A flight bound for Chicago from Houston made an unscheduled stop the other day because of an unruly passenger. A frantic man tried to exit the 747 at 38,000 feet over St. Louis. It was the second incident on Sunday in which a disorderly passenger was restrained. I enjoy reading stories like this because it’s reassuring to know that other people are afraid of flying, too.
Sometimes I wonder if these episodes signal the beginning of a national epidemic of people behaving badly in public. Perhaps something is in the air. Maybe last week a popular actress sat down in the middle of the frozen food section and started crying and refused to move. Or a beloved game show host suddenly broke from reading a question and launched into a profanity laced tirade on live television, spraying spittle across the frightened faces of his contestants. Or maybe late one night a lonely government official began broadcasting images of his genitals across the internet. But these sorts of episodes probably wouldn’t surprise anybody these days. After all, the most popular television shows are the ones that force real people to cry on camera.
Sometimes I think: Let’s go back to the days when a man wouldn’t go outside without his hat and everybody knew the President was sleeping with a starlet but nobody discussed it because it wouldn’t be a polite thing to do. But it’s futile to demand public dignity, so why not let it all hang out? This age of oversharing might force people to stop pretending. We’re being painfully honest in public and perhaps the upshot is that people will feel less screwed up and alone. The guy fumbling with the emergency exit door, he’s certainly not pretending.
People who come undone are always more interesting than people who triumph. When the most vulnerable parts of somebody’s psyche are put on display for everybody to see, I catch a strange blend of empathy and relief. We all have our secrets and dark corners, but I’m relieved that mine aren’t on display beneath the cruel glare of today’s spastic media. The ugly truth is that I probably like these stories simply because they give me an opportunity to feel superior. No matter what else goes wrong in my life, I can always tell myself, “Well, I’ve never tried to jump out of a 747 at 38,000 feet.”