clearly saying his attention was drawn to them by the turbans; but he's "wondering", not certain.

In the second verse, he thinks he sees box-cutters in their hands (direct evidence of a problem; they're not allowed on board any more), and even so it ends with "if they make a move" -- conditional, they have to take an action to trigger his reaction.

Similarly in the fourth verse, which begins "If they pick a fight", a conditional statement again.

So on balance I don't think the text supports pure visual profiling. It does talk about the satisfaction of making a violent response, but the parts about identifying the need for a violent response seem to call for real evidence.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 5, 2007 2:27 PM

Um, I'm not sure why you're publicizing this but I do not see it as even remotely humorous or witty.

I do not see a relation to forms of poetry/song in the trenches like "Deutscher, Deutscher":

Instead, the fact that it portrays "strangers" as smelly people with turbans makes it pretty clear that it's trash talking racism, like the sad chapter of coon songs in American history:


ElijahJanuary 5, 2007 3:00 PM

Intentional parody or unintentional self-parody, it matters not.
Either way, the lyrics are so obviously over the top,
that any reasonable person must see it as humorous.

Nick LancasterJanuary 5, 2007 3:05 PM

The song strikes me as a caricature of the mindset and failings of the 'all Muslims are terrorist' brigade.

It achieves criticism by way of being ludicrous – simply wearing a turban, muttering in a private conversation, glimpsed things that might be weapons – these are the problems with profiling. It's important to realize, of course, that we all carry some level of bias along these lines – we do have expectations about how people dress, how they comport themselves in public, and so on.

The irony, of course, is the macho "I'm gonna kick their butts" sentiment of the lyrics. Yes, we all chuckled at Toby Keith's 'Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue' ... but as the past five years have shown us, the issue of terrorism is not so simple as to be solved by guns at high noon.

Also, those of us who have read Beyond Fear and frequent Bruce's blog understand that for many people, the moment you mention security, their eyes glaze over. If a little comedy slides the message in under the radar, all the better.

It's certainly nowhere near the 'humor' and 'opinion' of conservative radio types who call for poisonings and assassinations.

And racist? Racist is Rosie O'Donnell mocking Chinese speech, or Virgil Goode warning us of evil Muslim extremists running for public office.

I'll admit that I might be less generous if the lyrics had run:

"Strangers in the night / They're out to get us / Could it be the Japs? The Yellow Menace?"

Besides, the guy DID sound remarkably like the Chairman of the Board.

Matt NorwoodJanuary 5, 2007 3:09 PM

I seriously doubt that this is parodic, although apologists for racism are likely to lamely defend it on such grounds, just like Pat Robertson trying to explain away his call for Hugo Chavez's assassination.

I think that the song's genius shows through, perhaps unintentionally, on two points: one, it captures Sinatra's unique style of cheesy, offhand racism and violence quite well, and two, its title manages to echo Camus's "The Stranger" just as its lyrics evoke the protagonist's brutal, meaningless murder of faceless Arabs.

ElijahJanuary 5, 2007 4:06 PM

Source seems to be -- according to the attribution here:

A cursory examination of that site does not suggest any particular extremism, but it doesn't bode well for the "intentional parody" POV.

Nick LancasterJanuary 5, 2007 4:16 PM

So if I defend the song as a parody (which I did, just prior to your post), a) my comments are lame and b) I'm an apologist for racism?

Or did I misunderstand you?

An effective parody can elicit meaningful dialogue, as this apparently has.

Hmm. I wonder if lyrics which more effectively highlight the problems with profiling could be created – but then it would doubtless lose the Sinatra flavor.

StavrosJanuary 5, 2007 4:59 PM

Perhaps off topic, but I see a vast new natural resource that the U.S. can export: all the senses of humor that have been amputated from people. Judging by what I'm reading we must be hip deep in the damn things...

Jamie FlournoyJanuary 5, 2007 5:02 PM

>An effective parody can elicit meaningful dialogue, as this apparently has.

The only dialogue I see is a debate as to whether this is Toby Keith style jingoism, or a mockery of it.

I don't see anything sarcastic in the lyrics, so regardless of the creator's intent, it doesn't strike me as making any sort of anti-racist point. It's very well executed in terms of lyrics and vocals so I'm guessing that if he wanted to make fun of saber rattling racists, he could have done so. The third stanza pretty clearly speaks of preemptive defense based on turbans, unfamiliar language, and "something" in their hands. False positive, anyone?

More important to contemporary debate is the idea that suspected boxcutters (in the hands of suspected Arabs muttering about a topic suspected to be an imminent terrorist act) would call for preemptive assault and battery. After 9/11 no hijacker in the US, especially ones who appear to be Arabs, would be met with a passive or cooperative response. Pulling off an in-flight hijacking now would be much harder than simply shooting down the plane, a la the terrorists-with-SAMs alternative theory of the TWA Flight 800 tragedy.

Colbert StationJanuary 5, 2007 5:10 PM

Folks, this is a parody of overreactions in real-life incidents. You don't need to laugh, but it's not white supremacist propaganda, and you can ease up on the campaign rhetoric.

AnonymousJanuary 5, 2007 7:29 PM

A lot of folks apparently need <parody> and <sarcasm> tags in order to see the incredibly obvious.

I applaud this parody ("APPLAUSE" sign flashes here).

paulJanuary 5, 2007 7:53 PM

i think you may have the wrong audience for humour bruce.

thanks for the link, it is similar to a movement here in the UK called "bastard pop". My favourite is an album called "the parker tapes" by cassetteboy.

another_bruceJanuary 5, 2007 9:16 PM

strangers on my flight
hot chicks together
make me sit upright
forget the weather
maybe i can score
here on this boeing, ooooh,

got my pda
enable bluetooth
looking at the screen
her name is ruuuuth
send her a quick text
for some quick sex, oooooh

here inside the loo
the plane is shakin
is it turbulence
or just us bakin
don't care if we crash
sweet love i'm makin, ooooh

Nick LancasterJanuary 5, 2007 10:01 PM

Would it be better if the lyrics ran:

Strangers on my flight
Let's collate data
Wondering just who might
Be from al-Qaida
Let's check the no-fly list
And search them head to toe

Turbans aren't a sign
That they're extremist
Did they speak Farsi,
Or did we dream it?
If one-way flights are wrong
Then we should pay for two

Did they stop to pray
Before all boarding?
What things in their ratty shoes
Could they be hoarding?
We don't have the time to think
Confiscate that sporting drink!
No reason or free speech allowed
We don't wanna see a mushroom cloud

With all the spying we
Have instituted
It's very clear that fear
Can make you stupid
No more fears need we invite
Of strangers on my flight

Doobie doobie doo ...

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 6, 2007 12:32 AM

@ Nick

Yes, excellent re-write! I think you've captured the point while dispensing with the prejudice.

"It achieves criticism by way of being ludicrous..."

As with the American tradition of blackface and coon performers like Daddy Jim Crow, I see no such achievement. Blazing Saddles was ludicrous, was over the top, was clever, and most of all very clearly fit the definition of (self) parody. This song is simply in poor taste and has no clear parody reference, which I believe is an important issue.

The problem that I see is that if you empathize with the frame of reference that "smelly turbaned people" are to be attacked, then what are you really laughing at? That's really not far from how many people feel without realizing their mistake. What if you were to replace the turban lyrics with breasts? Hey, how funny, your wife is smelly and has breasts so men should attack her for being so strange. Any chance you will have an angry response (rather than a chuckle) when someone jokes about that? Shall we go to a watering hole and try it out? Something tells me the average person will not find the humor you call obvious, unless it's directed at someone they can treat as a "stranger".

@ Elijah

"the lyrics are so obviously over the top,
that any reasonable person must see it as humorous."

I see your definition of reasonable as very unreasonable. I just don't see on what grounds you conclude these lyrics are seen as over the top. Perhaps it is because I've been exposed to dangerous anti-outsider sentiments in the past and noticed who holds them as harmless. It seems obvious to me that these lyrics feed those who genuinely believe that anyone with a turban is a stranger to them and should be distrusted and/or preemptively attacked. Really, I find it sad to hear kids on a school bus sing songs about how they want to kill the "other" people -- just not funny or cute, no matter how over-the-top it might seem that little children sing that their grandmother should "pull the trigger and shoot that...".

As I've said before, there is clear precedent for this kind of laugh-at-their-expense (as opposed to parody) view being a mainstream phenomenon in the US:

(Note the example of Disney)

But aside from the poor taste issues, at the end of the day the really sad thing is that prejudice due to uninformed and reactive profiling makes people far *less secure*. It's a bad thing to treat it too lightly if your aim is to increase security. My research has found that any harbor of false stereotypes can make even experts so vulnerable that ingrained risk controls are easily undermined by attackers. I've studied it for years and I guarantee that if a talented social engineer finds you laughing along to this song, you're as good as 0wned by them.

@ Matt Norwood

Indeed. Good points.

MathFoxJanuary 6, 2007 5:33 AM

@ Davi

My research has found that any harbor of false stereotypes can make even experts so vulnerable that ingrained risk controls are easily undermined by attackers. ... [I]f a talented social engineer finds you laughing along to this song, you're as good as 0wned by them.

I have the feeling that many people (including foreign governments) have been "socially engineered" by the Bush government to believe that "muslim terrorism is a huge threat". Security theater is part of the engineering act.
A huge problem with this security scare is the positive feedback loop: all the talk about security induces fear, which induces more talk about security; preventing coherent thought on the topic.

Matt from CTJanuary 6, 2007 12:17 PM

Absolutely unbelievable.

>My research has found that any harbor
>of false stereotypes can make even
>experts so vulnerable that ingrained
>risk controls are easily undermined by
>attackers. ... [I]f a talented social
>engineer finds you laughing along to
>this song, you're as good as 0wned by >them.

Similiarily, if he finds you CRITICIZING this song, he own's you because he knows your own prejudices called "Political Correctness."

Take a single word -- Turban -- out at what is wrong with the song? Similiarily are we to waste time tallking about that one word in a satirical bit of literature -- disregarding the good message of being suspicious, develop an action plan, and not meekly sit by and depend on others -- whether your friend IS Department Security Administrator or 911 -- to protect you?

The 911 hijackers relied on the social engineering of 40 years of "authorities" telling people to not fight back -- don't fight muggers, don't fight rapists, don't stop burglars, go along with the demands of kidnappers and hijacker -- but rather rely on the "authorities" to protect you.

Careful Use of GoogleJanuary 6, 2007 10:38 PM

Apparently, this is a Howard Stern skit.

Found this quote on Swan's Commentary:

"PUT MY FOOT IN MY MOUTH ONCE AGAIN: It is unfortunate that the Swans fact checker was not working during the last issue -- she (Jan Baughman) undoubtedly would have noted that, as reported in the Blips, the recording of "Strangers on my Flight" was not an amazing re-mastered digitalization of Frank Sinatra's voice; rather, it was an excellent Sinatra impersonator.

Having discovered this, the fact checker would have immediately realized that the parody came from the Howard Stern show ("any fan will recognize Howard's and Robin Quivers's voices in the background," said Jan). While there is no official written transcript, a so-called "Stern SuperFan" annotates each day's 4 to 5 hours of show. The following describes one playing of that song parody:

"# Nancy Sinatra Calls In. 1/15/02. 7:15am Nancy Sinatra, daughter of Frank Sinatra, called in to promote a bunch of things this morning. Howard spent a little while talking to Nancy about her father and all of the battles her family has had with each other.

Howard also said he used to pleasure himself to Nancy when he was a kid. He said she was the hottest chick "in her day."

Nancy is a big fan of this song parody Howard plays on the show once in awhile called "Strangers on my Flight" so Howard played it for her today. She asked Howard who sings it but he wouldn't say. He just said it's someone who does song parodies for them."

ElijahJanuary 7, 2007 3:48 AM


Obvious anti-outsider comments are, by definition, over the top. Just because some people, even including the author, take a work seriously does not make it any less of a joke. Parody or unintentional self-parody, it is still parody.

AnnoyedJanuary 7, 2007 5:09 AM

Another great step forward for peace in our troubled world. I cannot understand how you could consider posting a link to such rubbish.Ever try putting yourself in someone else's shoes?

Not Annoyed Though Neither White Nor MuslimJanuary 7, 2007 8:21 AM

This is hilarious though I can see plenty of comments here come from those who do not have a sense of irony at all. Unless we all realise the joke that is airline security, we will not stand up against it. A social revolution is long overdue. Point is do we have the gumption?

GeorgeJanuary 7, 2007 5:07 PM

Weak and puerile, but well produced. Showing ignorance in false rhymes, as well as disregarding the fact that turban-wearers are most likely Sikhs who are neither Muslim nor in any way associated with terrorism.

Parody of what?January 7, 2007 5:21 PM

Do you really think this is a parody or are you finally showing your true colors?

In order to be a parody, it should be clear who is being parodied. In a parody, the rhetoric is usually so over the top that it's clear you don't agree with what is being said. This is the same crap you hear every day, in the same style. If you can't tell the difference between the parody and those being parodied, it's not really a parody. There's nothing here that indicates the writers/performers don't fully agree with the words.

Explain yourself or kiss a long time reader goodbye.

Parody of what?January 7, 2007 5:42 PM

Just wanted to add one more thing. Is it simply the fact that it's in Frank Sinatra's voice that you think this is a parody? What would it take to make you think this is serious?

Just reading the words, it looks perfectly serious to me.

RonKJanuary 8, 2007 1:08 AM

@ Elijah

Source seems to be ...

Uh, Elijah, didn't you notice the added Google ad links on the site you quote for that attribution? That site is just a rip-off site, almost certainly using an intentionally controversial spurious attibution in order to get even more web traffic.

supersnailJanuary 8, 2007 7:24 AM

Is it possible to get a homour makover?

While not the funniest thing I have ever heard, it is definetly humour/parody.

Lacking a sense of humour is actually a pretty serious affliction. Sense of humour and intellectual perspective are very closley linked, and, a lack of these leads to some pretty disasterous mis-judgements.

It is also the one thing that violent extremists have in common.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 8, 2007 11:36 AM

This post has generated much more controversy than I expected. Yes, it's in very poor taste. No, I don't agree with the sentiment in the words. And no, I don't know anything about the providence of the lyrics or the sentiment of the person who wrote or sang them.

I probably should have said that, instead of just posting the link.

I apologize to anyone I offended by including this link. And I am going to close comments on this thread.

Comments on this entry have been closed.

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