Being Rich is Not an Innovation
I spent my morning at Denver International Airport, a misnamed complex of airport terminals peppered with satanic prophecies with only a single entrance. If you believe the conspiracy theories, it was built as a last bastion of the global elite in the inevitable case of an apocalyptic revolution engineered and perpetrated by the rich and powerful, in order to become even more rich and powerful, I guess.
Before boarding a departing flight from DIA, the first place you must go is a vast open room that once served as the primary lobby for the airport but is now a single, looping line of would-be passengers, lurching onward, step-by-step, to perform the ritual abjection of one’s property and self respect required to prove that one does not have a liquid, gel, or bomb. Entering the room is like coming upon a giant cattle yard, with each almost uniformly outfitted traveler tows their little black rollerboard, head down in the morning’s feed, checking their Apple watches nervously as the minutes until final boarding call tick by. Today I took my place in that grim march a mere twenty minutes before 6 o’clock when my plane would go wheels-up. Delta had moved my flight from 7am to 6 shortly after I bought my nonrefundable tickets. With little choice, I adjusted my schedule, leaving my hotel at 3:45am to make it to the airport with what I foolishly assumed was a reasonable amount of time.
As I stood patiently in the queue and listened to the insufferable mumblings of the technolibertarian in line behind me, who simply could not shut up about how the airline had messed up his pre-check status, and that statistics show that taking your clothes off and revealing your butthole to the TSA does not actually make us safer, I noticed another path through the gauntlet that was curiously spacious and free: a cordoned off path straight to the gates, bound by cheery white and blue signs that suggested a calm campaign for an antidepressant or women’s health product. The signs at the entrance to the empty line insisted that only members of ‘CLEAR’ were permitted to use this fast track to flight, and that a free trial could be mine if I asked.
What is this magic product they are selling that would convince security officials that I am above suspicion and important enough to make it to my flight within an hour of arriving to the airport? What brave new technology have they employed to bring us safety and peace of mind without requiring us to strip ourselves down to our barest civil liberties, to be grasped and asked to cough? What have they figured out to make this process more sane, convenient, and effective?
Nothing, it turns out! Using the language of Scientology, and all the cynical genius of Silicon Valley, CLEAR is essentially a startup that allows you to skip the airport security line if you are rich. For just $15/month, you can pay the staff of private equity mavens, security lobbyists and lawyers at CLEAR for the convenience of not having to wait in line with the plebs. As long as you can pass a background check and put your fingerprints on file and pay the fee, then you’re not a threat to airline safety and don’t have to subject yourself to invasive searches just for the right to move within your own country of origin. It’s fast, simple, and benefits exactly the people that need it most.
Originally ‘invented’ by journalist and lawyer Steven Brill, CLEAR spent $40 Million on its signature blue cube marketing and point-of-service kiosks. It uses embedded microchip technology and the willingness of the federal government to carve out security exceptions for wealthy airline passengers to create an innovative new way of getting the owning class into their first class seats faster than ever. After somehow failing miserably and going bankrupt in 2009, the company was bought by a firm led by current CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker who, as a charter school advocate and board member of a preschool which costs $47,000/year, was already an expert in leveraging capital to ensure that the rich and their families find their way to the front of the line as quickly as possible. Since then, CLEAR has innovated its way into a prime location in more than a dozen American airports. She and her team of brand experts have brought all the conveniences of Disneyland class-ossification to the public sphere, where it can be enjoyed by folks who need more than a third ride on Space Mountain. Now the bargain-class of public transport passengers can stand and grumble as vacationing Manhattanites pass through their states even quicker than before, without setting down their $18 turkey pesto paninis. Never mind that airports are a public good paid for overwhelmingly by people who barely ever use them, those who can pay a private company $150/year to save themselves 2 hours at the airport know that there is a system that will recognize them for the perfectly trustworthy citizens that they are, and avoid inconveniencing them at any cost.
So let’s give a hand to CLEAR, the company which has successfully monetized the national overreaction to the most horrible event in American history. By charging the few to avoid the indignities of the many, they have truly reached the apotheosis of the modern technocracy – rather than use the vast wealth and ingenuity of engineers and security experts to make flight more affordable, convenient, and safe, they’ve done the faster thing and just stuck a speed-lane on the side and charge people for it. That’s real what American business is all about.
Categories: rich people