Eddie Pensier writes:

Upon boarding my Virgin Australia flight to the USA, the following message tsk-tsked at me from the launch screen of my seat-back video:

There are a few important points to remember while using the System. We’re in an open space so please use your best judgment when viewing content as you may be seated next to a child. Some of our content is not suitable for all audiences and we cannot take responsibility for the content of TV, movies, and other programs shown, or the communication or entertainment choice of our passengers. The System may also be monitored and information collected on its usage.

(Ominous capitalization and poor punctuation in original)

Now this message raised at least three hackles of mine.

1. In our ever-more child-centered society, I’m now expected to “use my best judgment” as to the level of emotional maturity which the stranger’s child in the next seat has reached. I’m supposed to turn off the sex and violence to appease them and their helicopter parents. The amenity kits in economy class come with eyeshade masks: I suggest parents use them on the little darlings to prevent any untoward exposure. Because I’m not going to switch off the R-rated movies if kids are around me. If Virgin wants unoffensive content to placate travelers of all ages, let them stock the video-on-demand with Disney, otherwise let me watch my filth without moral judgment.

(As it happens, one domestic leg of our flight featured no less than SEVEN squealing, screaming children surrounding me. Neither earplugs nor $200 Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones were up to the task of silencing these demons. The parents of the little shits in question did not appear inclined to use their “best judgment” as to whether I would want to listen to their brats hollering for four hours straight, nor did they make any credible effort to silence them. Is it possible that adult-content films might have done the trick where technology and common courtesy failed? I wonder.)

2. The company providing The System, Virgin (!!), takes none of the responsibility for content that I’m suddenly and involuntarily tasked with. They can put it out there to be watched, but it’s become MY job to decide what is and is not appropriate for this new and unwanted immediate family of mine known as “fellow passengers”.

3. Of course, they’re collecting usage information. I’m at a loss though, to divine what useful marketing could come from knowing that the fortyish occupant of seat 32G watched Blue Jasmine and Casablanca, listened to Queen’s Greatest Hits and Anna Netrebko’s Verdi album, and played several cutthroat rounds of Super Trivia Blast with the pipsqueak in 27B.

Eventually, I entertained myself as I’d planned to do all along: pulled out my tablet loaded with episodes of Game of Thrones (nudity, sex, violence, incest), Boardwalk Empire (ditto), and Mad Men (sex, misogyny, smoking, drinking). I only wish I’d had WiFi so I could catch up on the latest batch of depravity on Uncouth Reflections X (so very NSFW).

You have your ways of occupying yourself on 15-hour plane trips, I have mine.

Mommy, what does "Virgin" mean?

Mommy, what does “Virgin” mean?

About Eddie Pensier

Television junkie, opera buff, connoisseur of unhealthy foods, fashion watcher, art lover and admirer of beautiful people of all sexes.
This entry was posted in Personal reflections, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Crowd-Parenting

  1. Fenster says:

    The System recommends extreme caution should you wish to view tonight’s feature presentation, Flight, starring Denzel Washington.


  2. josh says:

    Of course you are supposed to use your best judgment regarding the violence and semi-pornographic content you watch in public. Guess what? You should swear in public either. I’m sorry if this is difficult for you. You seem to attribute this to some modern prudishness, but this is one of the last holdovers of the thing that used to be called civilization.


  3. PrytaneumFreeFood says:

    There’s a certain pleasure in irascibility, but you’ve definitely crossed into “I’m a dickwad” territory (at least in my estimation). The guy who shows up for a flight reeking of sweat and grime and lord knows what else is a jerk to whomever is sitting next to him. Same goes for the folks who shows up on a subway carrying a boombox. Others simply don’t want to hear it, smell it, or, in the case of the hapless parent sitting next to you, have to explain to their young children why people are slaughtering one another or what fucking is. Their children may be trapped next to you for hours and hours with nowhere to go. A little kindness to strangers never killed anyone.

    True, parents can politely ask you to pipe down or try to move away if someone else is kind enough to swap seats. But common-courtesy is a healthy thing.



    • PrytaneumFreeFood says:

      And, yes, writing with reasonably good grammar is also a courtesy to readers. I am sorry for my mistakes. If you would be so generous as to overlook them, I would take it as a kindness.


      • If asked politely I would *consider* a request to moderate my viewing. I would absolutely not comply if the request were coming from a parent who is unable to control their offspring’s behavior. Does it make me a dickwad? Maybe. I was mostly annoyed at the fact that The System expected ME to make the judgment call. Why should I, be-wearied by travel, have to decide what a kid is fit to watch? An 8-year-old? A 12-year-old? What if I misjudged their age, as I am prone to doing?


      • josh says:

        Well, Eddie, nobody is going to call the cops; that’s why they asked you to use *your* best judgment.


      • But as you so eloquently pointed out, *my* judgment on these matters is lousy.


      • PrytaneumFreeFood says:


        Sorry. Generally try to avoid ad hominums. Re-reading it, my post was a little too “eloquent,” as you put it. Just wanted to make a stand for common-courtesy. Realize I read your words uncharitably, and that your main point was not “to hell with you” (maybe included a little tongue and cheek), but that there are close calls and it’s up to parents to step up (i.e. ask politely, behave responsibly themselves) not you to do censor on behalf of the parents. Mea culpa on the tone. Distressed by how this one played out.



      • You may not believe this, but I am (in normal life) the greatest champion of good manners you could think of. Part of it is because I’m an expat. I’m fully aware of the reputation that Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular have for rudeness, and I try my best not to contribute to the stereotype. I attempt to keep in mind the great dialogue exchange between Ed Begley, Sr and George Voskovec in 12 Angry Men:

        EB: What the hell are you being so polite for?
        GV: For the same reason you’re not: it’s the way I was brought up.

        But I’m also by nature a contrarian with authority issues (could you tell? 😉 ) , so the idea of being dictated to by either corporations or modern parents with no W. C. Fieldsian common sense (about whom more another day) gets my dander raging. Hence why I brought my own entertainment on the tablet. A vertical video-on-demand seatback screen could arguably, ARGUABLY be seen as part of a “public space” (which is why I hedged on saying that I could possibly be convinced to change the channel). A tablet placed horizontally on my tray table cannot. If you can see what’s going on on my tablet, you are invading my already cramped personal space, and I believe I’d be justified in telling a nosy person to kiss my undercarriage. It’s at these points that my usual impeccable politeness gives way to…well, something not impeccably polite.


  4. Gavin Bledsoe says:

    I think parents should always try and keep their kids as isolated as possible on a flight. Granted the seven screamers issue won’t be resolved, but they should at least try.

    What particularly bothers me, is that if a parent or steward deems something you are watching as not suitable, then 90% of the passengers regard you as committing some type of crime.



    • Just by way of example: one of the films available to view was “12 Years A Slave”. Award-winning and important, but by all reports I have heard, violent and disturbing. Would I be displaying poor judgment if I watched that near a child, or did Virgin display poor judgment by having it as a selection? And if they took it off due to complaints, how many milliseconds before the op-eds start calling people racist?


  5. Fenster says:

    Kudos Eddie for prompting a good old-fashioned civilized brawl on a topic that is of interest and on which there is (IMHO) no obvious answer. Thus the need for a civilized brawl.

    My gut sympathies are with those who argue for civility over either legal restrictions (government says no R on flights) or corporate paternalism (Virgin decides for you). If either of those prevailed, there would be howling–legitimate, even–over “mandated action precludes the distributed ability of individuals to negotiate answers suitable to the specifics”.

    The fly in my ointment of course is that when consensus over such things is compromised too greatly by a lack of common culture, there can be no reasonable recourse to micro-adjudications. It’s a dilemma. Put me down for greater individual latitude combined with more respect for shared values.


  6. Tex says:

    It just occurred to me that the Kate Upton ‘Peter Cottontail’ video I watched on my tablet was viewable by the muslim guy who was sitting opposite the aisle just behind me. I’m wondering if I should have any guilt over this.


  7. PatrickH says:

    Isn’t the issue here at least partly that Virgin wants us to do their work for them? They provide this entertainment for their adult passengers on flights with children aboard. Hey, Branson! You don’t want kids exposed to the stuff, don’t provide it. You want adults to be able to view the stuff, give them adult-only seating sections. But you won’t, because you want to maximize bums in seats. So sell seats to adults, to parents, to kids, pretend to provide everybody what they want, and let them sort out the conflicts that result. This isn’t about rudeness. It’s about commercial fraud.


  8. agnostic says:

    Aside from “do our work for us,” the key thing here is that the “civility” is not mutual. Everyone else is supposed to bend over backwards for the helicopter parents. (NB: not for their children, who might not mind or may even want to see some violent and sexual content.)

    We’re supposed to give the families wide berth in the terminal as they sprawl out with their blankets, pillows, tents, and Winnebagos. Put a whole buncha families in the same terminal, and it’s like a band of Gypsies has set up camp. But, can’t complain — they’re FAMILIES.

    We’re supposed to re-arrange our chosen seats (on flights with no assignments) in order to prevent parents and children from sitting apart from each other. Like they’re going to just die from separation anxiety otherwise. That used to be fun when we were little — getting to sit apart from your nosy folks. That kept us on better behavior, too, since strangers wouldn’t tolerate our crap like a mother or father would. But, can’t complain — they’re FAMILIES.

    We’re supposed to let them scream, shout, whine, cry, and even kick the backs of our seats without uttering a peep. We’re supposed to let the parents take care of it, which they never do. And like I said, which they may be incapable of doing. Nothing like a cold piercing glare from a grown-up stranger to scare the little shits into keeping to themselves in a crowded public setting. But, can’t complain — they’re FAMILIES.

    And what about all the airheaded crap that the kids are watching and listening to? Does that not grate on the nerves of everyone else around them? Like those large “family areas” in the terminal that have Sponge Bob or whatever playing on a bigass TV, blaring lame kiddie jokes for all to hear. Or having to potentially catch sight of it on the flight.

    If the helicopter parents had shown the slightest display of civility, we would be prepared to respond likewise. But rather than reining in their chaos, they allow it to seep out — and righteously expect us to just clear out and make way for FAMILIES. Every soccer mom and doofus dad acts like a blubbering pregnant woman about to go into labor. “Clear out! Make way! There’s a FAMILY coming through!”

    Gee, sorry, didn’t realize that. Is it so fragile that the presence of anything non-familial will melt it into gray goo? Get a grip and behave like a normal person in public. Having knocked someone up, or having been knocked up, doesn’t give you license to hijack the public sphere.


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  10. Will S. says:

    BTW, whatever happened with this?

    Because if that policy were still in place, maybe single men wouldn’t have to deal with the little rugrats. 🙂


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