Last week, it was an ill-considered, creepy managerial-class scheme to force me to divulge irrelevant medical information, likely in contravention of federal caselaw, to an employer in Pennsylvania in exchange for a job pruning pear trees, sometimes in brutally cold weather, for $9.50 an hour. This week, it was a bullshit scheme by a cohort of advertising asshats who insinuated themselves into customer service operations at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to have me “Interact with this ad to earn your Access to Wi-Fi” and additionally sign up for a bimonthly airport e-mail newsletter.
Holy fucking Sam Houston. The newsletter signup form indicated that required fields were denoted by an asterisk, and there was an asterisk next to every field. All of your intelligence base is belong to us. Yeah, I’m totally not gonna fly through DFW because it’s a major American Airlines hub where the connecting fares are often cheaper than point-to-point fares for the same city and I have over 38,000 A’Advantage miles, but if some airport authority dipshits clutter my inbox with promotional material, I’ll totally put on my Red Wings and fly to a city where I hardly have any connections in order to game some of the most inscrutable and self-important rich girls on the face of the earth, or maybe try to yuk it up on a local petroleum geology scene that is run by people who are absolutely fucking insane in an oops my credit card just got declined at Target because I blew all my savings on a failed wildcatting operation kind of way. It’s like these people don’t understand how hub airports work. This might not be a problem if they weren’t running a world-famous hub airport.
There is something even more wrong with people who believe that customers should have to “earn their Access to Wi-Fi,” and it isn’t just with the eccentric capitalization. It’s moral, too. It’s coming from a very ugly place. Follow the scumminess back to its source, and it becomes understandable that the federal government has seen the need to deploy troops to that part of the country on occasion. Free wifi is a commonplace customer perk in tens of thousands of American coffeehouses, and often in bars, grocery stores, auto repair shops, and the like. Business owners pay for it because their customers are already paying for their products and services and providing free wifi builds a huge amount of customer goodwill. I spend hundreds of dollars a year at Starbucks that I would otherwise spend at 7-Eleven, Peet’s, or Dunkin’ Donuts (whose coffee I prefer to Starbucks’) because Starbucks has very reliable wifi with no time limit.
It doesn’t take an MBA to understand these things, and if it does take an MBA, one is mightily fucked. Texans bray that they’re all about that competitive free enterprise (the bass is a matter of personal taste and conscience), but they must mean something different by competitive free enterprise than Starbucks means. In the DFW version, one gets to alienate one’s customers with annoying, condescending demands for dog-and-pony tricks and personal information in exchange for a service that can be had at Starbucks for free.
Of course, DFW has a captive customer base, so it doesn’t have to actually abide by the rudimentary don’t-piss-people-off-with-stupid-shit customer service standards that apply to companies operating in a genuinely competitive market. Passengers have options to transfer through other airports, but they don’t have the option to turn their DFW layover into a Denver layover while they’re stuck at DFW waiting for that silver bird to fly them away. They’re leavin’ on a jet plane, don’t know when they’ll be back again, oh babe, not another fucking AT&T droid ad. Is that 737 comin’ outta the sky yet, Fogerty? Years ago, I was quite impressed with the high quality and low, even below-market, prices of concessions at the Reno-Tahoe Airport, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who has never been impressed with that airport’s number of nonstop destinations. Reno-Tahoe probably offers such good services with so little bullshit precisely because flying there involves a layover at Dallas.
Telling customers that they have to “earn” something that they can get for free at Burger King is insulting. They won’t all be insulted, but you can bet the oilfield that some of them will be. Wifi isn’t a fucking paycheck. Asking customers to “earn” it is bizarre. If there were a charge for it, it wouldn’t be earned; it’d be paid for. It’s kind of like saying that I have to “earn” a tall Pike with room by paying the barista $1.95 (extra because I’m in South Lake Tahoe, but I paid only $30 for my room last night because #WINNING, after a fashion). It doesn’t matter how I came by that $1.95, whether I worked a payroll job for it like a good American or relied on the old man’s petty cash money or dressed in rags and shook a cup full of seed change in front of the Safeway or sexually serviced a lonely MILF, in which case she’s also paying for nothing less than a tomato mozzarella panini and a morning bun because a gigolo needs his foods. This is a transaction of money for a product, kind of like crack sales but legal. And in re: DFW beancounters dialing whine-one-one because they had to spend money for this free wifi service, did I somehow not pay American Airlines $211 in fare and checked baggage fees? If American is welshing on facility fees, that’s American’s problem and the airport’s problem, and if the parties get really stupid, it’s an occasion to offer first fruits unto the trial bar, but these are moot points, because American pays DFW massive shitloads of money as a basic cost of doing business at one of its most important hubs. There’s also a big markup on food services at DFW (offhand, I’d estimate twenty to forty percent, depending on the item), so there’s some of that good ol’ Lone Star slushfunding going on. I don’t know who’s getting the slush. Hopefully some of it’s going to the fry cooks and baristas, but it’s going somewhere.
Any White Whine about how providing free wifi is le cher is total bullshit. Yeah, it costs money. So do lighting, air conditioning, and plumbing. The airport has to pay janitors to mop the bathrooms and vacuum the terminal floors. It may well spend more to ventilate its fucking jetbridges than to provide wifi service. The electricity needed to power the banks of free electrical outlets located throughout the terminal isn’t free. These banks are better designed than their equivalents at many airports, so it’s not like the entire airport is run by extortionate dipshits.
The trouble is specifically with the wifi service, where New South freelance revenuers have insinuated themselves into a normally free service in order to make the little people work for their supper. The South is renowned, of course, for its history of making people work under duress and without compensation. This “earn your Access to Wi-Fi” seems to be part of a pattern. There’s this pathological compulsion to lord it over somebody or other and chide him for not being more thankful that he isn’t in an even worse station in life. In the old days, it was often expressed as an insistence that the black man be thankful that he was removed from the violent jungles of Africa and brought into the benevolent gunpoint bondage of the white man in America. I mean, we taught the Negro to read, except for all the times when we passed laws forbidding reading instruction for slaves and that kind of thing, and we fed him when we weren’t beating him to the point of leaving him disfigured for life.
I use the first person plural liberally, but with good cause. There’s a common argument, often advanced by elements of the shitbird right wing or their useful idiots, to the effect that they aren’t ancestors and their ancestors weren’t slaveholders, so obviously none of this unfortunate business is any of their fault. There’s an even worse, and probably more common, argument made by people whose own family connection to slavery is left unexplained, often because it’s powerfully morally incriminating, to the effect that some other constituent of Whitey could not possibly have any moral culpability for slavery and racism because his ancestors back in the day were too busy undertaking pogroms in the Breslau shtetl to manage a plantation in the Tidewater. Oh no, did I just suggest that Poland has historically had a really nasty problem with antisemitism? How could I, the descendant of Jews, say such a thing about one of the most provably antisemitic countries in Europe? And of course no Pollack or his grandson ever came stateside and waved the bloody shirt about busing or housing integration in the white ethnic parts of Milwaukee or Cicero. Assimilation, or, as my great-grandfather might have called it, assimilization, sometimes comes at a moral price.
My own ancestors include Quakers who maintained heavily used stations on the Underground Railroad and Swedish yeoman farmers in Alabama. As far as I know, I’m not descended from any American slaveholders. This does not, however, mean that I don’t want the Neoconfederate America-really-isn’t-racist shitbags to stuff it. Every American should be ashamed of the toxic legacy of slavery. Period. The main story that has come down about my Swedish yeoman farmer ancestors is that they once tried to take a wagonload of watermelons to market only to have them start floating away when they tried to ford a stream in high water. There must have been black yeomen farmers who did the same thing, since it didn’t take my Swedish ancestors a generation in Alabama to get around to it, but even if the chain of custody on such a story was indisputable, repeating the same story about a group of black farmers would generally be considered racist in the American cultural context. Losing a wagonload of watermelons in a boneheaded stream fording attempt isn’t a black thing; it’s a country thing. It’s only considered racially inflammatory due to a vile history of concerted, racially inflammatory social controls having to do with the pickaninny and the watermelon. It’s the same thing with fried chicken and collard greens; rare is the downmarket Southern honky who is bashful around that feast, but these are somehow considered race foods. Black American culture is predominantly a sort of lowbrow Southern culture, so of course stuffing one’s face with these items might look odd in Vermont or Minnesota, but for a Southern country cracker to find these foods alien would be downright bizarre.
This is a great example of how badly the well has been poisoned on race in the United States. Why on earth should a black person be ashamed of being a small-time watermelon farmer and salesman and having a occasional wagon mishap on the way to market? It might be embarrassing to have cargo float out of the wagon if professional teamsters are around, and the melon float might be a good time to talk tarps, but race should have nothing to do with this. This is a story of honest, if futile, labor by the kind of yeomen who, given some time and noninterference from the gentry, would be able to economically and morally reform the South from the ground up. The reason that this didn’t happen was that the gentry wanted nothing of the sort and was willing to sandbag it with as much proxy violence as was necessary. This racially divisive overclass proxy violence goes back to the immediate aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion. The Tidewater gentry created a racial problem, almost out of whole cloth, because they preferred an entrenched racial problem in which the poor whites were on their side to an unstable class problem in which poor whites and blacks were on the same side, threatening to butcher the gentry in retaliation for their vicious, overbearing battery of social controls.
The entire Southern caste structure is predicated on the assumption that no one wants to do a lick of work and work must therefore be extracted from an unwilling workforce through variable levels of compulsion. This is not an exclusively Southern worldview; it has historically been shared by many Northern and British industrialists, among others. It’s more entrenched in the South, though. Seattle’s early industrialists tried to enforce a similar regime into the Great Depression, but the local working class had a very strong fuck-you-very-much-boss reaction going back to the first decade of the twentieth century, so that by the late thirties the industrialists realized that the working man had achieved a critical mass and they had to eat their humble pie or leave town. This happened in some fashion in quite a few Northern cities around the same time, but rarely, if ever, did it succeed in the South.
It should be no surprise, then, that Starbucks, a Seattle company, is one of the least fuck-you-son American multinational corporations. If some DFW metroplex shitbird with an MBA and a raging case of class condescension tried to make customers “earn” their wifi access at regional Starbucks stores, headquarters would shut that dirty scheme down within hours of the first customers complaints. Similarly, it should come as no surprise that Walmart, the great corporate manifestation of Ozark find-Jesus-and-obey-your-betters culture, imposes such rotten, predatory policies on stores in heavily unionized areas where, had the same policies first been developed and implemented locally, they would have gotten their creators buried in concrete boots at the bottom of a ship channel, where one does not simply find Jimmy.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, either, that AirPnP, a fee-based electronic restroom matching service, originated in New Orleans. People from out of town usually assumed that New Orleans was just a warm, vibrant city with bitchin’ Cajun food, and then Katrina happened. The tragic truth is that the city was in horrendous shape prior to Katrina, with stratospheric levels of violent crime, shambling government services in its poorer neighborhoods, and a police department whose officers had been caught soliciting contract murder and beating up a restaurant customer for criticizing the food during a private detail. Who dat! New Orleans was already on the edge; Katrina merely pushed it over, briefly turning a partially failed state into a fully failed one.
The defenders of these predatory regimes like to insinuate that they’re important aspects of Southern culture, misunderstood by Northerners. It doesn’t help that so many of the loud sort of Damn Yankees say so much stupid, ignorant shit about the South in the broadest terms possible. There’s this tone-deaf, foolish assumption on the Northern left, for example, that the South is uniformly and implacably hostile to black people and the North is not. It would baffle these Yanks to learn that many blacks are proud Southerners, probably more than are proud Northerners. It isn’t that they’re fully supportive of everything, good, bad, or ugly, that has ever been done in the South or in Dixie’s name; it’s that they’re inexorably tied to some Virginia hollow or Georgia cottonpatch or corner of Mississippi bayou, some place that’s home because it’s home. A lot of their white neighbors feel the same way. This is why once the ugly social controls are buried for the time being, black and white Southerners are able to get along so well, surprisingly well by Northern assumptions. Why shouldn’t they? They share a huge amount of cultural common ground: football, church, the bayou, Sunday dinners with too much greasy-ass seafood and sweet tea. These aren’t things that the Yankees can necessarily grok, but most Southerners are cool with that if we aren’t assholes about it.
Quite little of this cultural common ground has anything to do with the birthright of the gentry and its successors to treat the help like the lowest kind of dirt. This birthright is maintained to this day with an appalling amount of coercion and intimidation. Historically, the methods of its enforcement have included wanton, calculated violence on a massive scale. A proud Southerner will swallow the bitter medicine and take the side of his shitheaded Southern betters in a standoff with imperious Yankees, but this is mainly because the kinds of Yankees who try to reform the South have consistently been incredibly tone-deaf and foolish. Occasionally vulnerable populations in the South have the privilege of getting a Northerner in their corner who does not needlessly alienate other Southerners, but Yankees of this astuteness are rare enough to be cherished above rubies. A lot of us are just fucking dogs in our approach to sectoral relations.
Many Southerners are appalled by the morally debased things that their powerful neighbors do in the name of the South and its values. Many Americans are appalled by the morally debased things that powerful Americans do in the name of our country. This is one of the reasons why it sucks that the reform efforts in this country are reliably led by people who are totally boneheaded in their thinking and their language. It’s true that the overclass is scarily adept at outmaneuvering and outarguing its opponents: see Rush Limbaugh, a horndog prescription opiate aficionado with a much younger wife and a compulsion to berate other Americans for their moral turpitude and lack of self-control. This propaganda wouldn’t be so easy or so effective, however, if well-meaning Americans looking to appeal to the better angels of their country’s nature weren’t such fucking idiots. Between their condescension and their mealymouthed equivocation and their poorly disguised self-dealing, the rest of us don’t need enemies when we have friends of their caliber.
There are culturally appropriate ways to challenge shitheaded Southern managerial-class social controls, datamining rackets, and the like. Most Yankee reformists are clueless about these things, so let a Californian rebsplain some shit. Southerners pride themselves on their hospitality. Making airport travelers do a song and dance and sign up for a corporate e-mail list in exchange for a wifi connection that they could get without any of that nonsense at any off-premises Starbucks is shitty-ass hospitality. It makes travelers passing through from out of town go home and complain about how the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is run by a bunch of fuckheads who make them watch crappy AT&T ads. It confirms Yankee suspicions that the South really is run by well-dressed but seedy scam artists, extortionists, and morally preening robber barons. C. S. Lewis thought that moral officiousness and wholesale robbery were separate avocations, but DFW’s wifi service is run by mid-rent grifters who insinuate that travelers are lazy and ungrateful while making them watch shitty advertising content and sign up for an e-mail newsletter service verging on corporate spam. In the Southern domestic or social sphere, this sort of behavior would generally be considered appallingly crass and ill-bred. It’s only in the business and civic spheres that it’s tolerated, and unfortunately often encouraged. Reframe this wifi datamining horseshit as poor hospitality rather than a good and righteous corporate business practice, and there’s a good chance that someone with juice at the DFW airport authority will tell the MBA shitbirds to go masturbate into their business suits because it’s giving Texas a bad name. You know, shanda fur die goyim and all that.
Because here’s the politically incorrect root truth: as an American, I have a right to say unkind things about the gumbo, to publicly encourage Texas to go fuck itself for datamining me in exchange for an airport wifi connection, and to advocate the redeployment of federal military and civil authorities to recalcitrant parts of the South on moral grounds because I’m sick of crooked, self-righteous highbrow Southerners trying to drag the rest of the country down to their level of the sewer. The corollary truth, however, is that as Texans and as Southerners y’all have an equal right to say decent things and to do mitzvahs, since I can’t think of an adequate term in that Christian English, that will hopefully convince me to retract my butthurtful comments about your part of the country.
In mitigation, I should note that some of your chicks are smoking hot, even if they’re originally from Massachusetts, but that isn’t enough. Other parts of the country have hotties who chill with me even though I’m out of their league, too, and they don’t make me watch that damn AT&T ad and register for an airport nerd wankery newsletter just so that I can go online and reserve a motel room.
So, yes, bitches, I am messing with y’all. Y’all were asking for it, and if you have a problem with that, we still have federal military and law enforcement authorities. Suck on it. Respect, like free wifi, must be earned.