Christopher Schaberg
Christopher Schaberg
Christopher Schaberg is an associate professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans and the author of The End of Airports.
  • Mini Object Lesson: Why Attack Airports?

    Christopher Schaberg

    On Wednesday, the Mirror posted the clickbaity listicle “Are Travellers Safe? From Istanbul to Glasgow and Brussels – 10 airport attacks that shook the world.” The subhead reads: “After 41 killed in Turkish airport attack it’s clear airport terminals are now the place for terrorists targeting the innocent.”

    That attack in Istanbul was atrocious, and it stung especially on the heels of the awful Brussels bombings in March. But the Mirror’s notion that airports have only “now” become targets is just plain wrong.

    Since their inception, airports have been “the place” for spectacles of violence. It’s not always terrorism, though. Sometimes it’s a daredevil stunt gone awry, other times it’s a terrible crash or near disaster. Occasionally it has to do with the military occupation of these otherwise civilian spaces. Throughout the twentieth century and up to now, airports have been stages for displays of excessive power, and their corollary dangers.

    What makes airports popular targets for violent spectacles?

  • Mini Object Lesson: Gender in Flight

    Playmobil airline lavatory Christopher Schaberg

    If you are feeling consternation about recent gender trouble in public restrooms, you might look to the heavens for relief. Not for divine intervention, though. Rather, gaze at those airliners cruising by, 35,000 feet above, contrails dissipating in the ether. They’ve got this issue figured out.

    On first blush, airplanes seem like the most egregious sites for the recognition and policing of identities—terrorists being the obvious specter. Air travel can bring out people’s worst bullying and nationalistic tendencies, and class-based structures rule the cramped spaces of flight. Unfair stereotypes are still associated with flight attendants, and there remains a persistent patriarchy among pilots. Gender politics have by no means disappeared up in the sky.

    Still, airplanes prove that some gender battles have already been settled. For instance, airline lavatories are unvaryingly non-gendered, and they work just fine, flight after mundane flight.

  • Mini Object Lesson: What Is a Snack?

    Christopher Schaberg

    Snacks get us through the day. They bridge the gap between meals, and help us tolerate excruciating think tanks or boring presentations. A snack can be as simple as an apple or banana, or as complicated as the array of salty flavors and accompanying micro-gustatory promises proffered at the vending machine.

    Recently I learned about a company called “Love With Food,” which offers monthly boxed assortments of healthy snacks. For each box purchased, a portion of the proceeds are donated to food banks across the United States. It sounds innocuous enough, and even social-justice minded.

    A blitzkrieg issued from the sample box I received in the mail: kale chips, rice crackers, fig bars, kosher cookies, gluten-free waffles, and even small green tea latte hard candies tucked in the corner (snacks, really?). Here was all of the globe tucked into a tidy bright red box: a primer in cosmopolitanism couched as a simple, healthy dietary decision and laced with with a touch of philanthropy to assuage the pangs of snack-guilt.

    But as I sifted through the box’s bewildering contents, I noticed a message on the bottom of the box: “Still hungry? Shop more at LoveWithFood.com.” This is not really about snacking so much as it is about shopping.

  • Mini Object Lesson: The Season of Small Toys

    Recently at the drug store, I passed the Easter pop-up section, with all its trinkets and candies sold to fill plastic, pastel eggs. Further down the aisle were the small toys, conveniently Easter basket friendly as well: Pretty Ponies, Hot Wheels, and a host of unbranded princesses, robots, and animals.

    All these small toys reminded me of some from my own childhood: the bagged Lego sets that came in McDonald’s Happy Meals in 1989. This was a series of eight speedy vehicles, a dozen or so pieces each, simple but elegant in their aerodynamics. Two airplanes, two cars, two helicopters, and two—hovercrafts? The hovercrafts add a Miami Vice lifestyle vibe to the set—amphibious maneuvers discordant with prop planes, copters, and the track-bound scope of the race cars.

  • Mini Object Lesson: The New Starman

    In a video that has been praised as “breathtaking” and “sweet,” Audi advertised its 205-mph Audi R8 V10 Plus during Super Bowl 50.

    The commercial depicts a resigned, aging astronaut deep in the funk of nostalgia: namely, for the golden era of manned spacecraft, moon-bound in all their glory. He seems destined to chronic melancholia, until a younger man—his son, most likely—decides to jar him out of his stupor, interpellating: “Okay commander; come with me.”  

    Walking out the front door, the younger man holds up a car key, offering the latter-day astronaut the driver’s seat. Yet this is a purely symbolic gesture of control—the automobile key has of late been castrated, turned into a “keyless entry remote.” The curvaceous gray car bolts away from the home and careens around an ocean-abutted, moonlit highway, and the forlorn astronaut’s face at last creases into a restrained grin.

  • Mini Object Lesson: Blue Apron and the Thing About Dinner

    Up in Michigan for the holidays, high winter winds knocked out the electricity for a couple days. A family friend offered her “Blue Apron” meals to my parents. I’d never heard of it: Blue Apron is a gourmet dinner subscription service that sources local ingredients, then packs and delivers dry-ice cooled meals ready to cook. All you have to do is follow the directions.

    They prepared the meal at a nearby cottage that still had power and brought the food over in pots and pans. Next thing I knew, we were wolfing down decadent platters of tail-cut salmon fillets topped with dollops of a spritely horseradish sauce. There were garlic mashed potatoes and grilled brussels sprouts. I opened a Bordeaux, and we supped by candle light. The power would not come on for several more hours. It was Christmas.

  • Mini Object Lesson: The Gifts that Keep Giving

    Flickr user faungg

    Last week, Ian wrote about the strange economy of gift giving. He suggests that part of what is so unsettling about the splurge of Black Friday is its flirtation with less calculable formulations of exchange and expenditure.

    The following day I found myself at my local independent bookstore for Small Business Saturday, signing copies of my new book The End of Airports (okay, maybe I only signed one single copy, for my mother-in-law who was sweet enough to stop by and patronize the shop). As I talked to shoppers, I thought about an old quip: how a book is “a gift that keeps giving.” This slogan was first used to sell phonographs in the 1920s, and subsequently it was adopted to shill any number of goods and services. It’s reached a point of saturation such that it can now be applied ironically to unwanted things: Herpes, the gift that keeps on giving.  

    But books really are gifts that keep giving.

  • Mini Object Lesson: Fishing Shirt

    Fishing shirts are not just for fishing anymore. Or perhaps they never were. They are a modification of the travel shirt, a many-pocketed button-down shirt that looks vaguely like a Oxford-cloth business casual staple, until you get up close—then you see the details: vents, mesh underlayers, patch pockets with accordion folds and pleats, key loops, utility tabs, expandable collars for sun protection … the list goes on.

    What do these shirts offer, whence their popularity, beyond the conceit of actual fishing?

  • Mini Object Lesson: Consider the Lavatory

    Quinn Norton / Flickr

    Given the latest airplane urination scare, perhaps it’s time to look to the lavatory.

    Occasionally aircraft lavatories burst into the news: an aging actor doesn’t make it to the lav in time, and pees in the aisle; another actor, a bit younger, slams the lavatory door in a huff and gets kicked off the plane; terrorists may use the privacy of the lav to assemble cruel devices or hint at their presence; an artist repurposes one for a curious exhibit on a trans-Pacific long-haul flight. Most of the time, though, lavatories fade into the background.

    But here’s the thing about this space:

  • A Forgettable Passage to Flight

    How the jet bridge distills air travel: an Object Lesson