Monday, September 17, 2012

Last Flight There (/Back?)

It's remarkable what they've done to Terminal 3 of Singapore's Changi Airport. If not for the screen announcing departures and arrivals, if not for the somewhat greater-than-average proliferation of travellers' shops, if not for the presence of the armed and uniformed (a sight common enough in Singapore), one might be hard-pressed not to buy into the strange illusion that Changi is just another one of Singapore's ententacling (to neologise), undeniably pullulating shopping centres -- which seem to have firmly embraced my island nation, holding it perhaps all too fondly, in a hug approaching a capitalist death-grip. After all, themed malls exist, so a airport-themed shopping centre, with all the trappings of travel -- such as immaculately clean lavatories; mandatory x-raying of belongings; all too many passport checks; duty-free alcohol and perfume; announcements urging vigilance against existential threats to civilisation; ever-ascending heights of service and friendliness, each more climactic than the last (this might be too much to replicate) -- could easily exist. No doubt such a shopping centre would be a paradox, and would a failure, for the constant message, working insidiously against the need to profit, will be FLIGHT: flight from the vulgar now-ness of looking around for a new kettle, flight from the purchase of unnecessities, flight from the cycle of it all. But alas, Changi Airport is a real airport (I certainly hope so, anyway), though I am undecided as to whether travel itself is the supremely real or unreal. Baudrillard has probably reflected on this already. If he hasn't, someone else will have. But a closing thought: airports make the experience of travel as unreal as possible, substituting travel with another set of sensations and experiences only remotely linked to travel, in fact often trying to minimise the fuss of travel, even as these are replaced by the anxieties of security and terrorism. Yet the illusion is one of hyperreality, announcing travel writ large, as if we have to compensate our non-contribution to the actual journey with grander claims about our ability to travel anywhere and everywhere, announcing the things we can do towards (or against it?) travel -- like buying neck pillows and fiercely countering changes in air pressure through the frantic sucking of sweets, and seeking newer and more ecstatic experiences. 

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