Dirty Joke

by T. Hunt Tooley

Previously by T. Hunt Tooley: Some Costs of the Great War: NationalizingPrivateLife

I flew out of Boston Logan Airport recently, an early flight, everyone fresh at the start of the day. The lines at the TSA checkpoint were short, but slow. As we got close enough to hear, we heard at least four or five of the agents shouting instructions at the top of their lungs. Now if you have flown recently, you may have noticed the “new look” of the TSA. Improved, militarized uniforms; can-do attitude; a kind of fake jocularity.

But the Logan guys had not gotten the memo. They were standing hands on hips, braying out orders to beat the band. A male and female agent — both tall, blond, and beefy — competed in yelling contradicting orders to passengers: “Step to your right!” “I told you to step to the left!” “Put your ticket in the bowl!” “Hold your ticket high in the air during the body scan!”

Somebody said, “But that agent told me to step to the right.” The reply from the man: “Get over here now!”

Meanwhile, repeated little lectures about obedience. I am not exaggerating: I made notes on all this a few minutes later. The patter of commands, countermands, jokes at the expense of the passengers, little homilies about doing what you are told — this was absolutely constant.

Up ahead, I heard a distinguished man in his fifties arguing — definitely a taboo at the checkpoint! A TSA agent was yelling at him that the TSA bore no responsibility for his missing property. The man had courage. He kept saying “Your Responsibility!” And TSA-Man kept repeating over and over (not call-and-response, but just over and over), “Your Responsibility!” Amazingly, they did not haul him away. But he was certainly detained for a while: I watched him after I had gone through (no doubt a violation of some Federal regulation).

Having studied, taught, and written about the Nazi concentration camp system for the greater part of my life, I really can’t help but see SS-Men in these TSA-Men. From countless memoirs of all kinds of individuals swept up in the huge concentration camp system of the Third Reich, you see the same jocularity, the same contradictory orders designed to disorient, the same commands to undress, to hurry up, to put your cap on, to take it off, to put it on: “Mütze ab!” “Mütze an!” And the memoir literature is replete with the “humor” of SS-Men (Gestapo included of course: Secret State Security) who wavered between joking humiliation of their victims and outright rage.

Except for actual beatings, the TSA-Men and TSA-Women before me in Boston, constituents of a real Heimat-Sicherheits-Dienst, behaved in ways that diverged in no particular from the beefy SS-Men and the hard-eyed women guards of the SS-Gefolge. There were pat-downs, body-searches, x-ray machines the SS would have loved, disarray, confusion, shouting — a real analogue.

In the line leading up to the frantic moment of taking off shoes, etc., I am always reminded of the courtroom of Nazi Judge Roland Freisler, who presided over the “defendants” in the trials following the assassination attempt against Hitler. The men were all denied the use of their belts. Hence, these distinguished opponents of the dictator — most of whom, face it, had lost weight in a few weeks in the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse cells — would have to hold up their pants, making them appear even more ridiculous and pathetic in the (filmed) proceedings, even more the object of Judge Freisler’s swings from vicious humor to nearly incoherent outrage.

Back to October 2012, a typical day in these United States, the “Administrator” of the TSA (do you suppose he has read Colonel House’s plodding book, Philip Dru, Administrator?), with the unlikely name of Pistole, was on the air discussing all the improvements instituted by the TSA — a virtual flood of changes in the wake of the Congressional hearing from this summer, a hearing entitled “TSA's Efforts to Fix Its Poor Customer Service Reputation and Become a Leaner, Smarter Agency.”

According to Pistole, the TSA will not be body-searching as many children as previously. A high percentage of the TSA agents have received training in having a lighter touch (I am not sure what that would mean in this context). And some airports will be dismantling the x-ray naked-scan machines (supposedly Boston, but there they were nonetheless in mid-October), and there will be even more as yet unannounced improvements in “customer service.”

Customer Service. I am sure that the SS-Men would have enjoyed that joke a great deal.

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