The link below, from the N.Y. Times, reports on the expansion of TSA security to areas outside the airport. There are additional stories around about the trend toward replacing TSA security with private security firms. Couple these together and what you get are, in many cities now, private security personel stopping and searching people wherever they deem neccessary. No probable cause is needed — and part of the justification for this is because of the inclusion of “Behavior Detection Officers” as part of these roving teams. It is very hard, if not essentially impossible, to find out what training is required to be a certified “Behavior Detection Officer”.
However, from one “scholarly” essay, by TSA supervisor Carl Macarrio, we get this:
“…of the many cases of drug smugglers caught at Transportation Security Administration (TSA, the agency charged with airport and other transportation security in the United States) checkpoints by TSA behavior detection officers often
involve passengers who have a keen interest in security procedures, scanning the checkpoint before entering, rigid posture, minimal body movements, and a tense facial expression, almost one of fear and apprehension
(see Chapter 2), unlike the other passengers who do not show those signs
and go about their business of clearing security. These are often tip-offs
that something is wrong. As behavior detection officers, we become concerned when we see behavioral signals that deviate from a known environment, behaviors that demonstrate extreme concern about security procedures, excessive touching of the face and head, and constantly looking
around as if to see who is watching. These nonverbal indicators cause the security official to give that person more scrutiny because that person’s body is giving off behavior alarms—and I call this scrutiny human alarm
The germane sentence here is the one about behavioral signals that deviate from a known enviornment. Things like excesssive face touching. Id like to ask what is excessive? These ideas, by the way, were primarely taken from Israeli security practices. Along with these behavior experts, the TSA teams include screeners and transporation security officers. In other words, TSA, a division within Homeland Security, is now roaming the streets looking for suspicious behavior. I guess all those aberrant face touchers better keep a low profile.
A screener for TSA makes about fourteen dollars an hour. An “officer” makes about thirty five. This is not an elite field with a high ceiling. Educational requirements, not that degrees mean much these days (more on that below) do not include even a high school diploma. The job application only asks you be able to read and write English.
Here is a quote from a former TSA screener;
“Did you know you don’t need a high-school diploma or GED to work as a security screener? These are the same screeners that TSA chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refer to as a first-class first line of defense in the war on terror. These are the employees who could never keep a job in the private sector. I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.
Most TSA screeners know their job is a complete joke. Their goal is to use this as a stepping stone to another government agency.
We work in a culture where common sense has no place. All but a very few TSA personnel know they’re employed by a bottom-of-the-barrel agency.
Every time you read about a TSA horror story, it’s usually about a screener doing what he or she is instructed to do.
Supervisors play absolutely no role in day-to-day functions except to tell you not to chew gum. Gum chewing is a huge issue with management. I once saw a supervisor make an officer open his mouth to prove he had a mint and not a piece of gum.”
So we have a rather radical expansion of power for sub literates who enjoy wearing uniforms. People led by other slightly more ambitious sub literates. And all working for the vast Homeland Security agency. This raises a couple obvious questions. When people (usually following the lead of American movies and TV) suggest that the CIA and FBI and Homeland Security are crack high tech agencies of the best and brightest, I think well, not in my experience. Admittedly the requirements to get into the FBI are a bit higher… and the same for the CIA. Interestingly though, the minimum age to apply for a career in the CIA is 18. No college degree is required, but it is valued (so the job application site says). It also says you must have not have used illegal drugs within the last 12 months. Um, ok. But…you are so totally allowed to have tattoos.
My point is that the media depicts CIA agents, and Homeland Security, as the best of the best, an elite cadre of super Mensa graduates from Ivy League Universities. This is, as they say, just the way it is in the movies. So, this idea, this image, of the amazingly skilled James Bondian elite corps of superMEN is clearly just not true. To join the ATF, you must have a valid US drivers license, and be able to run a 1.5 mile course, do push ups, and pass an application test (which I’m guessing does not involve higher calculus). You have to have completed a four year college course, OR have three years of work experience related to law enforcement duties. What this might be is not exactly clear. I guess maybe being a TSA screener could qualify. My point again, that when people thought, oh, well the US government wants Edward Snowden, and they KNOW everything, so they must know or not know he was on President Morales’ flight, the reality is these security and policing agencies are made of up of something far less than the best and brightest. But such is the traction of media narrative, the power of movies, that even enlightened individuals tend to think of Homeland Security(etc etc etc) as having almost supernatural powers.
There is a reason the Pentagon likes to vet all film scripts that depict any member of the US armed services. I would have thought by now that after watching the last several years of abusive near psychotic behavior by US police departments (made up of increasing numbers of returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets) and of US military screw ups, that the public would start to put two and two together. Add to this a topic I’ve known about for over a decade, or more, and that is the rampant use of steroids by cops. I used to know, back in the day, in Venice CA, at a local body builders gym, a guy who was dealing illegal steroids. Among his customers, which I saw first hand, were of course athletes, but the larger number were cops. It is estimated by some that one in four cops takes steriods. A quick visual check bears this out.
This is the actual ground level reality of fascism. Black teenagers have known it for a long time, they know it in most poor neighborhoods, black,brown, white. This is the reality. The question of how much worse is it now, is not that simple to answer. But I think it’s safe to say it IS worse. Cops always abused people. Today they do it for less reason and are accorded more protection. The steriod aspect is simply a part of the intensifying of our culture of violence. The violence is more acute, more punishing, and less predictable. In fact, it’s close to random these days. You think it’s hard to become a police officer? Well, its not. In fact if you’re breathing you can be a cop.
Not a new story, either: http://thinksteroids.com/articles/dopers-uniform-cops-steroids/
None of these things can be seperated from the larger canvas of the culture. One of the reasons I continue to go on about aesthetics, and the missing cultural education of U.S. society (and really, Europe as well) is that the degrading of narrative, the kistch entertainment and the loss of curiosity, all connects with and creates and informs the societal violence and adoration of authority in daily life. And authority is represented by MALE violence. The militarist and uniformed violence depicted repeatedly in Hollywood film and TV is a combination of the corporate ruling class and its fear of the unruly masses, and as a totemic idol partly now created by the masses themselves. Or at least the male population. We have a black president more ruthless and compassionless and affectless than any ever to hold office, we have violent sociopathic women in high administrative positions (Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, et al), in both cases applauded as progress in diversity… and a public that continues …now almost willfully …its addictions to gadgetry and “entertainment”. It is dangerous however to paint the entire cultural output in even Hollywood with the same blunt brush. But then again, today, the stunted discrimenatory capacity of most of the populace means that distinguishing between art and violence porn is ever more difficult, and perhaps its not even possible on one level any longer.
The number of actors in Hollywood using steroids, and more often, actually, HGH, is pretty high. If you want a job as an actor, you better be ripped looking with your shirt off. The narcissism now of even respected “actors” is registered by the number of topless scenes they manage to squeeze into any one film. The breakthrough career of Schwarzenegger, from Austrian provincial to movie star to the Governor of the largest state in the US (and fifth largest economy in the world) is testiment to the growing power of the image of the brutal. Power as the sadistic bending of opposition into supine submission. From Abu Ghraib to Bradley Manning’s kill video, the culture is awash in the desire to humiliate and to force submission, and to murder.
There are more private security forces in Iraq now then there are US soldiers. Growing numbers of corporations are hiring high end former mercenaries to guard their property. The law, since Eric Holder doubled down on Gonzales has been placed in the discretionary hands of barely literate bench pressing gun loving sociopaths. And now, joining in are high school drop out near minimum wage flunkies who can barely figure out how to open a suitcase but are trained experts at face touching quotas.
The destruction of education, of course, links to this. But education, as an institutional entity, has probably never been as important as public opinion thought it was. Yes, they teach nothing in school anymore. Yes, the government spends more on presidential toilet paper than they do on education. Yes, teachers make less than TSA screeners often. Still, the reality is that the seeds of this ruthlessness, the worship of killing as a vocation, AND an occupation, has always been a major theme for the United States. Indian killer, buffalo hunters, slave owners, and gunfighters. Male power. White male power mostly.
I have felt for a while now that in contemporary film and TV, but in literature, too, the sense of the affirmative story, the sensitive narrative always betrays something of the real bedrock oppression of daily life in Imperial America. I had a long debate about Hitchcock recently. And it was very useful for I realized that what I felt as dishonest somehow, as nagging at me, in films of too positive an outlook, was that the horror of daily sadism, and guilt and trauma and pain was backdrop to the sensitivity of the protagonist p.o.v. The narrative of hope is always going to betray our collective suffering. Even if the protagonist suffers before his or her redemption. Even if she or he shares in it for a time. The problem is one of not being able to really tell THAT story without somehow stepping away from the dominated life. Which is everyone. I have trouble with films that suggest goodness as something in surplus, somehow. Its not that there aren’t good people, or that good things don’t happen, it’s that in the artwork, the only path to the expression of that goodness is dishonest.
There are artists like Hitchcock, and I think this is true of Sirk, too, and Nick Ray, in which popularity was almost an accident. It was the product of timing, luck, and an art that worked within structures familiar enough to not offend. Sirk offended nobody, neither did Hitchcock (and it’s true that probably, regardless of other factors, that this popularity speaks to limitations in their work). Their popularity was almost a misreading of their work, though. Im not sure this wasn’t true with any number of writers in early eras. But my point is more to do with the narrative that never does not end up understanding its own doomed heroism. If love is revolutionary (as Marcuse said both the bougeois and the anti bourgois want to deny via morality) then we must know, also, that love cannot really survive Capital. Another way of looking at this, is that repression is historical, and our Oedipal drama changes. Rene Girard wrote that the Oedipal complex is reduced (in Deleuze) to resitance. And what it resists is “desire”. A desire foreign to the demands of representation and structure. “True desire is unconscious…” says Girard.
Now, I mention this here (because I want to do a long posting on just Sirk and Hitchcock, actually) because my sense now in the West, for the poor already, but soon for most everyone but the ruling two percent, is that daily street level existence will be one of boot steps, Bradley Armored Vehicles, loudspeakers and warnings, of snapped kevlar vests and it will be these uniformed and very limited fascist thugs who acts as stars of this block buster. The film and narrative of decency or hope is inscribed on the fragmented body parts or drugged psyches of ourselves, or it is projected out onto creations, or characters, which are lies just because they CAN take on such projections. It is the very capacity to participate in narratives of optimism that betrays the falseness of these inventions. We never quite trust ourselves in this sense. The police state is here. None of the cops in that video montage suffered anything close to real punishment. No, real punishment is for the black football player in the Stubenville rape saga. Or for the two million men and women in prison in the US gulag. It is for Bradley Manning. Domestically, this season’s state authority has regressed, enacting their violence in ever more primitive cartoons of domination. Cartoon like bodies, and primate level vocabularies, and increasingly immune from any repurcussion. The enforcing of anti-intellectualism has meant that all legality is seen as just obtuse and recondite. The ideology of police virtue is reduced to sheer brute force.
So the film or narrative that suggests there are figures vacinated against madness are rarely able to rise to anything meaningful. There is no state of grace. Artists who do not somehow embed the damage, to others as well as themselves, or do not at least question this, are simply making one or another version of kitsch.
There is something to be distrusted in optimism, narratively. In the society of domination. The capitalist predatory drive, exploitive and remorseless, has to always be acknowledged in the narrative. It is pointless to extract the meaning of a work from the secondary oder of symbolism. At this point it is important to see the limits of psychoanalytic descriptions of desire, actually. And better to return to an analysis of mimetic violence and trace the legacies from Sophocles to Dante and Shakespeare and through to Dostoyevsky and Kafka. The limits of structuralist revisionism is important here, too, for the current fashion of the Zizekians is to ignore the material crises before them. That is perhaps a whole other discussion. For now, I would argue that desiring mimesis is the most useful starting place for any art criticism. The complexities are near endless, but as Girard points out, the desire defines the object. But it precedes the object and its survives it. This is rivalry, and the inevitable defeat, and the recognition of narratives role in our mental and perhaps physical survival.
The optimistic is only denial of the pathological nature of myths — or the attempted erasure of all specifics in much of today’s post structuralist thought. The truth is that desire recognizes its inevitable failure and invents something hidden behind the object it cannot know, that it missed, or that never came (in the inevitable trauma of our mental formation)…and that somehow, hidden behind the missed object, is always an obstacle. So that the sentimental or life affirming is creating some fantasy totality of love and sexuality or completeness that is only just behind what stands in its way. Hence the unsatisfying resolution of sentimental narrative. The violence of the state is driven on the individual level by feelings of inadequacy and impotence. This is reductive to be sure, but the point is that the crisis of the oppression and the mechanisms of domination that serve the material interests of only the very few, is ignored by the agents of violence because of their own desire for what has been denied them. The scapegoating mechanism is then in play at this point. The enemy is never defeated enough. He is never killed enough. The logic of the state is to create fictive prizes. The populace is rewarded for its obedience. It is easier to justify the drone murder of children if those children are, after all, only obstacles to the fulfillment of what is desired, and that desire is given abstract objectivity via collective abstractions like democracy and freedom. Murdering children or beating up women, throwing innocent men in prison, is just the cost of completion.
The by-product of this dynamic is madness. The post modern project has been, among other things, to erase meaning in madness. The question is in what ways madness is treated or stigmatized. Chemical warehousing is one solution. The other is simply to attribute a specific set of behaviors as ‘deviating from the known enviornment’. Excessive face touching for example. And then apply therapy, and work toward adjustment. The therapeutic is largely a blanket reading of a variety of phenomenon. There is no meaning, only illness. The return of scapegoating, the violence of pograms and lynch mobs and Imperialist conquest are, however you explain them, still material crises. What this society now seems on the verge of entering, or probably has already entered, is an acute inward turning violence. The state is eating its own children. For the ruling class, who see only the economic and property markers in any human equation, the surplus population must be dealt with. Long range thought is not their strong suit. For the soldiers of empire and its clerks, the personal drama of frustration has intensified with ever greater resentment and anger. As the goals recede, the rage grows. There is no crime, now, that cannot be lumped into the scapegoating basket. The sadism of the Israeli settlers, the racism of that state, is only a condensed version of the US state. The vast prison complex of the U.S. is so irrational that it simply cannot withstand any scrutiny. To scrutinize would be to risk a complete escape from any sense of reality. The same is true of the cruelty of factory farming, the violence to sea life by military trials of new weaponry, to the enviornment, the nuclear meltdowns and the fracking is all a form of the ideology of white domination– a domination losing its grip. It seems almost like the breakdown of the system because no unanimity can be achieved. It is the murdering of meaning.
Lacan was correct about the repeated rites of the Oedipal drama. It is just that the sacrifical victim today is not straddling the collective and the individual. The missed encounter while true, has become dynamically a cover for total floating meaninglessness in the hands of Lacan’s countless followers. The instrumental logic of the Enlightenment has been played out in the obsessive innovations of pointless, even harmful, technology. Everyone uses cell phones, and everyone knows they are made by slave labor. That coltan mining and sweat shops wreck violence at all levels of production is simply put aside. There are real questions though, in regard to art and culture, here. The truth of art may appear in its very untruth. But that untruth (the artifical ritualistic and ceremonial) must be put in play somehow as a psychic crowbar to initiate the dismantling of offical reality. The symbolic order is then perhaps a repository for what might in the end allow for the creation of genuine transcendence. The artwork must in one sense be commenting on the real, or it is just serving the violence of individual conformity. The narratives of the artwork, to have value, will be the ones in which questions are asked at every stage, in which deviancy and insanity are not looked at as things to be reformed, or as *things* at all. The artistic question though is within the tensions of the form. It is the form critiquing its history, as form firstly, and only secondly as theme. There are difficult propositions in this, for today the new hyper violence of a racist and misogynist system of entertainment are tending to simply obliterate story for a culture unable to process anything more complex. There is an addiction to media. It is fed by the anti nourishment of its own violent imagry. Noise and movement and color. And then explosions and the sound of gun shots.
Try to imagine what a training seminar looks like for “Behavior Detection Officers”. A standard mid level three or four hotel convention suite, a power point presentation. Flourescent lights, maybe not all completely working. Hotel chairs with attached writing surface (sort of like high school), or just long tables. This might be a two weekend, four day seminar. The instructor is an ex-Marine maybe, a NSA guy, or just a veteran ATF investigator. There will be a few instructional videos, some reading material handed out. A sociological analysis of sorts from which a conclusion about better safe than sorry is arrived at. Lunch is an hour and a half. The cafeteria has steam trays, some weak coffee. And at the end of this rigorous process will be an exam. And graduates will come out of this, now hopeing to get a pay bump at their job screening bags at Epply Field in Omaha, or at Charlotte/Douglas International airport, or Phoenix Sky Harbor. I think it’s safe to say that the rise in security jobs has meant a lot of these sorts of teaching events. It is a growth field, an opportunity for those without prestigious University degrees, or maybe as something to do if you just returned from military duty in Guam. It is a sort of racket, and the problem is, unlike going to cosmetology or bartending school, the graduates here can actually detain and search you and in some cases put you in jail.
The economy is bad, factory jobs have been outsourced to Haiti, and Bangladesh and the Philippines, other jobs replaced by robots. Mortgages are due, or more likely just the rent. The desperation cuts across a lot of sectors of the working class today. Few jobs offer any real pride, and putting on a uniform does, sort of, even if you know its a joke to stand asking people to remove their shoes. The alternative is flipping burgers, or maybe off the books construction work. Or waitressing, or driving a taxi. It is also a job tailor made to funnel a lot of excess aggression. Disappointment is the currency of the society. Dissapointment colors almost every ecounter of daily life. And for those in uniform, it is an essential part of the appeal in a lot of cases. Uniformed authority offers some promise as a hedge against disappointment.
The theatre of domestic security reflects the much larger and more draconian Pentagon created foreign policy. That the US is starting to resemble Baghdad, however, cannot be ignored. It is the confluence of cultural propaganda, and economic depression, an empire staggering to protect the property of the ruling class. The ruling class staggering to protect their sanity. The white value system that started out slaughtering 600 tribes is now valorizing robo-warriors, imbuing them with ever growing legal powers, the better to pipeline and streamline the privitized prison industry. If you want to avoid jail, think about a job guarding a jail. Or, find a seminar on behavior recognition.
So, the contradictions are obvious in the new policing culture. On the one hand the TSA is the butt of jokes, an obvious entry level gig for minimum pay. The procedures are mostly meaningless and conducted by undertrained and semi abused personel. Its clear that morale is low. On the other hand, the myth of the near omnipotent high tech warriors, the crack special agents and special forces warrior with accompanying moral cleanliness, the ability to hold their breath for sixteen minutes and with impossible skills at hand to hand combat, heroes of the war on terror. In the public mind they co-exist comfortably because Hollywood has essentially invented a spectrum from TSA and dog catcher at one end, too CIA special ops at the other. The filmic reality now supercedes all else. I have a feeling that those attracted to any level of “law enforcement” are troubled, lacking in imagination, and probably pretty dull and uncreative. In movies, the CIA can remotely listen in on a whispered conversation in Finmark or a hotel basement in Perth. There is a sort of conflating of the skill and intelligence needed to develop technology and the skills and intelligence (and desire) of those who want to use it. The hands-on guys on the ground (Benghazi anyone?). I mean christ, the history of the CIA is one long series of cluster fuck mistakes. And lets remember that the ruling elite, from David Koch to Hillary Clinton, and to all the CEOs of various corporations and hedge fund managers are not immune from the affliction of stupidity. From secret prayer meetings (cultic in the case of Hillary and a number of other various born again or charismatic nutball Christians) to astrology guides (the Reagans) to Ayn Rand fundamentalists (half the Republican party), we are among intellects that circumstance might well have landed in the employment queue for TSA baggage screener, had accidents of birth been different. Hell, what level of smart is a Milton Freidman? Or John Bolton? Or Bill Clinton for that matter? The assumption is always, well, I think he’s creepy but he’s really smart. I remember hearing this about Arnold, too. “No, he’s a really smart guy”. OK, NO, no he’s not. Schwarzenegger is what he seems. The provincial son of a Nazi cop, attracted to muscle magazines as an adolescent, who had timing on his side and who hit the biology lottary for bicep DNA (and got in on the ground floor of cheap steroids). I personally think a radical re-evaluation of this word “smart” is in order. I think Freidman is an idiot. A narrow pinched myopic and inflexible thinker. Bill Clinton is smart like a shark is smart (and eating anything that spills blood in front of you isn’t really that smart). Hillary is smart like a virus is smart, like a jackyl maybe. Oh, and Bolton…he’s not even bacterial smart. He’s not even pond scum smart. My point is that this is one of the mental constructions with which people seem to be comforted. I’m not sure why. That those in power are intelligent. Some are, and many are not.
There is no doubt the NSA collects everything, but in a sense this has been my recurring point. It is Kafka, not Orwell or Philip K. Dick. It is a Kafka parable or a Borges story, perhaps, in which everything is collected and nothing is really used. There is scant motivation to use it anyway, if the state wants you they just get you and the rest of what happens to you is secret anyway.