Thursday, December 12, 2013
On Sock Monkeys and Security Theatre
Today's installment of the monthly "Desert Sage" column for the Deming Headlight.
His name was Rooster Monkburn, and he entered the security checkpoint at the St. Louis airport with a gun.
Luckily for all the innocent citizens preparing to board, Monkburn was spotted by an officer of the Transportation Security Administration who disarmed the suspect before he could board his flight to Seattle.
Perhaps it is most reassuring to hear stories like this during the holiday travel season, as the masses are flying hither and yon to see their families. Crowded terminals and planes stuffed with passengers are irresistible targets for evildoers. We have learned to be obedient and not question airport security. Most people bear these impositions with a shrug. For the less cooperative, there are guns and tasers.
After Monkburn was intercepted by the TSA agent, it was discovered that his gun was fake, and so we can rest easy that no one was ever really in danger. There are other factors that de-escalate the situation. For one, the fake pistol was about the size of a chickpea. For another, Rooster Monkburn is a sock monkey.
Rooster’s companion was Phyllis May of Redmond, Washington, who told her story to television station KING. The TSA agent, upon discovery of Rooster Monkburn’s pistol, reportedly exclaimed, “This is a gun.” When it was pointed out that it was a part of a monkey doll’s costume and could not be confused with an actual weapon by anyone with an ounce of sense, the agent begged to differ, saying, “If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not.” Faced with a real possibility of arrest, Ms. May could only acquiesce to the TSA agent’s professional opinion. Rooster Monkburn, wisely, made no comment whatsoever.
It is an absurd story, but what is absurd when the absurd has become normal? Since the September 11 attacks, Americans have patiently suffered the ratcheting impositions of a “security theatre,” something that conveys a feeling of security without actually enhancing it much. On the rare occasions when the TSA has attempted to relax the rules, politicians have overreacted to sensible adjustments of security policy, crying out against “reduced vigilance.”
My first lesson in security theatre occurred at LAX, when a TSA agent confiscated a passenger’s bottle of water ostensibly because it could be filled with liquid explosive. He then disposed of the potential bomb in a nearby waste basket, right next to the line of people waiting, like cattle, to be ‘processed.’ The line, incidentally, extended outside to the curb, where fifty people would have been vulnerable to a well-timed car bomb.
What does security theatre conceal, besides a highly profitable industry? It has been argued by dispassionate experts that the attacks of September 11 could have been thwarted but for failures by our intelligence agencies. If that is true, then we already had what we needed to stop that attack - and simply failed. Rather than admit error, we have built a monolithic and authoritarian maze around our tragedy, deluding ourselves that our safety is in the hands of a system that can’t distinguish a sock monkey from a terrorist.
It is rather sad, what has become of us. However, here is a tip from the theatrical trade: sock monkeys can make anything funny. Consider the gift of a sock monkey at Christmas, and remember to travel with it. Provide it with a passport. Give it a little laptop, and remember to open it! Or dress it in a TSA uniform.
If resistance is truly beyond us, perhaps in the new year we should just smile and join the madness.