My good faith unscientific analysis suggests there’s been a shift in air travel humor from seatbelt use demonstration and re-circulated air material toward looking mass violence in the face, acknowledging hidden (entertaining) racial prejudices and coping with first-world guilt and new security technology, all of which make average civilians feel a little like criminals. And everybody knows criminals, like blondes, have more fun.
Acknowledging its unqualified awfulness, are we, the not-Homeland-Carrie-Mathison’s-or-Dark-Thirty-Maya’s, really afraid of terrorism? Statistics indicate a large-scale attack is unlikely to happen again any time soon and experts (who actually understand what’s happened in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last dozen years) largely agree that al-Qaeda is, at present, almost certainly incapable of organizing one. Psychologically, by default, we’re protected by denial, deflection and a natural, generally speaking, underwhelming facility with large number calculation, necessary to do the math on this horrific and complicated data set.
One of the star tweets under the hashtag #MuslimRage – an appropriation of a Newsweek gaff following the Innocence of Muslims video fiasco – according to NPR, retweeted 1,000 times, was, from Leila:
Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. #MuslimRage.
Can’t yell “jihad” if you’re a brown person in an airport.
If there’s a better (funnier) nod to racial/cultural/religious anxiety than that tweet, I haven’t seen one, and if the targets of profiling are laughing, the whole thing seems slightly more manageable.
Are we afraid? Maybe. What we are, what we’ve got, as a people, is a topical miasma of suspicion of Middle-Easterners and Muslims, even if we know better. Admitting that prejudices of this kind exist everywhere as part of historical-cultural narratives, the door opens for comedy and other forms of public discussion.
A question regarding terrorism-inspired air travel security occurred to me on a recent transatlantic flight: are retinal scanners concealed in seatback monitors?
Watching an inferior NBC comedy, history anthology resting on the tray table, for reference, jacketless, because it’d been used as a daytime coaster/nighttime sleep aid and marked by embarrassing cup rings of various sizes, mid program, the word: AMERICAN appeared on the screen in official-looking white text.
It formed at the exact speed a learning program would use to gently tell a human being that: it’s watching, has scanned and retrieved personal information (nationality, gender, passport number, origin of departing flight, city of final destination) which it was then reading back from the beginning.
I was flying from Heathrow to JFK, so I’d read: AMERICAN, female, P#: xxxxxxxxx, London, Heathrow and New York. I waited. Eventually, AMERICAN appeared again, several times. Was the program confused? Was I extra American?
No, I remembered, you’re on American Airlines. This wasn’t intelligent software it was tonally nationalistic brand-driven communication. Overly possessive, in my opinion; do partners, like NBCUniversal, know that American is plastering their brand name (and my nationality) all over entertainment content?
In Jesus is Magic, Sarah ‘Big S’ Silverman suggests American Airlines use the slogan: “first through the towers” — because it is something in which they came first. Personally, if AA combined this line with a cross-cultural program for storytelling and sharing between individuals interested and/or affected by religious or racial conflict, connecting participants with constructive ways to channel frustration and grief, I’d develop a bad case of brand loyalty. It’s certainly preferable to seeing: AMERICAN across a TV actor’s forehead.
By the way, I haven’t rejected the possibility of in-flight retinal ID tech. Strangers wearing latex gloves touch us in public, we partially disrobe and stand in full-body scanning machines and there are RFID computer chips in our passports.
However we may feel about living in these dog days of privacy v. protection, the important message, I think, is one of fraternity: we’re all criminals, all of us together, let’s beat (laugh at) this together.
First world guilt is, as a rule, funny. In the throes of our great environmental awakening, issue-driven politicking has an apocalyptic bend, we recycle applesauce jars, rescue furniture from city streets, buy Cooper Minis and circulate TED talks we hope vindicate our fervor.
Still we fly. Terrorism and deleterious effects of oil consumption and trade be damned. The unseemly cognitive dissonance we face when we book a flight: sustainability mantras (suppressed or indulged) opposite an almost obligatory transportation custom of our time – baring eccentric and elevated stature and forgiving friends and family – has an easy turn-off switch: go anti-green.
Popular narratives of planetary responsibility direct us to admire and possibly emulate some pretty ridiculous groups: hippies, luddites, yuppies with self-sufficient micro farms or desert gardens, sustainable third-world growers, etc. The do-good / live-normal conflict is a heavy one. What we need is an equally weighted counterbalancing voice: a disgusting, wasteful (honest) and funny one, bringing regular folk into the search for a practical solution. #EnvironmentalMisconduct. Comedy = the new activism.
Not having listened to Big S, American Airlines tells customers: “We Know Why You Fly.” Which is absurd and kind-of touching. Flying hasn’t always been an equalizer, but, for many of us, it now is. Air travel humor too is for everyone, as personal and as rich in flavor as humanity is in character. So, in a manner inspired by the officious, gleefully judgmental voice of David Sedaris, a true man of all people, please enjoy journal entries I wrote during my latest travels.
Ex1. Travel Journal Entry: There Will Be Blood
There’s either red wine or blood on my tray table hook. You know, that sliding rectangular knob that restrains your in-flight, reading, writing, eating and sleeping surface? I hope it’s blood. It’s not a sufficient amount of wine/blood to indicate serious injury and I’m always a fan of the spread and amplification of filth. Also, with all the irrational fear of flying and annoying security precautions, somebody better be getting hurt.
Ex2. Travel Journal Entry: Soup Suspicion + Pizza Exposé
The mushroom ravioli* may be filled with onion soup, a ruse concealed by basil-flavored fishflakes in a sunflower oil and cornstarch liquid and a tablespoon of lumpy red paste tasting of salt. *Conspiratorially, transatlantic flights seem to favor ravioli as a vegetarian option for religious and other butt-hurt objectors and those intimidated by airline meats.
Part B: Pizza comes in a box. It has “traces of eggs.” It is named: La Pizza Quattro Formaggi and produced by a company called Incanto. It is made in Italy and the directions for how to open and consume the pizza are in Italian and English and, though I’m able to understand both, I read neither, and ate two-thirds of the pizza incorrectly, messily – in a way my mother, grandmother or any civilized person would consider improper.
Thanks for reading.