Crimes of Hilarity: What Makes Criminal Behavior A Big Joke?


Last night after a very long day of dealing with the laughable nuances of client service work, an email came through from one of my Canadian coworkers with this headline:  Canadian crime story: Police probing Quebec maple syrup heist worth up to $30-million.

The email trail between a couple of folks went this way:

Canadian team member:

“Serious journalism here guys.

From The Globe and Mail:

Police probing Quebec maple syrup heist worth up to $30-million

Via The Globe and Mail news app for BlackBerry”

U.S. team Member:

“This heist is on par with the 1975 robbery at Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory when 300,000 tons of chocolate was siphoned off from the chocolate river.”

Canadian team member:

“We also had an issue with the Hamburgler in the 70s. Tough up here.”

U.S. team member:

“I remember that. The judge sentenced him to 5 to 10 years in prison, whichever came first.”

…and so on.
Oh the giggles we get from crimes that seem just so ridiculous.  But WHY do crimes like a “maple syrup heist” seem so funny to us?  What are the qualifiers that make some form of deviance despicable and others laughable?  Is it because the tens of millions of dollars in stolen goods wasn’t a scarce natural resource with high monetary value like gold or diamonds or oil?  Was it because the stolen goods weren’t property of a government agency?  An item earmarked for high taxes?  Drugs?

Is it that we only associate “hard” criminals with deviant goods and violence?

Needless to say, somebody’s (or many somebody’s) livelihoods were most likely heavily affected by the loss of revenue that came from this crime.  People with families to care for and bills to pay.

But still we laugh about it.  Because it’s kinda funny even though we don’t know why.

As a sociology graduate student (yes…anthropologists and sociologists can play in the same academic pool)  my concentration was in deviant behavior.  I took many courses, read lots of books and wrote lots of papers on the subjects like juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, organized crime, the social construction of deviant behavior (like playing pool, frequenting soda fountains and listening to Jazz music!) and even hardcore stuff like serial murder. About drugs, Sagebrush provides a peaceful environment for women only that allows for recovery and healing in a supportive, loving and compassionate surrounding. If this interests you call 888-406-7444.

I was going to be Clarice Starling from Silence of The Lambs before I chose a career in marketing.

My point is, I spent a lot of time examining how and why “deviant” or criminal behaviors emerge and how they get labeled as such by society based on the role they play as a part of the sustainable functioning of social systems.  But one thing we never talked about are the crimes that get relegated to the status of ridiculous and not noteworthy.   We don’t sit our kids down and say “it’s okay if you steal something nobody really cares about”.  We just say “don’t steal things”, because as a society and as humans we know it’s wrong to take things that don’t belong to you.

So I pose the question to my readers and ask them to put on their Anthropologist (from human cultural or behavioral perspective)  or Sociologist (from a human systems / organization perspective) and tell me what YOU think.  I’m really only a tongue-in-cheek narcissist (in case you hadn’t caught that yet) and really DO care about other people’s points of view.

At minimum I hope you enjoyed a few laughs.  But my sincere hope is to encourage some deep thought, because my wife would not think it was funny if someone stole her maple syrup.  It’s the only thing that makes her gluten free waffles worth eating.

Man Mows huge field, steals $4K worth of Grass!

Now that we’re getting more grassroots (but seriously folks!) , is this crime also just plain funny?

64 thoughts on “Crimes of Hilarity: What Makes Criminal Behavior A Big Joke?

  1. Well, OK, this is funny, I can’t deny it. But maybe we temper our light-hearted reaction with some real compassion for the lives that were harmed by crime?

    I like the thought of being real with our emotions, but also, tapping into our sense of empathy at the same time.

  2. We also need a thing to smile about now and then. And if we take deviant behaviour very seriously at all times it may just be a bit too much. From that point it could be argued that to make light of some deviant behaviour (and I am in no way negating our need for empathy here) could be seen as a coping mechanism.

    1. I completely agree… I think that we look for ways to turn bad things into laughter to release some of the negativity that we encounter on a daily basis. Let’s face it… $30 million in maple syrup? It really sucks for the people who’s jobs and livelihood depend on the supply, but what are the criminals going to do with the syrup? Take it to a pawn shop??? Lol

  3. Very funny. Congrats on FP. Unfortunately I am much more concerned with all the deviant behavior in our world…not just the comical. Does your wife eat GF for general health reasons or is she stricken with celiac disease? Either way, wish her the best.

    1. 😉 Thanks, T. Yes, I agree that deviant behavior (the real kind, not the socially constructed kind) is a conundrum. And the wife has a distinct intolerance so keeps the wheat at a minimum…when she is willing to sacrifice the rash and gastro-intestinal consequences for something “worth it”. A deviant move, perhaps? 😉

  4. Hmmm…this is a sticky situation…

    😉 (Couldn’t help it…sorry…).

    But you’re right: Something inspired this whole chain of events. It’s usually a combination of need, greed and opportunity, right? And in this case, perhaps some justification — I mean, is it so hard to imagine the “mastermind” thinking, “It’s just maple syrup — even if I do get caught, it won’t be THAT bad…”

    And yeah, you definitely made me smile with this post. Mission accomplished!

  5. As a Canadian who loves real maple syrup, I still don’t understand the thinking behind stealing it. Is there a secret black market for our maple syrup? maybe it is really good.
    On the note of why we find some crimes funny I think it is because we are bombarded with so much negativity in our daily lives. When we hear or read that someone has done something “stupid” we have to laugh or else we would all go insane.
    Yes there is a human side to the crime in that someone has been violated, but again sometimes we just have to laugh and shake our heads at some of the crimes people do.

  6. All I did was mention the story to my husband and he burst out laughing, too. It is a funny story. I supposed readers are going to find it amusing because no one was physically hurt and really, what are you going to do with so much maple syrup???

  7. This reminds me of the problem we encountered with my grandfather’s dementia. In that case, as I believe in this one, things can be very sad, but you cannot help but find them funny. Our world is depressing enough that we have to find our entertainment somewhere. As long as you acknowledge and understand the serious side to it, I don’t believe that it is an issue.

  8. I laugh because I really, really, REALLY want to know what they’re doing with all that maple syrup. Maple syrup pool? Maple syrup amusement park? Starting a society that exchanges maple syrup currency?

    Anyway, great post!

  9. I read an article about this heist this afternoon and had a good chuckle. It’s a funny, strange, odd story. One that breathes a sigh of relief to many in our world today; there were no guns involved and no one was seriously injured. Let’s laugh, we need it.

  10. It’s exactly the same phenomenon as a pratfall: It’s funny because it isn’t expected. People steal items of high monetary all the time. They might also steal the odd steak. We expect that, so it isn’t funny. But people don’t steal large quantities of food items. The unexpected is one of the core elements of humor–and it actually doesn’t matter if someone gets hurt or not, as long as it isn’t so realistically gory or malevolent it’s scary. Surprise can end, I think, in only one of two ways: laughter or fear.

  11. I think ahanam nailed it “It’s funny because it isn’t expected.” Even something incredibly tragic might have a lot of people chuckling at it if it were appropriately bizarre.

  12. The images that come to mind are ones of bumbling wannabe criminals covered in sticky syrup trying to run away from cops blowing their whistles and saying “ey?” It conjurs amusement. The mind has to grope to find the real crime beneath the immediate images.

    I do think, however, that we are far more prone to taking crime too seriously. Or, rather, to seeing it as profoundly black and white. When there is a victim, we feel reverence and empathy, and that should never change. But life is complex and humor is everywhere.

  13. I guess we think it’s funny because it’s hard to imagine what somebody does with all that syrup and why they chose syrup over gold or diamonds (because it’s easier, I suppose). It’s immediately obvious what they want other things for, but selling syrup on the black market? That’s pretty weird.

  14. I thought it was funny when I first heard it, but now I think it’s sort of genius. Genuine, high quality maple syrup is worth a decent amount of money. You also can’t get it everywhere in the world so easily. You could sell it in Canada or the US for less than the actual price and profit, or elsewhere for probably quite a bit more.

    The real genius of it, though, is that I’m betting it wasn’t guarded with tight security compared to other things of equal worth by volume. It also isn’t tracked in any way, either. Who would question if they were buying “hot” maple syrup? You wouldn’t get suspicious if the price was too low, or somebody was selling it on the street in a sleepy New England town, for example. You could set up shop in any tourist area, and not arouse any suspicion (until now). They were probably laughing too — until this story got big. NOW they are probably saying “What are we going to do with all this maple syrup?”

    Any Machiavellian types out there looking to capitalize — become a pioneer of maple syrup laundering.

  15. I’m a big fan of this blog! Saw it on freshly pressed and have spent a while poking round as a result. If you like your humour observational and a little more offensive, check out mine. Exact same WordPress Theme too?!

  16. This reminds me of the time my 5 year old nephew stole a maintenance man’s golf cart at the apartment omplex where they live… funny? yes. Serious? Of course. I don’t think it means he’ll turn out as some car thief. Could you imagine our life if we did not laugh at some of the not so terrible deviances?

  17. We have devient people committing laughable crimes here in the Chicago area, only they’re called politicians who make “occasional mistakes”. Some years ago, 18 truckloads of asphalt went missing or perhaps never existed in the first place. We laughed until we remembered it’s our money they’re frittering away.

  18. I had a teacher who taught a seminar called “F* then if they can’t take a joke.” He was from a family of humor scientists and holocaust survivors. Some people laugh at maple syrup thieves, although from a joke standpoint there should be a “k” in there somewhere to get a better laugh. What if we change it to “The Canadian kooks who took off with $30 million worth of maple syrup were arrested by police who tracked them down through their dental records.”

    If we can laugh at the mistakes of others,we may learn how to laugh at our own. 🙂

  19. From one Narcissist to another by the way I also was told I have histrionic tendencies, me,me,me.
    Anyway, it is funny if this story was told on a late night opening monologue people would be falling out of their chairs….it’s human nature. I worked as a Director at a nursing home and we were so financially bad off we had our fish repossessed gold fish and all, they were kind enough to leave the tank, life is funny… if your lucky.

  20. Besides what people have already said here, I think people find humour in what is odd — ie, that they don’t understand — and can’t make sense of. They say that the unknown is common fear in people, but I think it depends on the context. Either way, I think the unknown is definitely not something anyone can feel neutral about.

    I once posted a picture of part of an article on facebook, claiming some people had stolen 42 kilograms of mayonnaise. It got at least one laugh. I’m not sure that was so much laughing at the act as the person and how stupid we can only think they must be.

    Think about what is the appeal of shows like World’s Dumbest Criminals. Like anything else in life, it’s really about people beneath the surface, and how we relate to and perceive them.

  21. Interestingly enough, I didn’t laugh. $30 million is a lot of anything and I thought it was sad even though it was maple syrup. Maybe the thought of the logistics of stealing the maple syrup is worth a chuckle….I mean, how exactly did that go off? 🙂

  22. First of all, I just spent $8 on my one 12oz bottle of organic maple syrup so there def is a secret goldmine there. This is a woman who wouldnt even buy a bottle of ketchup which u can get free at Jack in the whatever!
    This “tragic” event reminds me of what a few buddies of mine did back in high school. They put laundry detergent in the giant fountain located in the heart of downtown our city sometime in the middle of the night. By morning suds filled the streets and made the front page paper reporting that it cost taxpayers all this money to clean up and disrupted an already congested traffic area angering all the white collars who were late to their business meetings. They do it because they want to see if they can get away with it. Its the us vs. them mentality of a game. In the case of these guys i knew…they did. Fun post. Thnx for sharing.

  23. I have to say there is a certain hilarity that this encourages but it also highlights the point that social deviance occurs within such trivial matters. Congrats on FP great post 😀

  24. I find that it is rather funny that they managed to get away with 30 Million in Maple Syrup – however am in disgust that someone would even think of such a crime. Canada or America criminals are getting smarter, we need to start evolving to their levels!

  25. This reminds me a little of the Darwin Awards (humorous stories about the unexpected ways individuals have died). Both had me amused at first but then a little ashamed that I was laughing at someone else’s misfortune (although I feel this more acutely with the Darwins than with the syrup heist). I agree with other commenters that part of our finding these stories funny is probably just the unexpectedness. Congratulations on Freshly Pressed!

  26. I can’t help smiling as I picture the scene. In a way it’s cute I suppose — the type of crime you might expect to see in a children’s book.

    Thanks for the funny post!

  27. While this may seem funny to us, its not for the people who were affected, your right about that. Reading stories like these really makes you wonder:

    What is going on inside that persons head?

  28. People seem to draw different lines when it comes to what is acceptable to laugh at, and what is not. Often there is agreement, and we at times label that which is not to be laughed at a “sacred cow.” Yet the agreement is never total, because there is always someone who is willing to make a joke, at times to their great detriment. I remember Bill Maher trying to make a joke about 9/11 just a day or two after it happened. It didn’t work, and his Politically Incorrect was cancelled. Yet a woman who was killed by her amorous, pet camel was instant fodder for the joke mill. Is it the number of people killed? The manner of death? What is it that makes some things acceptable grist for jokes, and others not?

  29. I think it is another facet of the human tendency to whistle in graveyards. We inject humor into so many unpleasant things because it makes them easier to cope with. My favorite example of this is the Mary Tyler Moore episode Chuckles Bites The Dust.

  30. Once we realise who is standardizing correctness, we can decide why are they been protecting themselves so well…I mean: Wouldn’t you, had you have the controls? Hard not to to! I think everything having to do with society, is a result of all members of that group, and all equally responsible for both good and bad,as botha ar as contagious as yawning!

    NIce take!

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  35. Often it take the courageous to be deviant. This is how norms are shed. We must follow laws that are equally appealing in their nominative values, but have a teleological aspect. Those who want to do good for the great of those in their communities.

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