best00code46Matthew Thomas, Tokyo

Note: This post was originally published at

The TV was turned to CNN, which was focused on violence somewhere.  I could not tell where.  The experts in their suits and hairsprayed hair presented the conflict as if conflict was inevitable.  They agreed it was happening now and could be prevented, but at the same time at the conclusion of the piece they smiled politely and signed off as if the violence was also occurring in a land so distant it might as well be the past.

Emily Maloney

The post below is based on my own experiences staying in a variety of hotels while on business throughout 2008, and takes up the effect of CNN International on the psyche of the business traveler as well as providing a sort of psychograph of the business hotel experience.

Three features of business hotels that bear mention:

i) Like airports, all business hotels share a single ethos, an un-pindownable character that feels, wherever one happens to be geographically speaking, of a piece.

ii) The effect of the television offerings, in particular CNN International, on the business traveler, is one of overwhelming relaxation, bordering on complacency and even numbness.

iii) As a corollary to i), it is far easier to enumerate how business hotels resemble one another than to lay out any salient differences. Oddly, minor local variations only seem to further reinforce a central sameness.

Checking into an 11th floor room at a classic example of the species, for instance the Numzau Tokyu Hotel, half an hour south of Tokyo, Japan, one is affected at once by that strangely pleasant fugue state, a state of mind almost exactly halfway between bliss and malaise, attendant on “business” hotels. Once inside of a business hotel, especially those neither top-of-the-line nor down-and-out, one is confronted with a kind of disembodied space which seems at once connected to a global network of similar hotels–this accomplished largely through the simultaneously soothing and hypnotizing effect of CNN International–and disconnected from the local environment–one feels sucked in to global weirdness through a combination of the flat, post-political window of CNN International, the persistent low hum of the air conditioner, and the anodyne staleness, almost spartan, quality of the decor. Oddly, any “artwork” or decorative flourishes that a hotel room may have only serve to further this sense of featurelessness; the art in question being almost exclusively of the most banal nature–bland seascapes, abstracts denuded of all edge or verve, and those odd non-paintings that, try as you might, you forget the very subject seconds after exiting your room.

One has to remind oneself that being on a business trip means that there is work to be done–the TV, the slight high, which even the most weary traveler may not be entirely immune from, which results from contact with the bowing attendants, the men in black, the cute, blushing young lady who carries your bag, the knowledge that your company is footing the bill–all this lulls you into a kind of sleep of the spirit. Turning on the TV, you feels that you could spend years, lifetimes staring at CNN’s Larry King Live, their post-racial female anchors who bring that special Code 46 feel of the non-overt future, and the exquisitely paralyzing “World Weather,” before awakening in another age, the Rip Van Winkle of the travel world. When CNN finally wears out its welcome, my choices of pay channels open up the fascinating worlds of…Golf (the Golf Channel), silicone starlets (the Playboy Channel), intimate acts in close-up (the “adult channel”), and, most fittingly, drama set in outer space (the Battlstar Galatica channel). This profile of options, Golf, softcore, hardcore, and outer space, the result, presumably, of reams of data on the tastes of business travelers like me, the mobile working male, I want to find depressing, but the menu has something beautifully efficient about it. Not wanting to get sucked into the anesthesizing vortex of any of these choices, I have to force myself to rise from the supine contemplation of the only-vaguely Chinese news anchor to pick up Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality.

My senses are momentarily quickened by report of an attack on a hotel in Pakistan: a horrific assault which has taken place at a Marriott in Islamabad. Oddly, the reality of this event quickly fades, and what Richard Todd calls the “non-ness” of the Marriott up the road (“The Thing Itself, 101), strangely, becomes the non-ness of violence–the attack in Islamabad conveys, through the lens of the CNN International, not exactly shock, but a continuing and deepening sense of global weirdness only slightly tinged by fear resting on the realization that as a business traveler in exactly this kind of hotel, I am the target. Oddly, this realization is not as disturbing as it ought to be: the fugue state is such that I am more in, more of, Islamabad than Numazu, but not wholly there either–I am poised somewhere between Islamabad and Battlestar Galactica, cavorting with post-racial android news anchors who bring me news of a planet this 11th floor, air-conditioned bubble of a non-space has left far behind.