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Can't get to an Unfamiliar Moon when they won't even let you on the plane.
August 26, 2011 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Vance Gilbert is, in his own words, "big in the music business like a barnacle is big in shipping". Performing solo with acoustic guitar, his original music (including songs about Old White Men, Gilligan and the planet Pluto) and some well-chosen covers, as well as his on-stage banter, have charmed audiences all over* for umpteen years. He has made a reply to CeeLo's infamous song, performed alongside Arlo Guthrie while having an attack of gout and in his spare time, he makes free-flying models of antique airplanes. But sadly, he has just gotten the most publicity of his career... as an unwilling participant in one airline's Security Theater. (Story picked up by The Consumerist, the Economist, and James Fallows at the Atlantic.)

*personally, I discovered him when he was the un-billed opening act for George Carlin during Carlin's last tour in 2007, where he effortlessly won over a very white audience that was waiting impatiently for an angry old comedian to throw some f-bombs...

But as long as we have an excuse to show them, here are some more Vance Gilbert performances: "Some Great Thing", "Dragonfly Wings", "Why Are We So Cruel" (back when he had hair), "My Dog's Best Friend Is a Cat", a Stevie Wonder cover to open up an interview, singing the blues and getting laughs, having too much fun with an unknown opening act and a Sam Cooke song and in 1986 (maybe the earliest performance clip he hasn't personally destroyed).
posted by oneswellfoop (55 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I keep wondering when the dominos are going to start tipping over and people just stop flying because of this kind of bullshit.

Chances are, given the size of the US and the expectation of the US traveler that they be able to get across an entire continent-country in less than a day, it won't happen for a while.

But I keep hoping it will. Because once the passengers stop demanding the service the way they are now, then perhaps the policies which allow this kind of paranoia and abuse to take place will actually change.

For my part, I'm pretty much done flying anymore. If I can't get there by car in a day, I'll opt for other ground transportation. But fuck flying. It's not worth the hassle, suspicion, paranoia, and emotional/mental discomfort anymore.

(I used to get harassed all the time when flying, as a longhair bearded hippie faggot. Then 9/11 happened, and all the harassment shifted to other people. Meanwhile, security got so tight that the paranoia was.. well... clinically paranoid, and the flight attendents' assholes got so tight that I kept wanting to take charcoal on flights with me with some lube and seeing if I could get diamonds by the time we landed. Fuck The Airlines.)
posted by hippybear at 7:01 PM on August 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


hippybear, too many people need to travel for work, or to see family. My family are all on the opposite side of the country from me. Taking a train takes more than a week. I can't afford to take three weeks just to see them, and if at least some of us didn't travel, I'd never see them again. As it is, I only get to see them a couple of times a year, some of them not even that. "Just stop flying" isn't practical for a lot of people.
posted by MadGastronomer at 7:26 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's exactly that expectation of "just stop flying" being impractical which keeps these kinds of injustices happening.

I'm 2000 miles from my family. I don't see them often. Like, not even once a year.

Go back a century and people who lived with this kind of distance between them and family never saw them again, period.

It's this expectation that such distances should be easily and casually crossed, and the willingness to put up with any level of bullshit which is leveled at those who feel they need to cross such distances by those who provide the means... which keeps such bullshit happening. Over and over.

It's a private industry, folks. Either vote with your pocketbook or you lose any right to bitch about what you have to endure.
posted by hippybear at 7:41 PM on August 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hippybear, you may be ok with not seeing your family. I'm not. And you don't get to tell me I ought to be ok with never seeing them again, just because I can't live where they do.

No, it's not the fact that we keep flying that keeps this stuff going. Boycotts usually don't work. It's the climate of fear our politicians are cultivating that keeps it going.
posted by MadGastronomer at 7:44 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


And you never did address the people who must fly for their jobs.
posted by MadGastronomer at 7:46 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like he was profiled for being interested in aircraft, not for belonging to any particular racial or ethnic group.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:53 PM on August 26, 2011


Vance Gilbert was flying for his job (and missed one show because of the bullshit). But he was able to use his teeny bit of notability (amplified by the rather random editorial judgment of certain members of The Media), to get a better chance than most at being 'put right'. Still, the chance that it may happen again does not go away. Unless the publicity helps to make One of America's Favorite Black Folk Singers into a major, recognizable star; then it will go away, but just for him. Which is why I linked to so many of his performances. He deserves better. But then, don't we all?

And tylerkaraszewski, it appears to be a combination... with a white passenger, the security people might have more easily noticed it was PRE-WORLD-WAR-TWO aircraft.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:56 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even if it was a book of plans for the Airbus A320 it shouldn't matter. It's a friggin' book, not a nuclear device. I swear, people are afraid of their own shadows any more.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:58 PM on August 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Not to mention, don't they give you a card with pictures and diagrams of the plane you're actually on? It's not like this stuff is a big secret.
posted by vorfeed at 8:03 PM on August 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh shit, someone is actually reading the inflight safety pamphlets? They know all the secret enntrance points! Terrorist!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:07 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


don't they give you a card with pictures and diagrams of the plane you're actually on? It's not like this stuff is a big secret.

Heh. That's a good point. Also, wouldn't any terrorist study the plane before he got on?

Vance is the man. I saw him a few years ago at the Festival of Funny Songwriters in Somerville. Good times. I hope the airline at least apologizes to him.

Also, I'm glad the officials saw this for what it was and didn't do anything. I'm sure they have to take things seriously if the airline says there's a problem, but it sounds like the cop just sort of rolled his eyes and laughed it all off. You never hear about cops when they're not being dicks. Good for them.
posted by bondcliff at 8:08 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Just stop flying" is not the answer. This kind of absurdist security theater is creeping its way into become the New Normal™ not just at airports, but at bus stations, train stations, subways, and even highways.

The terrorists have won.
posted by Dimpy at 8:10 PM on August 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Forget the airplanes, go to one of his shows! He was a regular performance at my college years ago and his shows were some of the best I've ever been to. From goofy and hilarious to heartwrenching. Do it! See him live!
posted by fzx101 at 8:12 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love Vance Gilbert SOOO MUCH!! I saw him in my hometown--he made up a song about our (in attendance) mayor on the spot, and was delightfully interested in and kind to the children in the audience. Plus, his voice is amazing. I'm so sorry to hear that he had this experience. I'm sorry *anyone* has this experience, but particularly sorry this kind, generous man was targeted because of thoughtless fear.
posted by epj at 8:13 PM on August 26, 2011


Fun game: next time you're in an airport, try counting the number of African-American passengers you see. (My city is 10% black, and I usually don't get to ... one.)

Also works at baseball games, county fairs, and college campuses!
posted by miyabo at 8:20 PM on August 26, 2011


When we were living in Japan during its boom years, I noticed instantly the way women would grab their purses extra tight when I was coming down the other side of the street at night, or how parents would be extra careful with their children around us. The Japanese people weren't even aware of this involuntary tensing; of course we noticed every flinch

I've had that happen, it was on a stairway in a hotel in Vegas. I didn't understand at first why the Japanese ladies in front of me were flinching like that and hurriedly tucking their purses under their arms.

Darn this paranoid world - I've just spent the morning figuring out there's a not so great firewall here in singapore - it blocks wordpress blogs and TIME magazine's battleland specifically. Unlike China though, there's nothing out there in the webz (that I can find) that addresses this issue.
posted by infini at 8:20 PM on August 26, 2011


I silently wept the whole flight to DC. I've never been so frightened or humiliated. I'm shaking even writing this.


.
posted by infini at 8:25 PM on August 26, 2011


Regardless of the race of the passenger, it's just so bizarre.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 AM on August 27, 2011


Wow, thanks for all the links to his music, oneswellfoop. I read about this ridiculous story a couple of days ago, but at the time I didn't know much about his body of work. Thanks!

This piece has pictures of him and how he was dressed that day: Arlington Man Pulled Off United Airlines Flight Claims Racial Profiling
posted by homunculus at 12:19 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a little shocked that they would turn the plane around, then bring out the cops, then question him.

I believe this is what you call an order-of-operations problem, United.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:29 AM on August 27, 2011


I guess Bruce Schneier’s telepathic takeover of the TSA didn't work out.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 AM on August 27, 2011


homunculus, I didn't notice you'd linked it in the other thread, honest. (You ARE the King of Related Links - you're singlehandedly keeping MonkeyFilter alive). I found the story in the RSS feed for Consumerist five minutes after I posted yesterday and while waiting to post, decided to make it more about his music, which is cool...

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe has editorialized that the actions taken against him were justified. Also known as the Boston Rag, right? (And owned by that bastionbastard of the Liberal Press, the New York Times.) If you're ever on a plane and see somebody reading the Boston Globe, feel free to stand up, point and yell "TERRORIST!", because it's okay with them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:50 AM on August 27, 2011


@miyabo I assume you're arguing a theory that most black people are ninjas and thus invisible. Despite the absurdist youtube propaganda, the Dept. of Homeland Security is well aware of the threat and is trying to find a way to keep them down.
posted by nickgb at 1:06 AM on August 27, 2011


@civil_disobedient I believe this is what you call an order-of-operations problem, United.


United Airlines is based in Chicago, so obviously they use reverse polish notation. you can understand the occasional flub.
posted by nickgb at 1:08 AM on August 27, 2011


"Just stop flying" is not the answer.

But "Just stop flying to the USA" has worked really well for me for nearly ten years now.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:52 AM on August 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I actually got pulled off the city bus for this same thing. But when I showed the cop that my book about trolleys, they let me back on. Of course, someone took my seat and I had to stand the whole way. Couldn't read my book. Plus my transfer expired.

Now I walk three hours to work instead of bussing it for 30 min. Voting with my pocketbook! And I'll continue refusing to give them two dollars until they go bankrupt! Nyah!
posted by BurnChao at 3:02 AM on August 27, 2011


Civi_Disobedient: I'm a little shocked that they would turn the plane around, then bring out the cops, then question him.

I believe this is what you call an order-of-operations problem, United.


In fairness to United, standard operating procedure for dealing with suspected terrorists on crowded planes is probably not to start by letting them know you're on to them, you filthy terrorist. That gives you time to get your bomb off while the plane's taxiing....

(Naturally, it was idiotic to suspect this man of being a terrorist, but given this idiocy, it would seem they followed sensible procedure...)
posted by Dysk at 4:04 AM on August 27, 2011


(Oh god, the referent of 'you' changes so many times in those two sentences, clearly not had enough coffee yet: one doesn't start by letting the terrorist know that one is onto them, as this gives the terrorist time to get the potential bomb off while the plane is still taxiing.)
posted by Dysk at 4:08 AM on August 27, 2011


I am reminded of some aspects of the conversation from the Google+ identity theatre thread - its abuse of power.
posted by infini at 4:57 AM on August 27, 2011


I have a last name that, by a major stretch of the imagination, might possibly be construed as Arabic. I am always "randomly selected" for invasive searches and schedule connecting flights with three-hour windows accordingly. (I am a polite, non-malodorous, Celtic-looking female.) Every trip to the US has seen a scaling up of security theater such that I have postponed my next flight there for the past two years. I can't postpone much longer, and I am dreading it. The TSA surely has many new joys in store for me.

I fly extensively within the European Union, and am actually permitted to keep my lethal miniature nail clippers and weapons grade keys in my carry-on luggage. There have been times that I wasn't required to remove my belt for x-raying by security. Why, I was once even allowed to hang on to the remains of a bottle of water I purchased at the gate. The horror!
posted by likeso at 5:26 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


the Boston Globe has editorialized that the actions taken against him were justified

Thanks for that. Great to know the Boston Globe has folks on its house editorial committee who have their heads up their asses on airline security.
posted by mediareport at 6:00 AM on August 27, 2011


I hate us.
posted by tommasz at 6:17 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a simple problem with no simple solution. When there's a slight chance of a catastrophic event, employees are unlikely to have depth of skill or experience, and they will vary between obliviousness and overreaction in response to suspicions; institutions and authorities will distrust their personnel, often for very good reason, and will try to establish protocols that deprive them of decisionmaking discretion. So the airline has a protocol that says something about suspicious behavior (possessive behavior of carry-on items, airplane-related reading materials) and prescribes nondiscretionary actions, and the pilot or attendant or control manage a game of telephone in which someone gets the impression that there was a guy studying airplane specs and refusing to hand over his bag and they think "OMG, do I want to be the person who let the guy clutching the weapon/bomb and diagram fly, or do I want to let the cops talk to him?"

So this kind of thing happens, and it's shitty for all involved when there was nothing to get worried about, and all MeFites know that there's no way in hell we would have done the same thing if we had been on the scene and working for United. But United may be very wary of trusting any of us to have made that call, because we were hired to steer planes and show people where to sit, and we may want a backup decisionmaker because we know we never would have been able to identify the hijackers in the cases we've read about before, and know that security on the ground is apparently strict but in practice full of holes, and we know that there's a whole plane full of people to save or to inconvenience and that everyone is subject to some degree of inconvenience and humiliation and we just don't want everyone to go boom.

Here, I simply don't see racial profiling. I don't see abuse of authority, or manhandling, I see politeness and civility and at least in part acknowledgement of error. I am sorry this guy had it happen to him, regardless of whether he is awesome at music. I would like to see more by way of apology or compensation to him, though it's hard to overcome the humiliation visited upon him. I would be happy for United to take this experience into account in training everyone. I think we err on the side of all or nothing protocols, not just here but even more so in schools. But I would also acknowledge that some of these kinds of errors are inevitable and not a sign that everyone is an asshole or the US is a police state or that airlines should be boycotted.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:35 AM on August 27, 2011


But I would also acknowledge that some of these kinds of errors are inevitable and not a sign that everyone is an asshole or the US is a police state or that airlines should be boycotted.

I agree with your observation that not everyone is an asshole.
posted by infini at 7:42 AM on August 27, 2011


Here, I simply don't see racial profiling.

I don't see it either but then again I've never been racially profiled so how would i *ever* see it?
posted by storybored at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with your observation that not everyone is an asshole.

Yay! I fear I may fall on the wrong side of your divide, but I'll take common ground where I can find it.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2011


these kinds of errors are ... not a sign that ... the US is a police state

Phew. Because there are already enough signs of that.

Are your papers in order? What's this ... a book? Well, aren't we special.
posted by Twang at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2011


Didn't Mr. Gilbert have to go through the "security screening" like everybody else? If reading a book about pre-WWII tri-wings (with cockpit photos) is going to cause a meltdown, maybe it should have been caught before he got on the plane. Besides all the obvious idiocy of this incident, doesn't this prove the security check procedure is worthless?
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:00 AM on August 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Enron Hubbard, I agree that the security check is worthless, but this doesn't prove it - after all, nothing dangerous got past it. It does prove that even airline personnel think the security check is useless, though...
posted by Dysk at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2011


Here, I simply don't see racial profiling

To quote his letter, "Would this have happened to the 30-ish Caucasian woman sitting across the aisle from me"

Let's assume she wanted to keep her fanny pack and read about airplanes. I believe the answer is no, it wouldn't. Just because you don't see racial profiling doesn't mean it's not there.
posted by Jeeb at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2011


I don't see it either but then again I've never been racially profiled so how would i *ever* see it?

Umm, I believe I have seen it even without having been its victim, just as I have seen other forms of discrimination without having been its immediate subject. Conversely, I have no idea how you would know that you haven't been racially profiled, positively or negatively, and think the odds are overwhelming that you have been.

I do think that more routine victims of it are better at seeing it, and are owed deference, if that's your point. I buy many first-person accounts of it based on indirect indicia. Here I just didn't see any explanation beyond the captioning in the post, and it seems like a screwup on other grounds. I am sure I could be wrong.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2011


I do think that more routine victims of it are better at seeing it, and are owed deference, if that's your point.

I'm not sure what my point was. On the one hand they are owed deference, on the other hand, they may also be overly sensitive.

But you're right though, i may have likely been positively racially profiled without my knowing it.
posted by storybored at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2011


Let's assume she wanted to keep her fanny pack and read about airplanes. I believe the answer is no, it wouldn't. Just because you don't see racial profiling doesn't mean it's not there.

You may well be right -- certainly in saying that because I don't see profiling doesn't mean it's not there. I also think that sometimes when it is inferred it isn't there. I guess I see enough possibility of this kind of error on non-profiling bases (as I said, because of inherent institutional and individual incentives), and believe that it is inevitable on occasion, that I am slightly less inclined toward the inference. But there's a lot of evidence that racism intrudes on high-stakes, risk-averse decisionmaking, so it's certainly possible.

I couldn't fully grasp what he was saying about the other passenger, except to think that she indeed should have been asked to sit the hell down. Or at least to attest that she was a homeowner and had some poodles, and then arrested on that basis.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:16 AM on August 27, 2011


I think his point was that because the other passenger was white, it was less likely that what happened to him would happen to her. I agree that there are many other factors at work here, but I also think that race was one of them.
posted by Jeeb at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would this have happened to the 30-ish Caucasian woman sitting across the aisle from me

Looking at this again, I wonder if gender profiling was a stronger influence?

Would a 30-ish black woman reading the same book attract the same attention?
posted by storybored at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


How damaged am I from this experience? I'm not feeling particularly American. I'm angry, dumbfounded, frightened.

For the tenth anniversary of 9/11 we should collect American stories like this, before this country loses its soul entirely.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:02 AM on August 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


The thing I'm having the most trouble wrapping my head around about this whole thing is:

...a black guy wearing a Jimmy Buffet shirt?
posted by tristeza at 10:24 AM on August 27, 2011


...a black guy wearing a Jimmy Buffet shirt?

He wears it better than a lot of white guys trying to 'dress black'. In fact, if you want to see him trying to 'dress black', refer back to this. (Dude, that's a wall clock, and you could've at least taken it out of the box before putting it on the chain... sigh) He was seen wearing his baseball cap backwards in the mid '00s, but besides that... it's just the way he is, and some of us love him for that.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2011


oneswellfoop, that is the joke, of course, that it's *still in the box*...one of my favorite things about the video
posted by FlyByDay at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2011


Here, I simply don't see racial profiling.
Would people have found it 'suspicious' if the guy was white, however? It may not have been 'deliberate' racial profiling.
...a black guy wearing a Jimmy Buffet shirt?
Yeah I was wondering if he'd actually been pulled aside by the fashion police.
posted by delmoi at 3:30 PM on August 27, 2011


yes, FlyByDay, I know... it's an excellent immediate signal that the entire video is NOT to be taken seriously. Of course, if he'd worn it to the airport, the TSA would not have gotten the joke.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:49 PM on August 27, 2011


Somehow I missed this post.

Vance Gilbert is a really incredible performer and a very nice, gracious, gentle person. That this happened to him, that they made him feel this way, absolutely infuriates me.

...a black guy wearing a Jimmy Buffet shirt?

If you can sing like that, you get to wear whatever you want.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:11 AM on August 29, 2011


We're all terror suspects now: Every air passenger is treated with suspicion since 9/11, regardless of appearance. Global traveller Pico Iyer has had to put up with it all his life
posted by homunculus at 2:53 PM on August 29, 2011


But the truth of the matter is that, for those of us with darker skins, and from nations not materially privileged, it was ever thus.


if pico were a mefite I'd have spoused him so hard ~ global soul

Our first obligation is to define and interpret “global” in as deep a way as we can. And one reason I called my last book The Global Soul was my sense that “global” had become this very fashionable tag that we attached to everything we wanted to seem desirable. Nearly always it seems that “global” is constructed in terms of global markets or global communications—in other words, in terms of business and technology—which I regard as really among the most shallow aspects of life.

It seems to me we’ve thought a lot about how we could get information or goods across the planet at the speed of light, but very little about how we could get people or thoughts or acts of compassion across the world. East and West are both inwards and outwards and I’m interested in taking globalism inwards, so that we ask what implications it has psychologically or emotionally, rather than just financially.

posted by infini at 2:33 AM on August 30, 2011


It's a private industry, folks. Either vote with your pocketbook or you lose any right to bitch about what you have to endure.
This is a weird (from my UK-based perspective) and, in my experience, uniquely American attitude.

This sort of thing is exactly what consumer protection laws and other government interventions are supposed to solve. Market-based solutions only work when the customers in that market are able to make an informed decision to easily switch away from a provider. When one or more of those conditions are not met (good information stymied by being overly complex or drowned out by misleading advertising; easy switch prevented by monopoly or by exorbitant transfer fees/slow or difficult paperwork), the marketplace is no longer efficient. Under these conditions, the power dynamic between customer and provider is seriously messed up, e.g. me refusing to fly would severely limit my career and possibly mean I never see my family again, vs a drop in demand so tiny that the airlines can't even feel it. This disparity between costs for the two parties means that we cannot meaningfully vote with our wallets.

Instead, why not have a system where we vote with our votes: have the govt acknowledge that certain practices suck for everyone concerned and intervene to protect consumers? The whole purpose of government is to provide a framework in which we can make our lives better, after all. Why not shift the balance a little away from making life as easy as possible for corporations, and toward making lives a little easier for individuals? And the first step toward doing this is complaining long, loud and bitterly to anyone who'll listen, even as we continue to use the terrible service on which the structure of our lives depends.

Of course, this is at best "collective bargaining" and at worst SOCIALISM!!, so I acknowledge that it's a tough sell on that side of the pond.

/lefty rant
posted by metaBugs at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


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