On the way to a wonderful vacation this summer, I flew Delta RDU-ATL-SEA and SEA-MSP-RDU. The flights in and out of SEA showed Delta’s edgy new safety videos, a version of one of which is here:
(The versions I saw were slightly different, as I’ll describe below. One was on a 767-300, the other on a 757-200). WARNING: Spoiler alert below the break.
Delta is clearly trying to make the safety process more fun, and flyers and journalists have noticed.
I want to flag, though, something my brilliant wife and I noticed in the video. The moment is at about 0:40 in the video. Seated at the exit row are two of the same white guy (a bearded redhead in a striped polo) and an African-American in a sport jacket and open collar. The white guys look friendly and confident; the black guy, uncomfortable. The flight attendant asks the men if they’re ‘willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency.’ The white twins respond, in a monotone unison: “yes.” (Does anybody ever actually refuse?) It turns out the black guy isn’t: “not really,” he says. Maybe he’s just freaked out sitting next to two of the same white guy. But guess who replaces him in that prime exit-row aisle seat? Another of the same white guy! They’re multiplying like tribbles! “Hey,” says the new same guy. “Hey,” the old same guys reply in the same unison.
So the featured black guy is the one unwilling to help out; and he is therefore demonstrated to be different, while whiteness is represented as homogeneity, with all three of the seat-mates the same guy. I’m not claiming that the racial implication is intentional, but there’s definitely a racial message incorporated in that set of decisions.
To make matters worse, in the video on my second flight the same black guy makes a reprise appearance at the end (when the video tells us to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”) As the plane takes off, we see him nervously holding the hand of an elderly white woman next to whom he’s been re-seated. The woman, the video implies, is comforting our African American hero through his nervousness about the takeoff. In this scene gender is introduced–a brave woman comforting a nervous man?–along with a set of tropes about age and race. The video’s attempt at humor plays directly on the (assumed) unlikelihood of an elderly white woman being in a position to soothe the nerves of a younger, black man.