The Privilege of Standing in an Airport Security Line

Malcolm Gladwell, in an online exchange with Bill Simmons, had two noteworthy paragraphs. The first:

I was in the Orlando airport not long ago, waiting in one of those endless security queues, when I looked up and saw that the ticket agent was escorting someone to the head of the line. She takes him past at least a hundred people and inserts him right in front of the conveyer belt. He wasn’t in a hurry. In fact, the guy turned out to be on the same flight I was, which didn’t leave for another hour. Who was it? Ray Lewis. Two things. One — there is no way she does that for anyone but a sports star. She would have stopped Albert Einstein if his driver’s license looked a little fishy. Second — no one said anything. We all just kind of nodded and looked at each other and said, “Cool! Ray Lewis.” Here’s a man who makes millions of dollars for hitting people really hard and it somehow makes complete sense to the rest of us that he should be able to cut in ahead of teachers, salesmen, nurses, working moms, and hack writers. If you are someone like Ray Lewis and that kind of thing happens to you every single day of the year, how do you stay normal? Standing in line in airports and other everyday rituals of modern life are the kinds of things that civilize us: As annoying as they are, they remind us that we are all equal and they teach us patience, and they grant us a kind of ultimately useful anonymity. Ray Lewis and celebrities of his ilk never have the privilege of those moments. By the way, Lewis was wearing a daring ochre, Caribbean-style pantsuit that, at some future point, deserves its own Grantland exposé. So yes. It’s not easy being LeBron.

And the second, on the LeBron theme and on his taking his talents to South Beach:

A quick thought experiment on LeBron James. A young, white 22-year-old from a nice, preppy upper-middle class family graduates from Oberlin and goes to work for a small-market investment bank in downtown Cleveland. He quickly establishes himself as a brilliant trader, possessed of a freakish instinct for the markets. He makes his bank hundreds of millions of dollars. But he wants to take his talents to Wall Street, where he can be surrounded by other great traders and have access to global capital markets. When his contract is up in Cleveland, he shops around before agreeing to join the legendary trading desk at Goldman Sachs, at what turns out to be a slight cut in pay. On his first day on the job, he’s interviewed on CNBC about his “decision,” and he predicts that his skills in combination with the talent already at Goldman will earn billions of dollars for Goldman’s clients in the years to come. Is there a single person in the financial world who would raise even an eyebrow about that guy’s behavior?

8 comments on “The Privilege of Standing in an Airport Security Line
  • 1) My raging entitlement was awakened by a solid year of being shown to the head of security lines (long story). Whenever the occasional staff member wasn’t quick enough or dawdled in escorting me, I became silently incandescent with irritation. Hard for special snowflakes to be humble, a traveler among travelers.

    2) If the banker orchestrated the TV event and created weeks of public drama and ego-feeding BS, yeah, I’d hold it against him.

  • Thought experiment: Lebron James wins 6 championship rings in his career (same as Jordan). Will people consider him as legendary as Jordan?
    I think the answer has to be no.
    People got way too angry regarding James”s Miami move. He made a decision that many of us would have made, but that’s exactly the problem, we want our heroes to be better then we are. In choosing to join an all start team with Bosh and Wade, he gave up the chance to be considered the greatest. What made Jordan so special was that in addition to being the greatest athlete of his generation, he took a team and made it championship caliber from nothing. James will never be able to say that, even if he wins as many rings.

  • Reading that email exchange is like reading Ezra Klein and his buddies dissecting Jay-Z’s beefs ad nauseam–Gladwell and Simmons are beyond long-winded. And whoever coined the word “jockosopher” should be exiled to Wasilla.

    The more imperial the dollar becomes in sports and hip-hop, the less interesting they are.

    I get the point of his thought experiment, but a more meaningful question than Gladwell’s would be: Is there a single person in the financial world who would demand that Lloyd Blankfein go to prison for Goldman misrepresenting the quality of loan pools they bundled and sold to investors?

    I would never defer to a celebrity on any grounds other than common courtesy, unless it was Channing Tatum.;-)

  • I believe most people’s gripe about Lebron was the entire “the decision” television appearance prior to him actually deciding where to go and not the actual boasting about winning championship afterwards.

    Taking your young trader theme or even any other mogul. If that guy shopped around to join another firm after his contract was up, no one would take any issue. However, if after interviewing at different places, he announced that he’ll inform his decision on CNBC nationally and kept all the interested party waiting at his beckon call til the very last minute even without extending the courtesy to the former place of employment on his decision first, yeah people would judge him as an egomaniac jerk.

    Part of being young is being dumb and making mistakes though, so people shouldn’t hate on Lebron forever. The public that dislikes him isn’t any better and is probably more fallible than him.

  • The LeBron example is a really poor.

    In NYC alone, there are thousands of people who work in finance. There are maybe 5oo people total who play for the NBA.
    Any talent can play in any NBA city if they are paid enough. It doesnt require the movement of hundreds of employees, buildings, office materials, etc… that would happen if a big NYC firm moved to say, Boise. Lest we forget that Shaq was playing with LeBron in LeBron’s final season as a Cavalier? And that LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all took pay cuts to play with each other in Miami?
    Its physically easy to move players from team to team to team. Playing in a more populated city has nothing to do with that.
    The idea that playing in a “big market” city is worth something in the NBA is completely shattered when you look at the who the Heat will be facing in the Finals- The Oklahoma City Thunder. A great team, with amazing players. From cow pie capital Oklahoma City.
    Look at the LA Clippers or the New York Knicks- two teams playing in two biggest cities in the nation. The Clippers have never been good. The Knicks havent been good since the early-mid 90s.

    Gladwell tries too hard to take big ideas and connect them with other big ideas. It’s like when he said that NBA owners should be treated the same as high priced art owners. Those are two completely different things! Owning a Monet doesn’t require a staff of hundreds, doesn’t require an ongoing supply of capital to keep it running…they’re two completely different “businesses”. Not all investments are the same.
    He reminds me of that really smart guy who acts like all of the problems in life are so simple to understand, but when you ask him to explain himself, his ideas become swiss cheese. People who treat him as this modern day Aristotle should really question his ideas more.

  • It’s an interesting point Gladwell raises. I’ve always thought things like traffic laws are also helpful for realizing that a lot of times, it’s best if no one has priority over anyone else. I loved the point you made years ago about not considering yourself special or framing yourself as protagonist in a narrative often correlates with increased performance.

    As far as LeBron, I’ve never demonized him for his decision (or “decision”). It just seems like people are always looking for a scapegoat, or a primary “villain.” Nobody should be forced to hang around on a team that isn’t working for them. I think a lot of the blame was because everyone in Cleveland – the fans, Dan Gilbert – knew how bad his surroundings were, and they resented him leaving because it made that point blatantly obvious. That, and envy from fans of 29 NBA teams who didn’t get him.

    Gary Payton was – and probably always will be – my favorite NBA player, and I have a soft spot for the major teams he played for. He won his title with the Heat, so this year’s finals between them and the Oklahoma Supersonics is a pretty compelling one for me. Not sure who to root for, but I’m leaning toward the Heat.

  • To echo everyone else, it’s not the fact that LeBron decided to go play for a different team. Obviously, that happens all the time in professional sports. It was how he went about leaving his team that angered so many. How many other players in the NBA or MLB or NHL have ever hosted a multiple hour prime-time special in which he waits until the last minute to announce the team he plans to play with? None. Predicting how many championships he will win on his new team was simply icing on the cake.

    However, the two paragraphs do a nice job of portraying my overall feelings of Gladwell. Meh, he’s pretty hit or miss.

  • Surely he should be flying First Class – and therefore gets to jump the queue every time anyway?

    We are obviously not equal for this reason – but First passengers subsidize Economy tickets so we are all a winner.

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