Guy Adams: Loyalty that binds the land of the free

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

My name is Guy, and I am an addict. I've tried to fight it, but I can't. My wallet bulges with useless plastic. My letterbox groans daily with fresh junk. Domino's just emailed vouchers for free pizza, saying I was among its "MVP's" of 2009. When I cash them in, which I surely will, I shall reflect on my weakness: a pathetic obsession with corporate loyalty programmes.

Here in America, it's a terrible affliction. Every store, in every shopping mall, will foist a "rewards card" on you. Some supermarkets actually charge more for groceries if you refuse to carry one. In fashionable districts of LA, not having a Starbucks card is considered as eccentric as ordering full-fat milk in your coffee.

The grand-daddies of all loyalty programmes, however, are "frequent flyer" schemes. In a country where geography makes air travel a necessity, rather than an option, they confer priceless status. Some allow you to bypass queues or use posh lounges. Really good ones provide free flights, or an upgrade.

Little wonder, then, that US divorce cases have been fought over custody of air-miles. Or that Christmas sees my fellow addicts brave underpants bomber paranoia, and holiday season queues, to complete 24-hour "mileage runs" (Google it) in search of vaunted "gold" or "medallion" status for next year. For better or worse, it's a national obsession.

Which brings us to Up In the Air, the Oscar-worthy film that will shortly hit UK cinemas. Critics have largely dubbed it a recession-era comedy about sacking people. But I'd say, instead, that it represents a full-blown satirical assault on the entire institution of corporate loyalty.

The life of George Clooney's lead character is devoted to frequent-flyer miles – with predictably unhappy consequences. If Up In the Air triumphs in the coming awards season, people will say it's a film about big business stiffing its employees. But for my money, it's actually about how big business, and the compelling illusion of corporate loyalty, can stiff us all.

Who's the ***hole?

Speaking of airports, Avatar director James Cameron prompted a late entry for the Hollywood quote-of-the-year this week, when he called an autograph hunter at LAX "asshole" adding: "Get out of my fucking personal space."

The punter, watched by paparazzi TV crews, responded: "I'm an asshole because I ask someone I admire for their autograph? That makes me an asshole? I pay $15, what I earn in an hour of work, to see your film, and I'm an asshole? Who's really the asshole here?"

Mr Cameron did not answer. Perhaps he knew there was no need.