A rolling billboard ad for British Airways Club Class bears the declaration ‘A new kind of club – the entrance in London, the exit in New York’. The image is a vertically split screen featuring a view of London on the left and one of New York on the right. The London view is shot from one side of the Millennium Bridge and looks across the river to a skyline dominated by St Paul’s. The waterline is laterally extended so that it becomes the Manhattan riverside skyline with skyscrapers etc. The two waterlines are exactly horizontally aligned so that, at first glance, the image is of one unbroken cityscape.
A conundrum here: on the one hand, yeah, BA will get you from one city to the other so fast and so nice that it feels going into a club and out again etc but on the other hand what’s the point of travelling if London is spatially continuous with New York to the point that you can’t tell the difference between them? Maybe it isn’t a problem – maybe BA’s ad agency senses that difference is a bit much these days and understands that it is possible to suggest: yeah, you can take this luxurious journey but it’s not really a journey because nothing’s going to change so why not take this journey?
The journey then becomes more important than the destination which, in turn, begins to suggest that a virtual, destination-free journey would be just as good, especially if it were akin to ‘clubbing’. It’s reminiscent of that disappointing reality TV thing a couple of years ago with Johnny Vaughan where they loaded some credulous people into a fake space capsule, shook it a bit and told them they were in orbit.
But globalisation – it’s good, right? It makes everywhere reliable. Yet if you’re in the travel business how are you going to make a virtue out of this homogeneity? Downgrade the destination. Space travel then becomes time travel in which you spend time not traversing space but staying in the same place until it’s time to leave the club. The club is actually more fun than B in the ‘from A to B’ formulation.
Transposed to the notorious and allegedly manipulated Jean Charles de Menezes/Hussein Osman composite photograph, the business of photographically eliminating difference takes on a decidedly more sinister tone. According to this account of the recent trial of the Metropolitian Police, the prosecutor suggested that “…in the police composite, the picture of the Brazilian appeared to be have been brightened and had lost definition compared with the original. The brightening also appeared to have ‘got rid of the definition of some of the characteristics’ which could be seen in the original picture, including areas around the left nostril and the chin…”
In a previous post on the spiritual life of Paris Hilton, I wrote about the lack of psychological detail in Paris’s abrupt and cartoonish religious conversion, a journey from socialite to neophyte punctuated by the slammer. I suggested that this could contribute towards the situating of the funloving heiress in a mythologised role.
In the case of de Menezes it can be argued that the human hybrid presented in the composite photo demonstrates, among other things, an ambivalence towards racial difference in that de Menezes’ half-photo is, allegedly, brightened in order to make it seem closer to a darker skin tone. This is confusing. Wouldn’t you need to darken de Menezes to move him closer to Osman? The brightening removes facial detail, however – it decharacterises/denatures de Menezes to the extent that he becomes identifiable yet only as a type. The type is ‘Osman-like’ and it is, in turn, strongly associated with terrorism. The composite photo maps a journey with an entrance in Tulse Hill and the ultimate exit in Stockwell. For de Menezes the journey was, up to the very last moment, care-free. He left the house as a low resolution Osman and became de Menezes shortly after his violent death. At that terminal point the details returned. For the Metropolitan Police the transformation from Osman to de Menezes appears to border on the magical. As far as they were concerned he had made no journey.