Why did OMG TSA WTF suddenly go viral?

(photo contributed to the BB Flickr pool by Sam Ley, view the full "making of" set here.)

Snip from an essay by Elusis:

[W]omen have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral.

It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral.

What was different?

Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

Mentioned in Bruce Schneier's roundup of OMG TSA WTF week.


  1. To be fair, “white” people make up approximately 75% of the U.S. population, and roughly half of that are men. So, yes, when 37% of the population is suddenly hassled when they weren’t before, people tend to notice.

  2. Bruce is awesome.

    My favorite part of his posting is this:

    More importantly for our purposes, assuming that the radiation in a backscatter X-ray is about a hundredth the dose of a dental X-ray, we find that a backscatter X-ray increases the odds of dying from cancer by about 16 ten millionths of one percent. That suggests that for every billion passengers screened with backscatter radiation, about 16 will die from cancer as a result.

    Given that there will be 600 million airplane passengers per year, that makes the machines deadlier than the terrorists.

  3. We don’t have to be *that* cynical: it was the recent “If you decide to opt-out of the ionizing radiation screening, you automatically get the groping” decision that did it.

  4. It’s because it went “below the waist”, and because it became official TSA policy, not because the complainant was male.

  5. The difference was the introduction of “enhanced” pat downs, which were pretty clearly meant for intimidation and nothing else.

    Everything to that point could be interpreted as being ostensibly in the name of security, albeit pointless and ineffectual security protecting us from nonexistent terrorist boogeymen, but the new pat downs sent an unmistakable “or else” threat. And no one likes a bully.

    Aiding it was a critical mass of past offenses and baldfaced lies, which had finally built up to the point that any lazyass AP reporter could mine a story from them, but in my mind it was the pat downs which finally made people sit up and wtf.

  6. there are some good points, but I think just cynical enough to miss other factors:
    porno scanners going into wider usage
    the full grope pat down requirement if you decline the scanner
    one of the above required for everybody, not just “special” cases
    the branding of “porno scanner”

    When only certain people get pulled aside for special screening, the group as a whole is less likely to complain. Now everybody is subject to this, and it has an easy to remember name “porno scanner”.

  7. It didn’t go viral because it involved a white guy, pumpkin. It went viral because he had the presence of mind TO RECORD THE ENTIRE ENCOUNTER AS IT HAPPENED which completely eliminates the “he said, she said” issue.

    Things go viral when they are, in this order:
    1. Video.
    1. Apparently true. The more incontrovertibly true, the better.
    2. Highly salacious or unusual behavior, or both.
    3. Relevant at a personal level to a gigantic number of people.

    So, it wasn’t the “White Guy” factor. It was the “recorded from start to finish, which no antagonizing behavior by the guy.”…which completely eliminated the “He was asking for it.” component.

    1. Wait… did you just call Xeni pumpkin? Really? What, do you think she’s 12 or something? Honestly…

      Personally, I found Dr. Addison’s piece right on the money for the most part. I find it kind of sad that so many of you have jumped on the “feminist are paranoid, crazy ladies who just hate men for no good reason.”

  8. Normally I’m totally one to jump into issues of privilege but in this case hasn’t there actually been a decisive escalation in the TSA procedures to the extent that for the past ten years it was easier to see violations as the exception rather than the norm?

    1. I think the backlash is likely due to some of each; the new procedures are genuinely more invasive AND they effect the people in power just like everyone else.

  9. Is it at all helpful to spread the current outrage at the TSA out to White Male Privilege? It’s sort of like bringing a Free Mumia sign to an anti-war rally.

    (And what’s her problem with being weighed in the course of a medical exam?)

  10. Glad my hack-job CNC work made it up on BB!

    I think the reason for the new rise in controversy is due to the last set of policies “breaking the camel’s back”. I and many other people have been complaining about TSA practices for a long time, but we’ve finally reached a point where people are feeling “enough is enough”.

    I think the assumption that the new fervor is just because a man complained is faulty – much of the renewed anger is due specifically to the increased risk and intrusion into the lives of minority groups who are at increased risk – young and elderly people, women (particularly those who have been the victim of sexual assault in the past), etc. If you read the major criticisms, the open letter posted earlier today, for instance, these are the groups focused on.

    What the TSA screenings mean for sexual assault survivors: http://jezebel.com/5693483/what-the-tsa-screenings-mean-for-sexual-assault-survivors

    You can’t just label any large reaction by the populace as “viral”, or downplay it as a meme – this isn’t a Youtube video of a funny cat, it is a reaction by a large number of people across many social and professional groups who think that we’ve finally reached the point where security has intruded beyond reasonable levels. Sure, funny signs are a popular part of that, but it isn’t the heart of the matter.

  11. Speaking as a Jewish white male, I must say I’m confused. I mean, at our weekly world domination/subjugation meeting, airport security wasn’t supposed to be mentioned for at least three weeks.


  12. Well, unlike males outside the US, we don’t like our shafts being stroked by members of the same sex. At least not in public o_O

    Damn Halloween for being in October. That would make a killer costume.

  13. I think it has to do with the patently obvious irony of getting a pilot to go through the pat down for anti terrorism purposes. That and a catchy catch phrase and video make this viral.

    The only places I see race or gender playing into this is are:

    a) the likelihood of a pilot to be a white man vs. any other combination of race and gender,

    b) the severity of the reaction of the guards to other combinations of race and gender.

    Realistically the only purpose for checking a pilot (of any race or gender) this way would be to search for drugs or other non-terror related contraband. As has been pointed out many many times now the pilot can crash the plane any time he/she wants.

  14. I call on all men to take Viagra before going through security on November 26 for National Fly with a Boner Day. Make the TSA as uncomfortable as they make us. Is that a scud missile in your pants or are you just glad to see me?

  15. Um, it went viral because backscatter is a fundamentally new and different invasion of privacy? One that involves naked pictures?

    Oh no wait, it’s a misogynist conspiracy. Much more likely.

  16. *slurp!* ah, excuse me while I put down my jar of mayonaise so I can type:
    They can see just how able this privileged pasty white body still is if they stroke the shaft slowly a few times! Also, do we get to pick the agent who will be performing the services?

  17. On top of it being related to the enhanced searches and the already bubbling undercurrent of anger at the naked scanners, there were four things that made this case different: a catch phrase (“If you touch my junk…”); it was all captured on video for the You-Tube addicted and reading-allergic masses; the nonsense about being sued for refusing to complete screening when he was trying to walk away; and most significantly a proactive person, rather than a reactive one. The guy in this case is defying authority, rather than complaining about being assaulted after the fact.

    I do not mean to dismiss the people who feel they have been assaulted by TSA personnel, but real life stories are just like fiction–an active protagonist is going to get more attention than a reactive one. You might sympathize with a woman who feels she was inappropriately groped in public, but you don’t want to be her.

    Would a woman who’d dealt with the screening process the same way (confronting the agent, recording events, etc) have gotten the same attention? I don’t know. But until you can find a similar case that was ignored, you’re comparing apples and oranges.

  18. Are you suggesting it’s white male privilege to actually think to tape the outrage and put it up for the internet to run with it? I guess you could make the case that only someone in the patriarchy would think of providing proof rather than a tale (there you go with your oppressive logic again), but there are a whole host of other reasons this is a big pile of dumb. But I see other commenters have gotten there first.

  19. Aloisius

    Sorry you missed that at the last Patriarchy meeting. Apparently you didn’t get the memo that explains how you can get everything handed to you on a silver platter. Don’t worry its a fairly common oversight. Some times we just get so busy oppressing people that we forget to send out all our paperwork to the right address.

  20. Having the presence of mind to video important infractions of our civil liberties is why white men got to their position of social dominance, today.


  21. Able-bodied white men have been complaining since 2001, or at least inconvenienced since then.

    Doug Stanhope made it part of his act to go through security with sweaty adult toys in his carry-on. IHe sold the toys online later. We never got a field report from him of what the TSA thought at the sight of that stuff. But we got a field report from Jeff Dunham, who had his puppets swabbed, in the butt.

  22. I’m not so sure it has as much to do with white privilege (after all, the TSA has been, ahem, overreaching for several years now) as it is that “Don’t Touch My Junk” is a really AWESOME call to arms. :->

  23. To everyone who is saying OMG this has nothing to do with white/male/other forms of privilege:

    Yes, changes to TSA policy and technology are a big part of why this became a meme now. But I think the bigger picture elusis is trying to point to is that more serious and dangerous violations up to the level of sexual and physical assault are happening ALL THE TIME to all kinds of people. Having the TSA take something akin to a nude picture of me or feel me up in front of a room full of people is horrifying. But as a woman, I’m a hell of a lot more concerned about the dude who is going to flash me, rub up against me, grope me, or try to take a picture up my skirt on the bus, the street or in a bar. Many men (and women) of color have to deal with humiliation and harassment all the time from police officers, without all the people and video cameras around to ensure the harassment doesn’t escalate to physical assault. And on and on.

    And don’t tell me that this meme got picked up because a white man was smart enough to videotape it and put it online, because plenty of people have been picking up cameras and putting evidence of these other violations online. See http://www.ihollaback.org/ a grassroots campaign for women and other people to share stories and photos of street/sexual harassment from strangers. And videotapes/documentation of police brutality, like Oscar Grant’s shooting in a train station in Oakland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKy-WSZMklc (warning: video is upsetting).

    How many of you have watched any of these videos or read any of the posts? How many of you have written blog posts of your own, venting your outrage about these issues? How many of you even know or care about these issues???

    The TSA stuff is messed up and seriously traumatizing for a lot of people. But I’d love to see 1/10th of the attention and outrage that’s on some blogs right now directed towards some of these other issues which, for many of us who aren’t white men, are way more scary, dangerous, and important.

  24. “If you touch my junk”

    Junk is a term used for males. Basically this slogan implies that it is a problem because males’ “junk” is being touched.

    “Are you suggesting it’s white male privilege to actually think to tape the outrage and put it up for the internet to run with it?”

    No, it’s white male privilege that when you do this people actualy give a shit. If you were not a white male, they would tell you that it’s your own fault, you like it, STFU because this happens all the time, it’s natural, or more likely than anything they would just ignore it BECAUSE OF THIS…

    “I do not mean to dismiss the people who feel they have been assaulted by TSA personnel, but real life stories are just like fiction–an active protagonist is going to get more attention than a reactive one. You might sympathize with a woman who feels she was inappropriately groped in public, but you don’t want to be her.”

    Women are seen as passive and receptive. It is anti-feminine philosophically to be active. Even an active and aggressive woman is still a woman.

    When women are active it is seen as bitching or whining because the framework still causes people to think that women are expecting men do *do something* and in a way they have to because the entire mindset of our society is that men are active and women are passive.

    Catch 22.

  25. “You might sympathize with a woman who feels she was inappropriately groped in public, but you don’t want to be her”

    In fact, I just have to quote this again because it so perfectly expresses privilege. This, my friends is privilege.

    You don’t want to be her…

    in a nutshell my friends:

    Bitches ain’t shit.

    Whether you like it or not, every time you fail to see a woman complaining about groping as “being active” you are reinforcing this.

    You are.

    Whether you like to admit it or not.

  26. Also noted in that quote:

    Not “who was” but “who feels she was” because we can’t even trust a woman’s perception.

    Because we have to be objective here. When a woman complains about something we need to hear the other side. Because… women lie.

    Our whole world is dripping with these subtle things by which we devalue women. And when this shit happens to them we think “well that shit happens” and *that* is what it means not to have privilege.

    Was a man groped? INJUSTICE.

    Was a woman groped? We need to hear from the TSA agent though. There are two sides to every story, you know.

    See the difference? It’s not cat’s cradle.

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