A close reading of Skymall.

Scrutinizing culture.
April 18 2007 3:11 PM

"Where the Wings Have No Shame"

What's Skymall culture really about?

(Continued from Page 1)

The SnacDaddy ad presents a problem that we've all struggled with and by now have probably given up all hope of solving: "Eating chicken wings can be a messy business."

But wait! News flash!: "It doesn't have to be." And with those few reassuring words, the ad reveals that the "SnacDaddy wing tray is the innovative new tray specially engineered to hold chicken wings and hide the leftover bones."

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The device depicted in the accompanying illustration looks like a cross between a big, rubber doggy dish and a Lazy Susan. It has a dozen or so chicken-wing-shaped compartments "specially engineered" to cradle a single wing in distinctive glowing glory, and we see the wings arrayed, as yet untouched by human hands, in what looks like, I now realize, a chicken-wing-powered flying saucer.

I know you're curious about how this "specially engineered" wonder of human civilization actually works. Fortunately, "Where the Wings Have No Shame" anticipates and answers your question:

"Just pile SnacDaddy™ wing tray full of wings, enjoy your meal and toss the bones back inside the center hole" (italics mine).

But just one minute here. The red doggy-dish thing does appear to have a center hole, but what's the deal? The SnacDaddy ad is reticent about what happens to the wings once they fall into the hole. Are the wings going to just stand there, mute, moist testimony to the savage appetites of those who sucked them bare? If, as we assume, the "wingholder" is placed on a surface, will the wings not fall through said hole to the surface below, risking wing-bone scratches on a polished dining room table?

Or are wing disposal bags to be purchased separately? Perhaps the wingtray center hole possesses a (handcranked) super anti-gravity suction device that whisks the wing bones to a black hole or an alternate universe beyond what physicists call "the event horizon."

But, thank God, "your mess is kept out of sight while the wings keep coming."

Thank God, because as everyone knows, looking at chicken bones after having eaten chicken parts can result in devastating moments of existential doubt: I too will become nothing more than bare wing bones someday. Kinda Beckett-like.

And once again we're back in the dark world, the dark side of flight, the subconscious "shame" at our cumbersome "wings" that leave us in peril of momentary downdrafts.

And the more one thinks of wings, not chicken wings or airline wings, or even the wax wings of Icarus, or the waxwings of Nabokov, the more one thinks rather of Andrew Marvell's phrase for the onrush of mortality, "Time's winged chariot."

Yes, I'm obsessed with the phrase "Where the Wings Have No Shame." And yes, I admit it has something to do with one of my favorite early U2 anthems, "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's a haunting song about one's deeply uncertain place in the world—aloft or not. Haunting in the way "In the Air Tonight" is, no matter how much you dislike Phil Collins.

So, what do we learn about America from Skymall culture? That if you scratch the surface of our consciousness at vulnerable moments suspended over the earth on the strength of razor-thin wings, you find fear and shame, perhaps the shame of the wingspread of the American imperium (represented almost universally by a winged eagle): Could those chicken wings represent diminished versions of the once-proud American eagle's wings?

Another thing you learn is that no amount of technological sophistication (or geeky unsophistication) is able to insulate us from primal fears of mortality, and the bare bones of death, a future always on our mind no matter how many ways we find to measure, compartmentalize, organize, chronograph, and hide it.

We're all "in the air tonight," living with the shame of wings, fearing the death of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun,and kept on falling. Knowing we don't belong up there, taking solace from the picture of those as-yet-untouched wings, each nestled in its wing-shaped SnacDaddy® holder, together looking like a ring of supplicants around the black hole for bones.