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Terrorism

The spectacle of terrorist threat is a tactic that the state uses to push surveillance policies—their politics creates a self-fulfilling policy where bodies who refuse to be docile and open to the state are violently eradicated


Hall 2015 [Rachel Department of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. Her research interests include issues of fear and security as well as gender. . "Terror and the Female Grotesque." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 127-49.

In response to the threat of international terrorism, the United States has swiftly and uncritically embraced what I call the aesthetics of transparency in the post-9/11 era.1 Broadly, the aesthetics of transparency is motivated by the desire to turn the world (and the body) inside out such that there would no longer be secrets or interiors, human or geographical, in which terrorists or terrorist threats might find refuge. The military and security state’s objection to interiority is both physical and psychological, referring as much to the desire to rid the warring world of pockets, caves, spider holes, and veils as it is concerned with ferreting out all secrets, stopping at nothing in its effort to produce actionable intelligence from detainees. The aesthetics of transparency can thus be defined as an attempt by the security state to force a correspondence between interiority and exteriority on the objects of the preventative gaze or, better yet, to flatten the object of surveillance, thereby doing away with the problem of correspondence altogether. Circulating within the broader framework of the aesthetics of transparency, opacity effects visualize a body, geography, building, or institution as possessing an interior, a realm beyond what is visible. Opacity effects raise suspicion by the mere fact that they dare to present something that is not entirely visually accessible to the viewer or monitor. The U.S. security state’s desire to flatten the object of surveillance has influenced the development and implementation of new surveillance technologies in the post-9/11 era. In the United States and other Western nations, where the political leadership feels besieged by the threat of international terrorism, periodic media spectacles of deadly terrorist threats remind publics what is at stake if “we” do not adopt and uniformly submit to new surveillance technologies. In this manner, spectacles and specters of the terrorist threat nourish a political culture of compulsory transparency or unquestioning support for technological solutions to the threat of international terrorism. Media coverage of enemies of the United States in the war on terror and terrorist attacks or near misses in the “homeland” create a supportive context for the reception of new surveillance technologies. In this environment, the enemies of the United States in the war on terror (both iconic and ordinary) serve as the “opaque” bodies or “bad” examples from which the “transparent” traveler is encouraged to distinguish her body in domestic visual cultures of terrorism prevention. I do not understand these spectacles of opacity as intentional efforts on the part of media corporations to serve as agents of propaganda for the U.S. military or security state. Rather, I suggest that some military, government, and media professionals share an aesthetic orientation, which implies a global politics of mobility. In the post-9/11 era, colonial binarism is subtly recast. Instead of “the West and the Rest,” domestic-security cultures of terrorism prevention invest tremendous energy and resources into producing docile global citizen suspects who willingly become “transparent” or turn themselves inside out, such that they are readily and visibly distinct from the “opaque” enemies of the United States in the theaters of the war on terror. As Yasmin Jiwani observes (this volume), when bodies are recast as borders, the invisibility of unmarked or “transparent” bodies operate in relation to the hypervisibility of nominated or profiled bodies. According to the aesthetics of transparency animating these distant yet interdependent security cultures, it is the production of particular bodies as stubbornly opaque which justifies violent practices of torture and interrogation, and abandons them to the necropolitics of indefinite detention (Mdembe 2003). By contrast, the docile citizen-suspect’s presumed ability to participate in the project of biopolitics by affirming life in line with the conventions set by the U.S. security state makes physical violence against his or her body both unnecessary and unacceptable. Docile citizen-suspects are presumed capable of practicing what Nikolas Rose (1999) and Mitchell Dean (2009), among others, call “reflexive governance.” The term refers to the ways in which neoliberal strategies of governance “offload” risk management and homeland defense onto citizens (Andrejevic 2006b). In post-9/11 cultures of terrorism prevention, reflexive governance refers to the citizen’s “voluntary” transparency or her demonstration of readiness-for-inspection. I place voluntary in quotes to signal the coercive aspects of a performance demanded by the security state for the passenger to be permitted to board his or her flight.

The war on terror has created the spectacle of war through surveillance that allows the state to turn war into re-edited reality TV

Hall 2015 [Rachel Department of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. Her research interests include issues of fear and security as well as gender. . "Terror and the Female Grotesque." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 127-49.

Elsewhere I argue that two Western media images from the war on terror offer a particularly poignant example of how photography may be used to produce opacity effects: a photograph of Saddam Hussein’s spider hole (a very small subterranean hideout), taken from above, looking down into the darkness; and the image of his medical examination, featuring the dark cavity of his mouth being pried open by a U.S. military inspector (R. Hall 2007). Analysis of the latter image establishes how Hussein and other spectacular models of “stubborn” opacity hail docile citizen suspects to “voluntarily” perform transparency within the domestic security cultures of terrorism prevention. In the visual cultures of the war on terror, opacity effects are racialized via photographic depictions of skin tone, hair, and head coverings. As Kellie D. Moore argues (this volume), any skin tone other than the whitest of white threatens to obscure the truth sought via the surveillant gaze. For the privileged Western spectators of the war on terror, wartime surveillance provides discipline and entertainment, or better yet, discipline-as-entertainment. Consider cnn’s online special report “Saddam Hussein: Captured.” The site offers an interactive reenactment of Hussein’s capture.2 Hussein is figured as the stubborn, misbehaving outlaw who must be physically and forcibly subdued. The scene of capture is akin to a scene from an early reality-tv program like Cops or some other true-crime show. The “money shot” of this genre features cops violently subduing animalized suspects. Such programs rehearse the drama of a predictable power dynamic between individuals coded as inferior based on their race, class, and lack of education, and the rational cops, who know how to “handle” them. While we don’t get to see Saddam Hussein taken down, the images and video of his medical exam accomplish a similar spectacle of dominance and submission. In the image of his medical inspection, U.S. soldiers confirm the identity and reality of his body by demonstrating its depth and penetrating the surface. “We” get to see the dark cavity of his mouth and extreme close-ups of his teeth. The medicalization of this encounter signifies Hussein’s physical submission to U.S. authority, connotes his animality, and—to the Eurocentric viewer—may suggest a benign version of U.S. imperialism, which has science, medicine, and the Enlightenment on its side. This painstakingly documented and widely circulated medical exam rehearses what Robert Stam and Ella Shohat have called the “animalizing trope” of empire or “the discursive figure by which the colonizing imaginary rendered the colonized beastlike and animalic” (1994, 19). This medical scene is reminiscent of the spectacular examination of slaves on the auction block. In drawing this comparison, I am not trying to be provocative, but rather insisting that the animalizing trope of empire is a racist strategy of dehumanization.

The omnipresence of surveillance regimes distinguishes between bodies who are feminized and those who look violently with the male gaze


Hall 2015 [Rachel Department of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. Her research interests include issues of fear and security as well as gender. . "Terror and the Female Grotesque." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 127-49.

The pressure to perform voluntary transparency via submission to screening by the new surveillance technologies demands, in turn, what Robert McRuer (2006) named “compulsory able-bodiedness.” McRuer demonstrates the interrelation between what Adrienne Rich called “compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory able-bodiedness. His analysis of various popular-culture texts also demonstrates how the cultural ideals of heterosexuality and able-bodiedness are further inflected by normative ideals regarding body types, beauty, and health. In post-9/11 security cultures, approximating the state’s idea of what passes for normal becomes a matter of national security. In this context, if you fear humiliation and judgment at the checkpoint because your body does not approximate the cultural ideal, that has nothing to do with the technology’s prying eyes, rather, it is your fault: your failure to master the body project leaves you at risk of humiliation. Full-body scanners, which were rapidly installed in airports across the United States and beyond in response to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to down Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on 25 December 2009, examine the rough outlines of the passenger’s anatomical form in order to identify “objects against bodies” or “forms that aren’t traditionally part of the human physique” (Sachs 2010). Of note here is the telling use of the term traditional to describe “the human physique” (in the singular). Like whiteness or heterosexuality, transparency claims the ground of neutrality, while in fact the transparent body desired by the security state is not neutral but, more accurately, normate, the term Rosmarie Garland Thompson (1996) has used to refer to what is understood as the generalizable human being or the body type thought to be normal. In the context of post-9/11 security cultures, the appearance of normalcy takes on the characteristics of transparency, defined as that which we do not see or notice, as opposed to those signs of bodily difference from the norm, which register visually in the form of stigmata. Magnet (2011) makes a similar argument regarding how the outsourcing of the U.S. border externalizes the threat of terrorism and inscribes it on othered bodies and bodies that reside outside the nation. The white body is normalized and serves as a standard against which others will be judged (Jiwani, this volume). And as Moore’s analysis of Ibrahim’s appropriation art and Rihanna’s appearance on abc’s 20/20 demonstrates, “the transparent aesthetics practiced by law enforcement operate through an association between objectivity and whiteness” (this volume, 116). Built into the aesthetics of transparency as it is currently mobilized by the U.S. security state is the desire for a generalizable body type which can be easily recognized as innocent or nonthreatening and thus efficiently be “cleared” for takeoff. Consider a graphic entitled “Technology that Might Have Helped,” published by the New York Times two days after Abdulmutallab’s failed bombing of Flight 253.4 The graphic pictures the images produced by x-ray backscatter and millimeter-wave screening machines, respectively. In addition to showing readers the difference between the images produced by the two types of technology, the New York Times describes the differences in terms of visual technologies with which the reader is already familiar. The image produced by backscatter machines “resembles a chalk etching,” whereas the image produced by the millimeter-wave machines “resembles a fuzzy photo negative.” It could also be said that the elongated head and spindly fingers on the backscatter image resemble a humanoid alien from a midcentury science-fiction film, while the sleek metallic perfection of the figure in the millimeter-wave image is reminiscent of the star robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Note that both of the sample body images on display appear hollow, flat, futuristic, slender, fit, relatively young, and able-bodied— not to mention the fact that the images picture all bodies, regardless of skin tone, as fuzzy white or metallic silver outlines. Media discourses about full-body scanners domesticate them by reference to the norms of U.S. popular and consumer cultures, which celebrate Euro-American standards of beauty, health, and fitness. Consequently, the transparent traveler is defined via her ability to discipline 7.2 New York Times graphic depicting body images produced by x-ray backscatter and millimeter wave screening technologies. New York Times, “Technology That Might Have Helped,” 27 December 2009 (www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/12/27/us /terror-graphic.html). Terror and the Female Grotesque 135 the grotesquely opaque body, whose abjection communicates the perpetual threat that the docile passenger-suspect’s body will somehow fail to perform transparency up to code. Consider a cheeky, flirtatious piece of gonzo journalism entitled “Reporter Faces the Naked Truth about FullBody Airport Scanners” (2010), for which Andrea Sachs of the Washington Post underwent a full-body scan by a millimeter-wave machine so she might “experience the technology’s prying eyes first hand.” Rather than report information regarding what firms would profit from the technology’s adoption or raise questions regarding its use, the reporter modeled for the reader how to make the adjustment to a new layer of security. The article’s tone oscillates between sexual teasing and self-punishing narcissism. Sachs stresses the threat of being found unattractive in the images produced by the new machines. The experience of having one’s clothes virtually peeled away by the new scanner is articulated in terms of vanity and sexual attractiveness or (gasp) repulsion, rather than as a process that renders each body suspect. There is no tucking or lifting or sucking in of guts that the tsa cannot see through with the new machines. Even as Sachs worries about what she considers to be her major corporeal flaw (a belly button placed too high on her torso), she mock scolds herself to put vanity aside for the sake of homeland security: “Get over yourself, honey: The full-body scanning machines at airport security checkpoints weren’t created to point out corporeal flaws but to detect suspicious objects lurking beneath airline passengers’ clothing.” Sachs’s “get over yourself,” comment is meant to reassure passengers that when scanned, the body becomes nothing more than a medium or environment, but it also presumes the passenger’s feminine vanity and irrelevance. What the feminist philosopher Mary Russo conceptualizes as the “female grotesque”—that cavernous figure associated “in the most gross metaphorical sense” with the female anatomical body—circulates here as a comic foil to the opaque terrorist. As Russo has written, the word “grotesque evokes the cave—the grotto-esque. Low, hidden, earthly, dark, material, immanent, visceral. As bodily metaphor, the grotesque cave tends to look like (and in the most gross metaphorical sense be identified with) the cavernous anatomical female body” (1994, 1–2). While the enemy’s stubborn opacity rationalizes physical penetration and punishment of his body in the theaters of the war on terror, the mock vanity of the female grotesque reduces serious critique of the full-body scanners to a self-deprecating joke. In the end, Sachs tells the reader that the security expert conducting her scan eventually erased the image, but it stuck with her. She ends the article by expressing her support for the new technology, given the very real threats to America’s safety posed by terrorism. “In the end,” Sachs (2010) writes, “I found it comforting to know that the body scanner would uncover items missed by older equipment and that we travelers have one more layer of protection against those exceedingly crafty terrorists.” There is a politics to feeling afraid of another “crafty” terrorist attack and comforted by the installation of full-body scanners at U.S. airports. In the context of airport security, performing voluntary transparency is coded as “hip” in the postfeminist spirit of agency and empowerment via preparation of the body in anticipation of the male gaze. Because the new norms of airport security culture borrow from the norms of U.S. consumer culture, they presume a passenger who sees “her” body as a project. In their essay on how celebrity white women tweet and how those tweets are read on gossip sites, Dubrofsky and Wood (this volume) update Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze for the postfeminist digital era, arguing that the recipient of the gaze is a participant in creating the image on display and actively fashions the body for consumption. They point out that it is only white women celebrities who are granted agency in the form of producing their bodies for the male gaze. Famous women of color are regularly discussed, critiqued, and celebrated on gossip sites, but their bodies are consistently treated as “natural” and therefore beyond their control. The bodies of famous white women, however, are depicted as ongoing projects or life works, of which those white celebrities can be proud because of the effort they have put into producing their bodies as attractive by the standards of the male gaze. Building on these keen insights, I argue that in the context of airport security the “good” passenger-suspect operates according to a gendered model of reflexive governance, which defines itself in opposition to the female grotesque. In short, the “good” passenger acts like a vain white woman from the United States who is always ready for sex. Indirectly, then, the “good” passenger’s take on the new surveillance technologies constructs the terrorist threat by reference to the figure of the female grotesque, the woman who fails to prepare her body for the male gaze, or the woman who refuses male sexual advances. Ultimately, Sachs models feminine heterosexual acquiescence to the new surveillance technologies. This framing of the new surveillance technologies resonates with a romantic view of the security state as the terrified passenger’s knight in shining armor and finds its precursor in American comic books and films featuring a lusty, muscle-bound superhero with x-ray vision. Consider the following iconic scene from the 1973 film adaptation of Superman: on a balmy night in Metropolis, Lois Lane interviews Superman on her terrace. She wears a billowy, flowing white gown and cape (you know what he’s got on). As Lois questions Superman about his special powers, she learns that he has x-ray vision but cannot see through lead. “What color underwear am I wearing?,” the inquisitive reporter asks frankly. A lead planter stands between them. His response is delayed, so Lois moves on to other probing questions. It is not until later, when she steps out from behind the planter, that he answers her. “Pink,” he says flatly, chastely. “What?,” she asks, looking confused. “They’re pink, Lois.” She turns to him for clarification and finds him staring at her crotch. “Oh,” she nods in understanding and blushes slightly. A few minutes later, as they are flying over the city together, Lois continues her interview with Superman in her head, posing additional questions in a whispery, childlike voice full of wonder: “Can you read my mind?” In this romantic sequence from Superman (1973), acts of seeing and showing-through double as sex acts for the human-superhero couple, expressing the romantic longing for a super man capable of recognizing and potentially fulfilling feminine desires. Superman’s ability to literally see through Lois’s evening gown extends, metaphorically to his magical capacity to read her mind. In the terms of 1970s popular psychology, his x-ray vision is not only a superpower but also a metaphor for true love or what it means to be “in sync” with another person. The superhero’s x-ray vision produces pleasure for the intrepid reporter who secretly wears pink underwear. The experience of being “seen through” feminizes Lois, temporarily softening the tough-as-nails city reporter. At the end of the flight scene, Superman drops Lois off on her terrace, leaving her in what appears to be a blissful, postcoital trance so he can return to the thankless work of fighting crime. Lest you think I am making too much of one silly article, Sachs’s modeling of feminine heterosexual acquiescence to the new surveillance technologies is representative of many more stories, photographs, and political cartoons that also rely on gendered and sexualized scripts of encounters between passenger-suspects, on the one hand, and surveillance technologies or representatives of the security state, on the other. One can see this media narrative neatly encapsulated in the 6 December 2010 cover image of the New Yorker, which upends the romantic formula of Superman by reversing gender roles to comic effect. In so doing, influential U.S. media outlets like the Washington Post and the New Yorker participate in and promote what Magnet has called “surveillant scopophilia,” which refers to the ways in which new surveillance technologies produce “new forms of pleasure [for some] in looking at the human body disassembled into its component parts while simultaneously working to assuage individual anxieties about safety and security through the promise of surveillance” (2011, 17). This selective treatment aligns the new technologies with U.S. consumer and popular cultures of surveillance, where sex and sex appeal (or the tragic lack thereof) are the only story being told. The “sexy” or comically asexual exposed body is uniformly white. In this manner, the sexualization of the new surveillance technologies in U.S. discourse domesticates the machines while obscuring the global racial norm used to determine which bodies are presumed capable of reflexive governance via high-tech screening and which bodies are presumed incapable or unwilling to practice reflexive governance and must therefore be forcibly subdued.

The hetero-patriarchal white-supremacist gaze cannot be separated from visualization—this reaffirms patriarchal and sexualized understanding of otherness that deems race as associated with terror


Hall 2015 [Rachel Department of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. Her research interests include issues of fear and security as well as gender. . "Terror and the Female Grotesque." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 127-49.

The coding of “voluntary” transparency as hip in a postfeminist sense is based, in turn, on a gendered and sexualized construction of the terrorist threat addressed by the new surveillance technologies. In its coverage of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s nearly successful attack on North- 7.3 “Feeling the Love,” by Barry Blitt. Cover art for the New Yorker, 6 December 2010. Terror and the Female Grotesque west Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on 25 December 2009, abc News depicted the would-be terrorist as a grossly undisciplined woman. The news organization posted government photographs of the accused bomber’s underwear (Esposito and Ross 2009). In the photos, the suspect’s briefs have been turned inside out to reveal a packet of explosive powder sewn into the crotch. The garment figures the terrorist’s opacity in the visual and linguistic registers of failed feminine hygiene. When I first saw the underwear photos, I wondered whether Al Qaeda wasn’t intentionally crafting a brilliant, interactive durational performance art piece spoofing the deepest, darkest recesses of the American psyche. The article refers to the suspect’s “underpants”—a garment worn by women and children in the United States. As a woman, it is difficult not to see a resemblance between Abdulmutallab’s underwear kitted out with a secret, explosive compartment and a pair of women’s underwear outfitted with a maxi pad or panty liner. The tattered, torn, and stained underwear connotes the shame of soiling oneself and arouses in the viewer the fear of losing physical control over the body and the nightmare of being publicly exposed in a compromised state. The photos call to mind the old parental admonishment to “make sure you have on clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.” The public shaming was reprised in the fall of 2012 when Lee Ferran of abc News reported that the bomb failed to detonate because Abdulmutallab’s underwear was dirty. Abdulmutallab’s race is not marked explicitly, and his body remains out of frame, but it is the articulation of orientalism and the female grotesque, in this case, which implicitly demands and condones his public emasculation. In addition to depicting Abdulmutallab within the visual codes of failed female hygiene, the “underpants” exhibit also queers the terrorist. As Puar has observed, “The depictions of masculinity most rapidly disseminated and globalized at this historical juncture are terrorist masculinities: failed and perverse, these emasculated bodies always have femininity as their reference point of malfunction, and are metonymically tied to all sorts of pathologies of the mind and body—homosexuality, incest, pedophilia, madness, and disease” (2007, xxiii). We can recognize this pattern of visual representation in the underwear exhibit. The not-so-subtle final shot in the series displays only the explosive packet. The article explains, “Tragedy was averted only because the detonator, acid in a syringe, did not work” (Esposito and Ross 2009). The photo displays the packet lengthwise next to the tape measure, with the explanation that “all photos include a ruler to provide scale” (ibid.). Earlier in the article 7.4 Forensic government photos of Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underwear with explosive powder packet. In Richard Esposito and Brian Ross, “Exclusive: Photos of the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 Bomb,” 28 December 2009, abc News website. Terror and the Female Grotesque 141 the authors reported, “The bomb packet is a six-inch long container” of the highly explosive chemical, “less than a half cup in volume, weighing about 80 grams” (ibid.). The final shot queers the aspiring terrorist by indirectly referencing his willingness to tuck his penis between his legs in order to make room for a substitute phallus. One cannot help but be struck by the sober tone of the underwear exhibit, which documents a deliberate process in which select government officials displayed, lit, and shot the underwear and the explosive packet, first together, then separately. The forensic authority visually communicated by the exhibit connotes the would-be terrorist’s abject degradation in the face of that authority. In the photographs, the underwear appears to have been ripped or cut off of Abdulmutallab’s body, and in the second photo, the explosive packet has been removed, exposing a hole burned through the crotch of the underwear. Ostensibly, the hole communicates the irrational extremism of a person who would strap a bomb to his body, but it may also signify the threat of penetration—a threat that extends beyond Abdulmutallab’s individual body to the bodies of all suspects of the United States in the war on terror. As Jeremy Packer first observed, “Citizens become bombs, not simply by choice or through cell propaganda and training, but by Homeland Security itself” (2006, 381). Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to become a bomb extends outward to all air passengers, who are treated as potentially explosive until they voluntarily submit to be scanned by surveillance technologies and/or patted down by security officials. The underwear exhibit offers an over-the-top example of the moralizing function of opacity effects. The implicit comparisons invited by the exhibition hail the U.S. media consumer to perform “good” global citizenship, which is imagined, in comparison to the terrorist grotesque, as less voluminous, “dank,” and “dirty.” The underwear exhibit presumes the media consumer’s difference from and moral superiority to the “opaque” body on display. By portraying the would-be terrorist according to the conventions of the female grotesque, the underwear exhibit implicitly invites U.S. and other Western media consumers to distinguish themselves from this contemptuous figure by rendering their own bodies less grottoesque. Russo (1994) argues that modern discourses of risk rely on the conceptualization of women in spatial terms via two figures: the aerial sublime and the female grotesque. The aerial sublime symbolizes transcendence, technological progress, and futuristic aspiration, but her symbolic work relies on the female grotesque, who embodies the outer (as 142 Rachel Hall inner) limits of the project of modernity and the risk of its catastrophic failure. Indeed, the full-body scanners proposed as a solution to the threat of plastic explosives like the underwear bomb promise to “clear” passengers of suspicion by rendering transparent images of their bodies, which appear as flat, hollow, unadorned, or otherwise unmodified outlines. Another New Yorker cartoon, from the 18 January 2010 issue, explores the threat of humiliation posed by whole-body scanners. In the cartoon the passenger suffers not only the humiliation of bodily exposure but also the embarrassment of having a comforting travel companion revealed. The passenger, a grown man, has a teddy bear hidden beneath his clothing and strapped to his waist. Instead of tsa agents viewing his body image in a closed, offsite location, as they do in actual practice, the cartoon agency projects life-size full-body images of the passenger onto the wall of the airport just to the side of the checkpoint, where passengers waiting to be screened laugh and point at the unlikely revelation. While the passenger’s live body is drawn straight and narrow, with the slim hips of a man, his security image is drawn in the pear shape that is fatphobically associated with the female grotesque in U.S. popular culture. The security image functions like a funhouse mirror. The question is whether the distortion is supposed to read as a projection of the passenger’s body dysmorphic disorder or as a critique of the security state’s filters, which threaten to feminize and infantilize the passenger, according to this cartoon. In practice, full-body scanners may unnecessarily expose a medical condition such as a disability or a colostomy bag, rather than a teddy bear. As feminist scholars Magnet and Tara Rodgers argue, the body scanners may create terror and dread for passengers, “especially if these technologies ‘out’ individuals in their communities, violate their religious beliefs, or single them out for public humiliation, stress, and harassment” (2012, 13). The authors make a compelling case that these new surveillance technologies disproportionately affect “Othered bodies, including the intersections of transgendered, disabled, fat, religious, female and racialized bodies” (ibid., 14). The New Yorker cartoon alludes to the threat of public humiliation but domesticates that threat via the figure of the ordinary white male traveler who fails to be hip or sexy while proceeding through the checkpoint. He becomes the sympathetic, comic foil to the ideal of transparency chic, someone with whom ordinary readers are encouraged to identify, rather than with those othered bodies for whom the stakes of exposure via full-body scans run much higher. Transparency chic presumes a healthy, able-bodied passenger-suspect. 7.5 Artwork in the New Yorker, 18 January 2010, p. 47. © Michael Crawford/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank. 144 Rachel Hall Physical ailments, disabilities, limitations, or chronic medical conditions may prevent a particular suspect from being adequately self-subduing via the performance of submission to scanning by machine. This state of affairs requires the tsa officers to substitute or supplement technological mediation with a physical search. For example, a passenger who relies on a mobility device cannot assume the proper position required for screening by the full-body scanners: standing with arms above head. This person fails to perform transparency insofar as she is unable to assume the required position and produce the correct gestures in a performance that would culminate in the production of a particular type of security image of her body. Likewise, cyborg passengers with implanted defibrillators cannot pass through metal detectors because their devices set off the detector and therefore defeat the purpose of this method of scanning the passenger for contraband. Paradoxically, the medical cyborg is at once too vulnerable and too advanced for the metal detector. The tsa refers to his condition in visual terms that cast further suspicion on the passenger with a “hidden disability.” Where metal detectors and body scanners prove insufficient, tsa workers must substitute or supplement technological mediation with physical contact. Transparent mediation by close-sensing technologies becomes a semi-public, intimate physical encounter with a tsa official. Physical pat-downs and searches performed on such passengers typically happen in a designated area just to the side of the queues for the metal detectors and x-ray machines. Interestingly, these areas are frequently cordoned off by a series of glass or plastic partitions. This creates a situation in which passengers proceeding through the regular screening process can watch as tsa officials handle passengers pulled for additional screening. The function of the transparent partitions communicates voluntary transparency on the part of the tsa, even as it heightens the theatrical aspects of the encounter, now enticingly framed by a glass box. Sometimes these inspections go horribly wrong, as in the case of Thomas Sawyer, a sixty-one-year-old man and cancer survivor, who said a tsa pat-down inspection broke his urine bag. Anne E. Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr. (2010) of the Washington Post reported that Sawyer suffered the further indignity of having to board his flight covered in urine without the benefit of an apology from the tsa officer involved in the incident. Sawyer’s experience (and that of countless others who have been subjected to a physical search because of a medical condition or disability) raises the question of whether or not physical pat-downs constitute a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Terror and the Female Grotesque 145 Act of 1996 (hipaa) or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Department of Health and Human Services lists law-enforcement agencies among those organizations not required to follow hipaa’s privacy and security rules.5 During a national or public-health emergency, the secretary of Health and Human Services may waive certain provisions of hipaa even for those organizations usually required to follow its privacy and security rules. Thus, it seems that public physical inspection of passengers with medical conditions does not constitute a violation of hipaa. Whether or not public pat-downs of passengers with medical conditions and disabilities constitutes a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act is more difficult to determine. The act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.”6 The tsa proclaims that its commitment to customer service extends to all passengers, “regardless of their personal situations and needs.” In an effort to meet the needs of passengers with medical conditions and disabilities, the agency established a coalition of over seventy disability-related groups and organizations “to help us understand the concerns of persons with disabilities and medical conditions.”7 This research has informed the tsa’s approach to passengers with “all categories of disabilities (mobility, hearing, visual, and hidden).”8 Coverage by the program indicates that tsa screeners have been briefed on the range of conditions they may encounter. Coverage also means specialized travel tips for passengers with medical conditions or disabilities and their traveling companions. The general theme of these disability-specific tips is that passengers with medical conditions or disabilities and their traveling companions are responsible for initiating communication about their condition with tsa officers. In some cases, the travel tips offered attempt to head off charges of privacy violation and discrimination in one fell swoop. For example, those who dislike the exposure of a pat-down inspection at the checkpoint are advised to “request a private area for your pat-down inspection if you feel uncomfortable with having a medical device being displayed while inspected by the Security Officer.”9 In the case of passengers with medical conditions or disabilities, offsite inspection is offered as an option less stigmatizing than undergoing physical inspection at the checkpoint before an audience of one’s peers. By contrast, the prospect of being transferred from the public checkpoint to an offsite location for further inspection and interrogation implies the threat of physical harm and arrest to those suspected of terrorism. That is not to say that passengers with medical conditions disabilities are presumed innocent. In what is perhaps the most harrowing section of advice for passengers with medical conditions and disabilities, the tsa addresses the visual problem of dressed wounds. • Whenever there is a metal detector alarm in the area of a dressing, the Security Officers will conduct a gentle limited pat-down of the dressing area over top of your clothing. • Clothing will not be required to be removed, lifted, or lowered during the pat-down inspection. • The Security Officer will not ask you to, nor will he or she, remove a dressing during the screening process. • In the event a Security Officer is not able to determine that a dressing is free of prohibited items via a pat-down, you will be denied access to the sterile area. Particularly striking is the use of the term sterile in reference to the securitized area just beyond the checkpoint in the context of a discussion of how to treat passengers with dressed wounds. The final bullet point pits the “sterility” of the securitized zone against the “sterility” of the passenger’s dressed wound. One form of sterility demands exposure, while the other requires a protective covering. In its treatment of the range of medical conditions and disabilities tsa officers may encounter, the agency’s tone is alternately insistent and tender as it communicates its unwavering commitment to expose what might otherwise be hidden by the pretense of a medical condition or disability. Given the hypersexualized media narratives surrounding the rapid installation of full-body scanners in U.S. airports beginning in early 2010, it is perhaps not all that surprising that the main objection given voice by major U.S. media outlets concerned the protection of passengers’ sexual privacy. This was true despite the fact that the new technologies also raised concerns about radiation exposure from the backscatter machines (see J. Marshall 2010).10 In response to the charge that the new machines violated sexual privacy, the tsa stressed that the security images produced could not be saved or stored. In order for the next passenger to be scanned, the previous image had to be deleted. James Ott (2010) of Aviation Daily reported that the tsa chief John Pistole assured the public that no mobile phones or cameras were permitted in the remote viewing rooms where agents inspected the full-body images. In other words, the tsa understands the privacy violation in terms of the politics of information rather than the politics of performing submission to comprehensive surveillance, or understands it in terms of the live experience of being produced as one of the security state’s many suspects. The tsa stresses the measures it takes to de-eroticize the body images it makes. The organization notes that faces are blurred or blocked out, no hair is visible, and human monitors are of the same sex as the passengers being screened (the tsa appeals to this same heteronormative logic when it describes and defends its organizational procedures for conducting physical pat-downs). In the tsa’s arguments for why these images are not pornographic, we learn by negation what is sexualized: faces, hair, and heterosexuality. And in early 2011 Ashley Halsey III, of the Washington Post, reported that the tsa had debuted a software patch on millimeterwave machines at Las Vegas Airport. The full-body scanner machines using radio waves now produce a gray “cookie-cutter” outline of the human body. The generic quality of the figure is designed to alleviate privacy concerns because every body image generated by the machine looks exactly the same. The lack of graphic detail serves as a control on the potential eroticism of full-body images. This is a body image designed to do nothing for the spectator—nothing, that is, other than sanitize the technology and, by extension, the security state’s relationship to passengers’ bodies. The automatic detection software highlights suspicious regions with a yellow box on that part of the generic body. This cues the tsa officer to physically inspect only that region of the passenger’s body. Significantly, the generic body image appears on a screen attached to the scanning booth so that both the tsa officer stationed beside the machine and the passenger are able to look at the image together and wait for the green light or “ok,” at which point the tsa officer waves the passenger on her way. In January 2013 the tsa announced it would be removing all backscatter machines from U.S. airports, not due to health concerns but because the machines’ manufacturer, Rapsican, had failed to develop a software patch to translate detailed images of passengers’ bodies into a generic outline of the human form.11 The aesthetic produced by the privacy software patch is of a generic outline, defended on the grounds that it does not offend privacy. However, the image is revealing in that it pictures precisely what these technologies produce: a new normate body. My critique of the full-body scanners contributes to the larger, collaborative project initiated by feminist scholars of surveillance: to shift critical 148 Rachel Hall surveillance studies away from matters of privacy, security, and efficiency to a consideration of the ethical problem of combating new forms of discrimination that are practiced in relation to categories of privilege, access, and risk.12 U.S. public discourse has domesticated the new surveillance technology via gendered and sexualizing scripts of being seen-through as a form of romantic love, attraction, and repulsion. These discourses have thereby framed the new technologies and the airport security checkpoint as yet another opportunity to succeed or fail at attractively imaging one’s body for the male gaze and according to Euro-American standards of beauty, health, and fitness. In this manner, U.S. public discourse about the scanners has ignored the fact that the differential application of high- and low-tech surveillance methods is organized according to a racial norm, where race is understood not in the narrow terms of phenotype but in the broader terms of who is presumed capable of participating in the biopolitical project of terrorism prevention and who is written off as stubbornly opaque. Using sex to obscure race and ethnicity in U.S. public discourse about post-9/11 security culture is not a minor oversight. Rather, it is a tragically superficial distraction that supports the unthinking adoption of a differentially applied preemptive legal framework at home and abroad. A narrow view of new surveillance technologies through the lens of sexual privacy misses the fact that the racial norm is what has facilitated the rollout of preemptive laws in the war on terror and made the domestic culture of terrorism prevention palatable to citizens of governments who feel besieged by the threat of terrorism. The difference between how suspected terrorists in the war on terror and passenger-suspects in U.S. airports are treated renders the indefinite extension of surveillance on both fronts palatable to a majority of U.S. citizens, demonstrated through a critique of the aesthetics of transparency operative in new surveillance technologies and of the discourses surrounding their adoption.
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