Thursday, September 9, 2010

Airport Security

Suspend Belief: Gun battle at 30,000 Feet Without Cabin Pressure Change?
Have you ever wondered how good writers can make one believe just about anything? As long as the story is compelling, I suspect readers will allow writers plenty of latitude. After all, look at what James Bond got away with in the name of international security.

Airport security is one of those scenes that crop up in many novels, movies, and television shows. We know from personal experience how difficult it is to get anything through airport security since 9/11. A growing number of airline terminals will soon be equipped with body scanners that leave nothing to the imagination—an issue which we’ll cover at another time.

I watched a television show from last season—Human Target—that they re-broadcasted a few days ago as a warm up to the upcoming new season. The thrust of this show centers on a hero who protect others by using himself as a living target. 

Week after week, a mysterious security specialist—calling himself Christopher Chance— teams up with an ex-San Francisco detective and a marginal bad guy who is good at hacking computers. Together this odd-looking crew teams up to save desperate individuals, each client a potential target marked for annihilation by dangerous bad guys. The show is very entertaining if you're willing to take belief and hurl it out the window—which many viewers, including myself, are willing to do. The series is reminiscent of shows like MacGyver and The A-Team with a twist of Mission Impossible thrown in.

The gist of this week’s episode dealt with the human target and his handler sneaking onboard an airplane to identify a super cyber hacker needing their protection. The hacker faces danger because she has unlocked a program glitch that—once breached—unlocks the internet for anyone with the key. Everyone’s computerized secrets will be laid open to anyone possessing this programming code. 

This credible story (okay, let’s just allow a little room for fiction) begins to falter when the story shifts onto a large airliner traveling from San Francisco to Seattle. Here, scriptwriters stretched believability like a rubber band until it snaps. And I continued to watch the show.

At one point, I counted five people enter that plane with false identification papers—one hacker, two bad guys, two good guys. The two would-be killers armed themselves with over-the-counter firearms. I saw nothing plastic in these weapons—good old hard-metal guns that would make airport scanners start chiming like London’s Big Ben at midnight.

Did I mention at least one gun battle?  Yes, multiple shots fired on board and several martial arts fights as the plane hurled through the air without a pilot or crew. I forget to tell you that after the gun battle, a stray round started a fire in the belly of the plane.  Smoke crept into the cockpit and put the pilot and crew out of commission.

Christopher Chance saves the day by piloting the aircraft—crippled by this belly fire—flipping the airplane over to allow topside winds to control the blaze. After all this, Chance and the airline flight attendant—really, an attractive bad girl with yet another gun tucked in her waistband—low crawl to the belly of the plane to allow the hacker’s laptop to jolt the aircraft’s computer system, allow the jet to be flipped back over so they might land safely.

Still with me? Okay, you get the picture.

Here is one more unbelievable part to this story. I still wanted to believe. So, I stuck with it—a show that I’d already watched last seasons. Call me sentimental, but I really love to see good guys win.

This is the whole secret of suspending belief. Just how much belief are you willing to give up so that the good guy has a fighting chance? I’ll let you suspend belief into next year if the writing is good and you’ve drawn me into the story.

After the show, I sat there and thought just how much I willingly accepted. Five people with falsified identification papers the CIA could drive a truck through. Oh, did I add there was a sixth guy—an armed U.S. Air Marshall who got knocked unconscious and beat up several times. Guns galore sneaked onto the plane. Oh yeah, there was a hypodermic needle disguised as a pen that Chance sneaked onboard to jab one of the bad guys.

This show is packed with action.

Now for a reality check. When was the last time you sailed through airport security armed with the following: guns; falsified documents; a key to the internet that unlocks Pandora’s Box; martial arts skills learned from a previous career in black ops;  and,  carrying a disguised hypodermic needle?

Truthfully, I start swallowing hard when I take my carryon through a security check. I’m trying to remember if I overlook a round of ammunition left over from my days as a cop. This part is the truth. I have a bad habit of leaving these loose rounds in the weirdest places. And, I start to sweat thinking whether I packed a tube of toothpaste that exceeds FAA regulations. They might think I’m trying to get another weapon on the plane.

The entertainment industry—through television, movies and novels—seem to have conditioned us to accept just about anything as long as it seems probable. Do we ever stop to say, “Hey, Wait a minute. This doesn’t even make sense.”  Then, “Oh, who cares. It is a great story.”

Be truthful. Have you allowed credibility in a story to be about as scarce as ethics in congress as long as the story captivated you?

Good writers can make us accept just about anything.

Q4U: So what unbelievable plots have you given allowances for lately?

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