In the awesome 1980 comedy Airplane!, there are two jokes that make no sense and I've never been able to find an adequate explanation for them. Is anyone able to shed some light?

Near the end of the film, Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) arrives at the control tower to help Ted Striker (Robert Hays) land Trans-American Airlines' endangered flight 209. Kramer confers with Lloyd McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) and, while they're discussing the situation, they have the following exchange:

McCroskey: Right now, things aren't so good.

Kramer: Let me tell you something, Steve. Ted Striker was a top notch squadron leader. A long time ago.

At that moment, a spear whizzes across the room and into a nearby bulletin board. Without referencing the projectile, the conversation continues:

McCroskey: I want you to get on the horn and talk that guy down. Now you're going to have to let him get the feel of that airplane on the way and you'll have to talk him onto the approach. So help me, you'll have to talk him right down to the ground.

At this point, a watermelon drops from above and smashes onto the corner of a desk in the background. It is not acknowledged by either character.

Everything else in the movie is crystal clear, but these two gags have always confounded me. Surely somebody must know!

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    BCdotWEB: Table lamps are being dumped onto the runway because someone says, "Let's get some lights on the field" or something like that. The crew playing musical instruments in a quick cutaway is because of someone's line, "That's impossible. They're on instruments." Funny isn't just stupid shit for no reason, unless you're watching "Scary Movie" or similar garbage. Although I think your explanation for the spear may be correct. – freeling10 Jan 17 '17 at 13:38
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    I always thought that the spear represented "a long time ago" like a hunting spear that would be used a long time ago...as for the watermelon, I always interpreted that as just dropping something heavy "right down to the ground" I believe that McCroskey slams his hand on the desk as well when he's saying it. Great question, btw! Love the fact that you added "surely" in your question! Haha! – steelersquirrel Jan 17 '17 at 13:53
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    @steelersquirrel [Watermelon] My thoughts exactly :) – Walt Jan 17 '17 at 14:35
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    When we left the theater, my Mom remarked that she didn’t realize it was going to be a comedy. Dad pointed to the “knot” poster in response. – JDługosz Jan 18 '17 at 5:56

My take

Overall: These are visuals meant to exaggerate the chaos in a disaster movie's control room much like the various people panicking in it as well as literal s#!% hitting a literal fan. But more specifically:

The Spear: As commented above, I always felt this was also a callback to the stock-footage indians that were chasing Kramer in the end of this previous scene:

The Watermelon: I always felt this was a comical visualization of McCroskey words (note that it falls when he says 'right down to the ground' and matches his gesture) and a juxtaposition suggesting that the plane will crash in a splat, rather than land, on the ground.

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    Native American arn't well known for using spears. And had none in the scene you post. – cde Jan 17 '17 at 17:39
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    @cde how not? I found several resources (some apparently by native american tribes) that seem to disagree with you, here's one: warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-indian-weapons-tools/spears.htm – Paul Jan 17 '17 at 18:39
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    The spear likely made a bit more sense (or less sense in the proper funny way) to audiences in 1980 who had recently seen Zulu Dawn from the year before. In that movie the protagonists got overrun and badly defeated by the spear-wielding Zulu army. So, in a cross universe way, it would have been reinforcing that their situation was hopeless, and a grisly death awaited nearly everyone. – T.E.D. Jan 17 '17 at 19:34
  • (upvoted, and if you think any of the above has value in the answer feel free to add it). – T.E.D. Jan 17 '17 at 19:47
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    I'm pretty sure they re-used the watermelon gag in Airplane II with a "we'll get 'em down. And down safe!" joke (a safe falls out of the sky). – Todd Wilcox Jan 18 '17 at 0:36

It's possible to overthink the gag - they are both just cynical 'peanut gallery' jokes. The spear is suggesting that Kramer meant a REALLY long time ago. And the watermelon is a suggestion of how 'talking him down to the ground' is going to go - a big smash and lots of red everywhere.

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