What is the extra pulse of human interest that propels the story of Malaysia Flight 370?
A very large number of us are airline passengers these days, so there is an intrinsic relevance to any event involving accident or terrorism. No matter how many times we are reassured that, statistically speaking, air travel is extremely safe, and no matter how many times we have flown, there always remains a primal awareness that between take-off and landing we become vulnerable and relatively powerless.
We also take great delight in a mystery. There is a let’s-all-slow-down-to-gaze-at-the-crash mechanism that lures us into a need to know what happened, to sift through possibilities, to look for some personal connection to unique events that do not directly concern us. Any associated trauma, tragedy or pain for others does not seem to deter us from morbid fascination. Perhaps those things will even excite us.
But the extra pulse in the case of Flight 370 has to be the Defeat of Technology. In a world suffocating in an invisible blanket of radio waves, satellite beams, mobile phone signals, wi-fi tsunamis, drones, sleepless cameras, robotic surveillance and the like, it is still somehow possible for a massive piece of hardware and its passengers to disappear with only illusory trace. Even if the wreckage is found a month on from the disappearance of the plane, this represents an extraordinary jolt to our assumptions.
Hate rampant technological progress: there’ll be no wildness left, whether literal or spiritual. Love rampant technological progress: we’ll all be safer, more amused, more leisured, more connected.
Yer’ takes yer’ choice…but trust relationship with people, not robots.
Although there is one problem with people: if Flight 370 was a war plane it would have been traced in moments.
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Mustang Wanted is the chosen notoriety-name of a young Ukrainian guy who climbs tall buildings, towers and cranes, and then hangs above voids by his fingertips. He films his exploits with a head-camera, abetted by anonymous comrades.
It’s an extreme activity that seems to have been enthusiastically taken up by young people in Russia and other nations that formed part of the old USSR. They are all young, mainly (but not exclusively) male, not afraid of heights, and into adding cool techno soundtracks to their internet videos. They make the older generation of building-climbers, like Alain Robert, look staid and conservative. It is a craze that has evolved from cityscape free-running daredevil athletics.
The climbers are mainly anonymous, often wearing balaclavas and hoods. A typical example on You-Tube (altitude porn) shows two unknowable young people shinning up the Shanghai Tower, the world’s second highest building. There is a breath-snatching moment when they emerge from a shaft to begin the real climb with the tapered peaks of lesser towers protruding from the mist below their shoelaces. Mustang Wanted, however, is one who has chosen to manufacture and proclaim an identity. This poem is by way of ambivalent celebration (it looks better on the Word page where I can squeeze the margins into a tower shape but the text is here).
Amazing Feats, Amazing Hands
Swarm up storm up every man-made height till you can show off on tightrope girders you heroic head-camera steeplejack narcissus strolling without effort a hundred miles above other tower tops and city blocks and dinky-crawl cars always cars inching around two hundred miles below your faultless trainers always cars to remind us of our dull passages through the world in dim obliviousness to your techno-tracked presence in the heavens above heavens above you force us to watch you even as you force us to look away watch look away watch look away watch till our adrenalin feels headier than your own when you calmly trust each rivet each bolt each narrow gangplank whilst leaving the dizziness to us the fear to us the righteous condemnation to us and don’t you just love to vision the screened product the look on our faces as we gaze on your works when you trust to your hands your fingers alone and hang and swing and taunt giddy-icarus death and flaunt your momentary triumph over the vertical the vertiginous knowledge that you will go too far push too hard for the limitless sensation the most libidinous fix of altitude porn so enshrined in your well-chosen non-english speaking english mustang wanted mustang desired risk like any young being so don’t call him stupid waste-a-life hope he dies tomorrow why does he do it because he can until he falls and he hurts no-one when he sees steel and concrete pride as his joy and not as property or industrial investment for in generosity he humanises each no-go space with lithe imagination with studied indifference to a time of dying will he fall it does not matter that is not the point the point is that there is no point beyond the sickening grace the sumptuous bravado of being and motion without safety-net without second thought without grown-up doubt please do not doubt please do not think twice please do not accept that safety-net go swarm up show off swarm up show off swarm up show off swarm up show off swarm upˑ
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It’s about 8 o’clock in the evening and I’m sitting in a carriage on a slow train from Birmingham to Shrewsbury. I have been into Brum to see a friend and take in an exhibition of Photo-Realism at the City Gallery. I have also enjoyed the typically minimalist stuff on display at the Ikon Gallery.
Earlier trains have been cancelled and this one is crowded. Lots of people gazing furtively at each other in the darkened window-reflections whilst they fake absorption in their i-pads, i-pods, laptops and dvd players.
After Telford the carriage thins out. I have my unit of four seats all to myself. Across the gangway there are two young blokes in the corresponding unit. I can typecast one as a pleasant, fresh-faced, middle-class, self-employed IT genius. He would not look out of place striding around Islington’s Silicon Roundabout with a zappy coffee-to-go.
Opposite him sits a rangey, unkempt, shell-suited young man with a prison-pallor…my professional experience tells me immediately that he has just been released from a Young Offender Institution and is travelling home with his scuzzy hold-all and his sellotaped mobile phone. He is drunk but not out-of-it.
YOI-boy keeps receiving unwanted calls and texts from some anxious girl who is supposed to be meeting him at Shrewsbury. Five minutes out of Telford he decides that he has had enough, switches off his phone and eyeballs IT-boy (and me). He fixes a laconic but slightly threatening traction-beam on It-boy and tries to begin a conversation about how women like to “nag nag nag fuckin’ nag”. IT-boy laughs nervously and tries to make polite banter without crossing the line into outrageous sexism.
I try to process the necessary data. Is YOI-boy going to become more verbally aggressive? Is he drunk enough to become violent? If so, is he drunk enough to be handleable? How long till the train gets to Shrewsbury?
There is a crucial moment when he pauses after sneering at one of IT-boy’s bland responses. I can see him weighing up whether to escalate things. He sighs and I can clearly read “it’s just not fucking worth it” in his body language. The draw he has smoked slowly snuffs out the alcohol.
He turns his attention to me with a slack-jawed smile and says: “What do you think, Pops?”
Whitenoiseofjesuschristonthecross!!! Attack my self-image like that would you? Take that! My left-hook has lost none of its power.
Well, I didn’t actually hit him. I just humoured him and made straight for the mirror as soon as I got home.
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Apologies to Sami story followers…the promised further extract really will be in the next one!