Archives for posts with tag: Airport (1968)

It took them long enough – I submitted on 1 August 2014 and didn’t get any response until 25 March 2015, which is almost eight months – but PMLA finally made a decision on my submission, “Arthur Hailey as Richard Nixon. Workplace Safety in Airport.”

They said no, but their reader reports were, by leaps and bounds, better than any reports I’ve ever received. The “reject” reports said nicer things than the reports I’ve had that say “publish.” It’s certainly the first time I felt better after reading the reasons for rejection.

On the one hand, that feeling comes from the praise they embed in the rejection (more on that soon enough). But what really makes the reader reports good is that it’s clear they read my shit carefully and then wrote a clear and considered set of critiques.

First of all, there’s nothing worth quoting out of the positive, “publish” response. It makes a few suggestions about re-organization and further contextualization (which I did before I sent a revised version to another journal). When you can just pass over the report that thinks you’re just fine in favour of the reports that aren’t convinced of your overall greatness, you know you’re onto something.

From the negative pile, there’s the nice bit, “The section on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization is especially well developed and includes some useful sources. Finally, I think the writer does well to reflect on Hailey’s status as a best-selling, mass-market author and the place of his works in popular literature.” That’s a decent enough series of attaboys.

But the tie-breaking reader has some real gems that made me feel like I got rejected for good reasons: “This is a brisk, intelligent essay, and it has at its heart some very important “crux” issues….I learned a lot from this essay, and I came away pretty convinced on the third front — that there was a certain kind of ideological alignment or compatibility between Hailey and, if not Nixon (too large a figure to encapsulate this specific a commitment), at least a “Nixonian” approach to labor and, perhaps, workplace safety. The essay does a fine job reading the representations of labor, managerial stress, and well-being in Hailey’s fiction, and its political context is important and nicely sketched.” At this point in my first reading of the report, I double-checked that it indeed said, “reject.” But it did.

I particularly like the way in which my admittedly thin contextualization of the PATCO stuff gives the reviewer pause:

I think the economic and political historicizing of this essay is still a bit thin as well, in that the author works too much from inside-out: from PATCO to the debates over air traffic control and workplace safety, but without any broad scale contextualization of where capitalism or federalism are in the moment he or she is describing. Don’t get me wrong: the author has persuaded me the argument could be made. But to make a more convincing case about “hegemonic” thinking in the polity as a whole, one just would need a fuller sense of the moment, politically and ideologically

When I got to the “don’t get me wrong” part, I almost died of pleasure. I’d like to think it’s the briskness of my prose that carried this reader along, convincing her/him that I was on the right track. Maybe it was even the force of my rhetoric, limited as it was by my thin contextualization. But it’s plain that the reader liked but didn’t love the submission. For once I wish the readers weren’t anonymous so that I could thank them. I even like that it was just a rejection, and not a ticket for the revise-and-resubmit treadmill. I can’t name them, but at the very least these anonymous readers must be encouraged.

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I’ve decided now that I’ve left academia, my research exists to amuse me. Thus, I’m prepping articles on workplace safety in Arthur Hailey novels, urban design in Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt books, Disney’s 1960s output, and infrastructure in Philip Reeve YA novels. I’m wrapping up the Hailey piece, and it’s close to looking decent enough to send out for rejection notices that will, I hope, have good reader reports.

Here’s the last chunk of the introduction:

Gordon Hutner claims in What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920-1960 that soon-forgotten best seller novels are key to the project of literary criticism. Such books constitute “the merely ordinary, that is, the fiction against which academic tastemakers later needed to contradistinguish the best” (1). Arthur Hailey novels are not widely read in 2014, replaced by the newest iteration of popular fiction from Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, Jodi Picoult. While Hailey’s novels certainly have an ordinary style, they also offer access to another species of ordinary: their status quo, make-no-waves hegemonic political thinking undergirded their contemporary mass appeal. In this manner, Airport represents a key document in the history of literature, culture, and labor politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Airport concentrates not on blue-collar workers who face physical dangers at work as a matter of routine, but on white collar managers and air traffic controllers finding their jobs’ psychological stresses exacerbated by an emergency. The middle-class airport-fiction-reading audience for best sellers like Airport could get behind Hailey’s workplace safety agenda precisely because it’s about them and their psychological well-being at the safe remove of disaster management rather than in the everyday dangers of manual labor. But in making the case for workplace safety that addresses managers’ and professionals’ stresses, Hailey implicitly accepts the importance of workplace expertise and safety for blue-collar laborers as well. In his attention to the stresses of the air traffic controller workplace, Hailey advocates for structures that demand that management operate with worker safety as their guide – first for white collar workers, but with the potential for blue-collar workers as well. In other words, Arthur Hailey is the Richard Nixon of novelists. Airport prepares Hailey’s readers to accept the Occupational Safety Act of 1970 as not just legitimate but necessary, even though it has little interest in the working-class people most likely to benefit from the Act.

Plus, jokes about Zizek’s fondness for toilets,  The Sarge in Airplane II: The Sequel, and plenty of Nixon-scorn.