Dreaming of clothed emperors

Granted, I trained as an economist and financial journalist. Granted, I have a weird sense of humour. I still did not expect to laugh out loud while reading the Economist.

This week’s issue has a wonderful sideways look at what airline in-flight announcements might sound like, if they were truthful. I wish I could share the whole article with you (it’s only half a page) but I guess that it would not constitute Fair Use. Here’s the strangled-at-birth link, for those who are interested. [People at the Economist: want to get more print subscriptions? want to get more oh-so-profitable digital subscriptions? Then let subscribers like me link freely to the content. And see what happens.]

The in-flight announcement proceeds to tear apart a plethora of “marketed” half-truths, quarter-truths and downright lies. It takes no prisoners, scathing over issues ranging from front-versus-rear-facing seats, likelihood of survival in the event of an emergency landing on water, the value of lifejackets and rafts, the reason for banning mobile phones, issues related to CAT and DVT and air quality. I shall restrict myself to one quote on a Fair Use basis: “We are aware that this video is tedious, but it is not meant to be fun. It is meant to limit our liability in the event of lawsuits”.

Don’t take the article itself too seriously. But do take the principle seriously. It’s not about airlines or even air safety.

It’s about being truthful and spin-free.

Something similar can be created for pretty much every market sector there is, be it pharmaceuticals or automobile or even banking and finance. Even government. Even the security services. Even charities.

There are emperors walking around clothes-free right now. Zillions of them. Everyone knows they have no clothes.

Yet the pretence continues.

Why? I’m confused. I don’t like the answers I come up with.

7 thoughts on “Dreaming of clothed emperors”

  1. I’m sure that it’s fair use if I quote my favourite passage as well:

    “In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.”

    (Incidentally, if every commenter posts a section of the article, each section being small enough to constitute fair use, such that ultimately the whole article can be read by a visitor to this page, has JP committed a breach of copyright, or have we?)

    Regarding the above passage, it’s clear that there has been significant investment in the infrastructure of detachable slides, lifejackets under seats, training crew to show passengers how to use a whistle (!)… all of it totally pointless. Why was that investment made? What return to the airlines get from it? It seems to be just for show… to paraphrase Bruce Schneier, it’s the appearance of safety without the actual safety.

  2. “There are emperors walking around clothes-free right now. Zillions of them. Everyone knows they have no clothes.

    Yet the pretence continues.

    Why? I’m confused. I don’t like the answers I come up with. ”

    One answer can be found in THE QUEEN, a 1968 documentary about a transvestite beauty pageant:


    The way the narrator puts it, “It’s like they’re all in this fanatsy bag; but, then, who isn’t?”

    Eugene O’Neill raised this question to epic proportions in THE ICEMAN COMETH, using down-and-out drunks instead of transvestites; but the message was the same. Every character lives in a “pipe dream;” but the impact of stripping away the dream is devastating. As one of the characters puts it, “The whiskey doesn’t taste the same!”

    I subscribe to the social theory that reality is socially constructed. There is little more that I can do than acknowledge that my reality may or may not align with the reality of anyone I encounter. If I can recognize that, then I can prepare myself for Habermas-style strategies for bringing differing realities into alignment!

  3. Hi JP, I haven’t received the latest Economist yet, so I wait to read the article. As I was reading your post – it struck me that this is the situation reg. government, non-profits, and then saw that you had written that as well.

    A whole concert of naked (and not at all pretty sight) emperors is going on in the world around us. This is indeed a time for incendiary actions, in the interest of good scenery, if nothing else! (I remember you saying that Fr Jores of SXC told you: Don’t spoil my scenery!”. Best, chutki

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