I was in Heathrow again yesterday. That place is a waking nightmare of the urban.
If weblog posts are messages no-one forces you to read, and to which you are generally free to reply if you wish, in the way that you choose, the experience of the airport is a series of messages (commands from security staff, security notices, advertisements) you are forced to endure, with no way of replying.
If the act of replying is to mean anything, you must have the prior expectation of some form of dialogue, that your views will be taken into account. But what you have in an airport is a sort of dictatorship. You must comply with the commands, or be removed, by armed guards if necessary.
When I was talking about my trip the other day -about the absurdity of the security checks in particular- with a colleague, she said, “I know it’s all in a good cause, but it’s bloody ridiculous”
Of course, everything that takes place in a dictatorship is in the service of a good cause, but we can leave that aside. It seemed odd to me that she should describe security as ‘a good cause’, since there’s nothing especially good about not wanting to get blown up, and it struck me that she was talking about it -the whole ass-sickening rigmarole of taking off your belt and shoes, smearing yourself with the remainder of whatever unguents you have stored on your person, and so on- as though it were some sort of common project, as though we were all in this one together.
Well, it is a common project insofar as no-one wants to be blown up, but people differ quite a lot in the extent to which they don’t want to be blown up.
I, for example, would be perfectly happy to take my chances boarding an aeroplane upon which people were allowed to carry umbrellas. As most know, it rains in Dublin, but the security staff were telling one man that he would have to leave his umbrella behind, or check it in.
What with the monstrous queues and the additional charges, and the fact that he’d come all the way from Hong Kong with aforesaid umbrella, he wasn’t happy. So, after initially leaving the umbrella at the gate, he snuck behind the security staff’s tables and lifted the umbrella, heading in the direction of the queue for the scanners. He apparently had a gammy leg, and was using the umbrella as a sort of crutch. When stopped at the scanner by an operator, he was told to wait. The operator went to talk to his supervisor.
A minute later, the man came back and said, my supervisor says that we can ask your airline for a wheelchair on your behalf, but you cannot bring the umbrella with you. At the airport, my supervisor says is a stock phrase of the established dictatorship. It is another way of saying that there is no need for reason or consideration of your personal circumstances here: the higher power says that it this is just the way it is, and I am merely a vessel for conveying its messages.
In Hollywood films, when an evil hostage taker puts a gun to the head of the hero’s family member, you are used to hear something like ‘oh for god’s sake just do whatever he says’. That’s precisely the reaction that airport security is designed to solicit from you; in fact it is what the rest of us expect, and it was the reaction that eventually came from the limping umbrella man’s wife, whose limp -like the one in the final scene of the Usual Suspects- loosened up and disappeared upon turning the corner in the direction of the shops. Airports: they make liars and criminals of us all.