JetBlue has a line in its contract of carriage that gives its employees the power to refuse to fly passengers who try to board a plane wearing clothing that is “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.” Based on that vague standard, Seattle-based burlesque performer Maggie McMuffin was refused seating on a JetBlue flight from Boston’s Logan International Airport last month when the airline’s gate agents refused to let her board until she changed her shorts. Maggie told a local CBS affiliate that an airline employee said her outfit was “not appropriate” according to the flight crew and pilot. Now Maggie is taking advantage of the situation to get some cheap publicity and maybe an interview or two, while embarrassing JetBlue. You can read more details in Slate’s story here.
Ah, dress codes! They are conduct rules put in place by businesses and institutions because some people have no manners, sense of place, consideration for others or respect, and these codes never, ever, work in the long run, because some people have no manners, sense of place, consideration for others or respect.
Once upon a time, children, adults going out into public dressed with taste and modesty as an expression of respect to others, including strangers, that they might meet. The Sixties destroyed this cultural consensus by questioning manners, decorum, conformity, dignity, and respect for others, especially anybody over thirty. Do your own thing! Let it all hang out! Today, a half century later, people nonchalantly wear flip-flops to the opera and church, while the obese passenger sitting next to you on an airplane may be wearing a tank-top, and hasn’t bathed in a week.
Of course Maggie McMuffin—I’m sure that’s her real name—wasn’t dressed appropriately to fly. (That’s her outfit above to the left–I assume she was wearing her head…) She was definitely dressed appropriately to draw attention to herself as burlesque performers (a.k.a “strippers”) are wont to do, and that was her intent. The JetBlue agreement, however, doesn’t say its employees can kick you off the plane for dressing inappropriately—like in a scuba suit, a bunny costume, or as Dracula. It says “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.” Whatever you can say about Maggie’s travel garb, it isn’t “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.” JetBlue was wrong: unfair, incompetent, foolish. Unethical.
Of course, Maggie was also wrong, but wrong in a way that carries scant and inadequate social consequences today. Thus others less tasteful than Maggie will stretch tolerance a bit further and a bit further yet. Recently women have been parading in public bare-breasted, protesting for the right to do so. I am sure they’ll win this battle, if they persevere. (That will be bad for Maggie’s trade, I’m guessing) Manners and good taste can’t be legislated or enforced except by peer pressure and social consequences.
Even if JetBlue tried to enforce its dress code reasonably, publicity-seeking rebels would be able to shred it with ease. WHY is a bikini “obscene”? If the same amount of skin can be seen in commercials and TV shows around the clock, how can anyone claim they are patently offensive?
We can’t make people be considerate, respectful or modest. All we can do is make fair conclusions about those who are not. Among those fair conclusions is that their judgment and values can’t be trusted.
[ Note: I can’t pass up this opportunity to say something positive about Donald Trump. He always dresses appropriately. In this day and age, that’s something.]