“Oh my god, look at what you did to him”

An image of a video on the news of a passenger on a United Airlines flight

By now you’ve likely seen the video (maybe it’s already old news, in fact), when a passenger on a United Airlines flight in the US was forcibly removed from the jet in order to make room for United employees.

If not, then see the news report here, from which the above screen capture was taken.

It was later reported that the man who was bloodied and dragged from the flight by officers then returned to the flight, dripped blood throughout it, and that the passengers all eventually were removed so that the plane could be cleaned.

There’s so much to examine in this episode, and the web is already filled with comments and analyses, many revolving around corporate power and its relationship to the mechanisms of state coercion (i.e., police forces).

But it’s the other passengers who caught my attention. Now, I have no idea what I would have done — we’re all there, in our seats, wanting to get home or make our connections, already filled with the now normal anxiety that comes from air travel in this day and age. So maybe we should welcome the quick thinking cell phone users who captured the video that then popped up all over social media. But, best as I can tell, no one seems to have actually helped this man. Many seem to be minding their own business. Others, though vocal, seem rather compliant.

The officers have guns, after all.

But even if not intervening physically, I admit to wondering if anyone left the plane on their own once this had happened — registering their intolerance for these actions by cutting their relationship with the company, right then and there. Soon after, people online started doing this — literally cutting their relationship with the company (which, in the days following, lost about $770 million in stock value).

The vocal resistance and filming is not inconsequential, of course, and so I don’t wish to dismiss it, but I’m wondering how quickly, once the man was off, or once the plane was cleaned, things returned to business as usual for these passengers, all eager to get home or make their connections.

After all, in the days immediately following (click the headline to read the article):

A screenshot of news headline regarding United Airlines ticket sales

It’s not the famous Milgram experiment, of course, but it might cause us to pause, just a little, and, amidst complaints about United’s business model and their CEO’s initial non-apology apology, ask some questions about social conformity and authority.

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