Saturday, August 12, 2006

Feeling particularly PC

So, as anyone who's ever read this blog with any kind of regularity knows, I work at a public radio station as a control board operator.

I'm not usually interested enough in the shows we air during my shift to pay any more attention than I need to (i.e., I need to know whether or not it's broadcasting, and whether or not anyone's swearing, and it pretty much stops there), the sole exception being This American Life. My station airs the show on Friday night, and last night's show actually managed to piss me off a little bit.

The show, which I'm fairly certain was a repeat (they've been airing a lot of them lately), was titled "Last Words" and it focused on the thoughts, words, and actions during the final moments of life. A little over halfway through the show, the host interviewed an author who had put together a book of Black Box transcripts.

The first thing that struck me was that something seemed particularly stupid about airing a story like that right after the London air-bomb scare. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye today as she left for the airport - bound for Chicago - and while I wasn't exactly shaking in my boots over the thing, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't in the back of my mind. I can't believe I'm the only person, or the only This American Life listener, with a loved one on an airplane today. Maybe from the point of view of the show's producers it would seem silly to air another show just for that, but like I said, they've been broadcasting nothing but repeats lately. How much trouble would it have been to air one that didn't include a somewhat morbid discussion (it was touching, and even funny, as well, but the morbid was still very much there) about the last words of pilots during a time when you can't bring so much as nail polish on a plane?

The other thing that pissed me off, and this is where I really felt the PC boiling, was an anecdote about a China Airlines flight that crashed. The author told the story after the host prompted him by saying that, in some of these transcripts, it was clear that the pilots died because of "sheer stupidity." If I remember correctly, the plane was coming down too fast, the pilots were blinded by fog, and the Black Box recorded the sound of the man in the control tower screaming "Pull up! Pull up!" over the pilot's headphones. The last words of the pilot were "What means 'Pull up?'"

So, presuming the pilot of the China Airlines flight was Chinese, then the fact that a Chinese man isn't fluent in English is an example of "sheer stupidity?"

I don't know. Maybe I'm making too much out of it. I should say that if the show wasn't so fucking phenomenal, I wouldn't bother to complain in the first place. And in spite of the fact that I think this was an inappropriate time for this show, it was up to their usual standard of excellence. They ended with a short story by Tobias Wolff that nearly brought me to tears. They just usually tend to be more sensitive about these things.

Likely, the China Airlines piece wouldn't even have upset me if the Black Box story as a whole hadn't already struck a nerve.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mick, how's it going?

I believe English is the official language for all airlines worldwirde. I could be wrong. I know air traffic controllers are required to know English, it wouldn't make sense for them to know it and not have the pilots know it as well.

Mick Martin said...

Joe, what's up man?

Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I think it would've been good if they'd had a bit more explanation in the story though. Or they could have just used another example. It just came off bad.

Anonymous said...

I actually listened to that show today. It was really interesting. I think I've heard that Sarah Vowell piece about three times, though. I'm getting sick of it.