Somehow, I missed a post by Stewart Baker at the Volokh Conspiracy explaining a psychological infirmity that afflicts those whose “real” issue while awaiting their turn for a full body scan by the TSA of which I was wholly unaware. Not until I saw this follow-up poll did I read his post. I was floored.
Bear in mind that Baker is a Steptoe & Johnson partner, having completed a stint as first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security. He’s a passionate believer.
I’ve spent mine puzzling over the roots of TSA-hatred.
There’s no doubt that it’s virulent. As a privacy skeptic and national security conservative, I’m used to hostile comments. But it’s only when I defend TSA that the comments go beyond hostile to visceral and occasionally even spittle-flecked.
Why is that? Notwithstanding the venom of the TSA-haters, polls show that most Americans support TSA, including the decision to use whole body scanners. But for a very vocal minority opposing the agency isn’t political. It’s personal.
I can’t explain the women who hate TSA with a passion, though I’m not sure how many there are. Anti-TSA sites and comments have a distinct whiff of testosterone.
While I, unlike Stewart, don’t go sniffing around for testosterone, and while I can easily explain why women aren’t enthralled about having strangers rub their labia or lift their blouse in airports, the balance of Stewart’s thoughts about airport security took me by complete surprise.
After a lengthy quote from Michael Chertoff, Stewart’s former boss, describing his ritual preparations to go through the ordeal with ritualistic precision, he goes on:
It may not make sense. But I’m willing to bet that a lot of the men reading this have similarly choreographed plans for the security line.
I know I do. And if I’m honest with myself, the rituals of the screening line aren’t really about speed. They’re about performance. I feel a kind of competitive pressure to keep the line moving. I’m not happy to see more than about six inches of distance between my luggage and the bags in front of me on the belt. Every delay in pulling out my laptop or my liquids, every last minute bit of change I have to throw haphazard into the bin, every stutterstep as I realize it’s a whole-body scanner, not a metal detector, so belt and watch have to come off too –- all detracts from the performance.
Every once in a while, though, everything goes right, and I feel great. I’m Michael Chertoff, baby, all smooth competence, no wasted motions, no hesitation, no gaps on the conveyor belt.
Don’t you think to yourself, “I’m Michael Chertoff, baby”? Me neither. But why? What is it about this “smooth competence” that gets Stewart’s “Michael Chertoff” juices flowing?
OK, that’s a little embarrassing to admit. But it gets worse when I ask myself why I care. If you’re the kind of guy who can’t throw away a piece of paper without wadding it up and arcing it into a basket across the room, you already know.
In part we do it to keep our place in the hierarchy of guys. But in the end, what we’re really hoping for is an Alice Munro moment — that our easy concentration and economical movements will set up in someone “a procession of sparks and chills,” followed a few pages later by, well, what we deserve for all that demonstrated competence.
Wait for it….
And that means that TSA has an Alice Munro problem.
This, dear readers, is where it gets twisted. An “Alice Munro problem” comes from this quote, which Stewart places atop his post.
“I … watch him working at the stove. His easy concentration, economical movements, setting up in me a procession of sparks and chills.”
– Alice Munro, Dear Life
What this means is that Stewart perceives himself, as he smoothly navigates the airport security line by wearing loafers and putting his keys and phone in the pocket of his blazer, as becoming sexually irresistible to women, causing them “sparks and chills.”
Perhaps I’m a quart or two low on testosterone, but I have never harbored a fantasy that my smooth negotiation of the airport security line has caused any woman to have “sparks and chills.” In fact, not a single sexual thought has passed through my head as I pulled my laptop out and placed it gracefully in a bin. Never.
Had someone suggested to me that other men indulged in this sexual fantasy as they placed their shoes on the belt, I would have told him he was a lunatic and needed intensive therapy. I would have been wrong. Apparently, not only is there such a person, but he held high office in a department of the government that carries great sway with the imposition of these mandates.
Like the commenters to Stewart’s post, I am flummoxed by his revelation. No, I do not share his sexual titillation at being the coolest guy on the security line. No, there is nothing whatsoever about being a player in this TSA theater that makes my manliness come out, making me believe that women who watch me swoon with desire.
That Stewart needs therapy is not my issue. I’m sure the Steptoe health plan can cover it, no matter how many years it will take to get him past his delusion. But that Stewart had a voice in the way our government imposes its rules scares the hell out of me. Do others behind these dictates similarly share a sexual thrill in the TSA security line? Do they dismiss the “spittle-flecked” very vocal minority because of the manly thrill they get as they prove their smoothness?
Had Stewart not made this very embarrassing admission, I would have never known, never believed, that some bizarre macho titillation was involved in the mastering of the full body scanner. I now know different, and it scares me. Who are these people in charge of our lives, and have they passed any sort of psychological screening for something remotely resembling normalcy?
No, Stewart, I do not share your testosterone-fueled feelings. Not at all. But I am of the view that one of us isn’t quite right, and this time, I don’t think it’s me.
Update: This just in, TSA footage, using their newest secret weapon of mind-imaging, of Stewart Baker on a security line.