Deceased Insect – A Fighter Pilot Bar Game

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Aerospace Engineer/Retired USAF Fighter Pilot
Residence: Lancaster, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: May 2, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant, GW, is the interviewer’s father. He was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force during the late 1980s/early 1990s and participated in operation Desert Storm. I have heard him tell many stories from his time in the Air Force throughout my childhood, so I asked him to tell me some of his traditions to collect for my project. This was an informal interview in our household. The interviewer is indicated as SW in the text.

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Main Text:

GW: “The object of every fighter pilot game is to get other people to buy you beverages, mostly of the alcohol variety. Um, there were short games uh like, deceased insect, which uh, that was the code name because if you said the exact words for deceased insect… then everybody within earshot had to lay on the floor on their back as fast as possible, put their feet and hands up in the air to imitate the dead cockroach on the floor, and the last person to make it all the way to the ground was then the actual deceased insect and was responsible for buying everyone in proximity the beverage of their choice.”

SW: “Where does one learn deceased insect, who teaches it to you?”

GW: “Well usually you learn it by being the one guy standing after somebody yells “dead bug!” and then everybody else hits the floor and you’re sitting there standing… you’re standing in the middle of all of it going ‘what just happened?’ and everybody goes “ha ha! You have to buy everybody a round.’ … That’s how that works.

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Analysis:

As GW mentioned, many fighter pilot traditions center around drinking culture and who owes who the next drink. However, the game of deceased insect also serves as an initiation ritual and a prank to pull on new members who are not aware of its existence. By making new members of the group buy everybody a round, they are paying the penalty for being new. At the same time, they are now in on the joke and have a shared knowledge with other members of the group, and can later play the same prank on other new members of the group. In this way, deceased insect actually serves to create social bonds and obligations to other members, which is of utmost importance in a group that will be sent to war together.