From the Editors
If you are traveling by air in the United States, your “junk” will be inspected visually or manually by agents working for the Transportation Security Agency. Junk is hipster code for your butt, although it doesn’t discriminate against your balls and/or breasts. Non-hipsters learned the term when a traveler named John Tyner used his cell phone to record his own physical pat-down, during which he balked at the professional groping and said, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.” Tyner’s confrontation with TSA agents didn’t go well for his travel plans, but his video went viral and made him the new symbol of “don’t tread on me” resistance to governmental excess. A new “don’t touch my junk” anthem is viraling through cyberspace. (The title of this piece is a line from the song.)
Although Kim Kardashian, famous for her junk, has no qualms about being photographed totally naked, recently she opted for the pat down procedure rather than the other alternative, the Advanced Imaging Technology produced by the (ironically named company) Rapiscan. AIT produces naked images of passengers, superman-like powers that adolescents have been trying to obtain for decades. But fear not, modest travelers: faces are blurred, even though the junk is on full display to the agents behind the computers.
Keeping flying travelers safe from covertly smuggled bombs is serious business, and the techniques keep evolving in dialectical relationship to every terrorist innovation. The “holiday message” to air travelers from TSA Administrator John Pistole begins with a refresher in now-routine aspects of air traveler security: “Remember our 3 simple steps to security: Have your ID out, coats & shoes off and laptop and liquids and gels less than 3 ounces out and ready.” Today, everyone takes off their shoes because on December 22, 2001, al-Qaeda acolyte Richard Reid haplessly attempted to detonate explosives in the heel of his boot while flying from Paris to Miami. Reid’s shoe bomb sent stock in Velcro-closing shoe companies soaring. The restriction on gels and liquids in hand luggage has a more dubious genealogy; on August 10, 2006, British agents foiled an alleged plot cooked up by terrorist wannabes in internet chat rooms to turn liquids into bombs aboard planes. However, none of the alleged terrorists had ever made a bomb or bought any airline tickets, and some didn’t even have passports. Or chemistry degrees. But the ban was on; travelers were separated from their cologne and deodorant, and women were advised not to wear gel-filled miracle bras. The coats-off requirement is a nod to suicide bomber belts, and thus most Americans may not even understand why they are removing their outer garments, since the policy is an adaptation of the Israel/Palestine checkpoint strip down procedures that Palestinians have been subjected to for a decade, so wittily lampooned by Sharif Waked in the video Chic Point.
The new junk inspection regime is the response to the 2009 Christmas Day attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to explode plastic explosives tucked in his underwear while traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit. Like Reid, Abdulmutallab was a disciple of Anwar al-Aulaqi, a spiritual leader and jihadi motivator associated with the al-Qaeda franchise in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Aulaqi, a US citizen who is based in Yemen, has been targeted by the Obama administration for extra-judicial execution, but that’s the topic of a different post.
Junk exploration and surveillance might be humiliating, but it’s also a rich vein for humor, like the Taiwanese animators’ spoof or the nude protest by the German Pirate Party. Even the not usually funny Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, could dig the potential for joking; he described an exchange that occurred during his security grope at the Baltimore-Washington airport in October: “We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” [the inspector] said. “Resistance?” I asked. “Your testicles,” he explained. “That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.” (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)
Resistance is futile.
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