Back when Flight was on screen, I got in a run-in with one of the few remaining Libertarians on my Facebook friends list. What follows is a clip from J. Neil Schulman’s article on Rational Review;
…having shown in her own presentation that the cause of the problem was mechanical and the savior of the lives was Whip, she continues her interrogation of Whip by asking him to give an opinion that two empty vodka bottles found in the airliner’s trash were consumed by the flight attendant that we in the audience knows was partying with Whip the night before the flight.
At which point, rather than lie, Whip confesses to having drunk the vodka himself.
The movie ends, true to its true-confessions formula, with a redeemed Whip in prison, having confessed to his sin of piloting an aircraft drunk and coked up — more expertly than any other cold sober pilot could have done.
The one piece of salient advice that I would give to J. Neil Schulman, when it comes to writing, is that members of a hierarchical system (like a corporation) don’t tend to give jobs to outsiders who use code words like statist to describe any system that they disagree with. When you walk in with an obvious chip on your shoulder, and the attitude that you yourself can do anything faster and better than any other group of people, you’re more likely to be shown the door quickly than to be given the time of day. Much less a job.
I went to see this move with a fellow film buff, my usual partner in crime. The Wife doesn’t do dramas. She’s into horror, SciFi, and action films. She’s dragging me to Age of Ultron this week. Avengers is far more her speed than a film about a pilot who saves a plane in spite of his addictions.
The film accurately portrays what would happen to someone like Washington’s Whip Whitaker (a functioning alcoholic) in the current regulatory landscape; and I think that is why it did not meet with the kind of approval that its creators expected. The average viewer probably agrees with the sentiment that Whip Whitaker did not deserve jail time; producing a film with a very unsatisfying ending. But it was hardly a disaster in anyone’s estimation other than that of a libertarian writer attempting to tie the fictional events in the film to a real disaster and then draw the most tenuous of allegorical conclusions.
let’s put ourselves into the plot of a fictitious combined disaster movie in which after scientist Richard Feynman proves that the cause of the Challenger explosion was launching on a day colder than the shuttle’s O-rings could properly function, the chief investigator finds vodka bottles among the shuttle wreckage and spends the rest of the investigation trying to find out if any of the crew of the Challenger was drunk at the time of the launch.
Flight, while flawed, wasn’t about what Neil says it was. The pilot in question wasn’t even jailed at the end for the reason he states. The movie was a limited exploration of how we treat addicts in this country, and how we mask over the functionally addicted among us with just the kinds of platitudes that Neil offers in his counter arguments. I would be the first person (and it was my first reaction on viewing the film the first time) to say that the pilot should not have been sent to jail. Yank his license, encourage him to seek treatment, etc, sure. Jail proves nothing, except that we will punish scapegoats given the chance.
However, to suggest he merited no punishment because he was a superman able to function on a level no other person could; I think I should remind Neil that the film was a work of fiction. While I have known many functional alcoholics in my lifetime, most of whom drove drunk every day of their lives, it doesn’t mean that they would not be responsible for accidents that they might have been involved in because of their impaired capacity.
It would be amusing, for the purpose of illustration, to put some of these types to the test, to find out if they really aren’t impaired. I’d be willing to bet that they would fail the same tests that the rest of us did, at statistically predictable rates. At least it would silence the people who insist that they not be subjected to the same laws as the rest of us.
The statement in the film that Neil hung his entire argument on was something to the effect that “we put [x number] of pilots in the simulator, all of them crashed” which is a far cry from the presentation that only Washington’s character could land the plane. The factual I took from that exchange was that it was an exceedingly difficult procedure to pull off. Imagine what the guy could have done had he been sober; had he done the preflight checks that regulation requires, he might even have noticed that the plane was not ready to fly.
But he didn’t, because he was hung over from a night of partying. He then proceeded to drink while flying, trying to ease the hangover (BTW, this doesn’t work. It just gets you drunk again) consequently he was liable for his violation of the public trust, breaking rules that he knew were in place as part of the regulations for public safety. Rules that he agreed to when he got his pilot’s license.
A libertarian would argue that there is no public trust to violate and that licensing is an infringement on individual rights. I don’t have to ‘prove’ that there is a public, or define it for the doubting individualist; it is defined in law already. Government, law, licensing. All out there already, part of the society we inhabit. Pretending the rules don’t apply to you just gets you put in jail like the protagonist of the film, it certainly doesn’t get the rules changed to be more reasonable.
I’d happily go for a system that tests for ability rather than chemical makeup of the blood, disqualifying those on a case by case basis who cannot master the basic requirements of the job. That would be a reasonable solution to the problem of impaired capacity. Getting that change made to the rules currently in place requires engaging the system currently in place. It means accepting that rules made by others do have power over you in some limited fashion. It means that government has the ability to make and enforce rules, even rules that we deem unreasonable.
Personal delusions about the non-existence of the public trust just get in the way of real reform; just interfere in the enjoyment of a decent flick that illustrates some pretty glaring flaws in our legal system. My suggestion? Leave your politics at home when you go see a movie. You might learn something.
Editor’s note. Age of Ultron (mentioned previously) was well worth the price of admission. An interestingly convoluted story about fear and what that emotion can twist you to doing in spite of your own better judgement. If Marvel has any sense they’ll keep letting Joss Whedon do what he does best for as long as he wants to keep doing it. The man has a feel for Marvel superheroes, and it comes across in all of his films. I’m in awe of his abilities and look forward to his next film.
All of the Avengers films have lived up to their promise of action. Most of them have delivered on interesting stories, if you are into comic book heroes. Since they are bubble gum movies (like Star Trek 2009) I see little use in plugging them in their own review articles. Go see them. They’re fun romps. In fact, you’ve probably seen them already.
- Avengers (2012)
- Age of Ultron (2015)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019)
I even have a list on Amazon for all the Marvel comic book movies, if you haven’t seen all of those. I have. (wikipedia list)
2 thoughts on “The Flight Disaster That Wasn’t”
Anthony recapulates our disagreement well. He stands by his original premise that "society" has certain norms that must be observed. I stand by my original premise that society is an abstraction, and that individuals with all their extreme biodiversity is the only reason this planet is still populated by homo sapiens.
There is no individual without the group, and there is no group without the individual. This is the sociological problem that individualistic ideologies cannot answer. We don't live in a vacuum, and no person knows or acts in solitude.
Also, supermen who fly better drunk are a fantasy. Take that one to the bank.