Monday, January 04, 2010

A Word on the Rose Parade

Well, not a word on the Rose Parade so much as the completely predictable exercise in re-framing the selection of Chesley Sullenberger as Grand Marshall afforded too many people in Pasadena who found themselves adjacent to reporters' voice recorders. No one can argue that Sully is a genuine hero, or that we would all gladly pay a $200 bag surcharge for the rest of forever if it would guarantee him being the pilot on our jaunts from Tucson to O'Hare. But that's not enough for an increasingly Palinized public whose highest accolade for the giants among us is that they're actually of average stature, and possibly midgets.
Sullenberger was chosen to embody the theme of the 2010 parade, "A Cut Above the Rest."

No one could disagree that he fit the bill perfectly, parade-goer Jessica Osterman said.

"It's good that they're going back to the roots and picking an average person," said Osterman, 28.

For Terri Rubio, 58, the selection of Sullenberger was an inspiration.

"He's not out to sell himself as a celebrity," she said. "He's a common person who's sticking to his values."

Jessica and Terri are apparently unaware that "A Cut Above the Rest" generally != "average person." Because Sullenberger is not a common person. He's a highly trained, well-educated professional who also stays on the cutting edge of safety procedures and crisis response research. In other words, he's pretty fucking elite--and in more other words, he's exactly the kind of person you want flying your airplane. The average guy, whether he "sticks to his values" or not--whatever the fuck that means in the context of landing a jet in a river--is not.

While it didn't come up in the Rose Parade quotes I read, I sense it simmering right under the surface, so I'd also like to remind these folks that, unlike the average Joe who might find suddenly himself in the pilot's seat when the engines go flat, Sullenberger stayed on task and focused on his training rather than taking a moment to bow his head.

Interviewer Katie Couric asked exactly the kind of what-exactly-happened, what-did-you-think-then questions that drew colorful details from the captain, a very succinct and focused man. But one question jumped out from the others: "Did you, at any point, pray?"

It seemed to be the only question that surprised Sullenberger, who had taken his plane from a normal take-off through a disasterous bird-strike that killed both engines to ditching in a frigid river in less than five minutes. His answer:

I would imagine somebody in the back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane.

There's been more than enough remaking gods and heroes in our own image over the last nine years or so. Let the man be a hero without dragging him down to your own level.

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