Ever since the inception of the Learjet Corporation in the mid-sixties, privately owned jet aircraft have arguably become capitalism’s preeminent status symbol. Mere mention of these specialized planes conjures images of wealth, privilege, and above all importance. Passengers might include chairmen, moguls, senators, or superstars. It follows that the marketing of such aircraft appeals to fantasies of power and superiority.
An ad for Dassault Aviation shows a Falcon jet ascending into the heavens from a remote island airstrip. “Go Where Others Can’t,” the caption decrees. Elitist manifesto or teenage impulse? Regardless, establishing an identity by comparing oneself to others is a volatile business. The comparison must be finalized in one’s favor, preferably from the beginning. “Thank Falcon DNA,” says Dassault. The company goes on to link the engineering of an aircraft with the genetic code of its exceptional customers: “DNA. It Matters.”
Given the millions who fly on commercial carriers and the erosion of public manners, the desire to travel in private is understandable. It is also sad. Widespread aspirations toward exclusivity signal a betrayal of the democratic spirit. We find ourselves in the curious position of supporting a republic where people dream of living like kings. One of Dassult’s competitors, Gulfstream, taps into this contradiction. Their G450 Model flies over a circular landscape that resembles the world itself. “Born to Rule,” they proclaim. The accolades close with a final testament: “Success. It drives us.”
Indeed, it seems we have surrendered our course to this grand notion. We man the controls, speak highly of free will, but cruise along on autopilot. Striving for individual glory in the eyes of others, and therefore existing above and beyond them, isn’t even a question. And although some people become rich in the process, few become noble. The adjective bourgeois as defined in Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary summarizes our plight: “characterized by selfish concern for material comfort and well-being, by preoccupation with moneymaking or property accumulation, [and] by anxiety about social respectability…” Ultimately, the challenge we face is not going where others can’t, but coming down to earth.