Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The positive side of removing shoes at airport security

(Evidently there is still plenty of fear about flight safety- there is talk in Europe about implementing body scanners that view passengers in the nude.)

In the USA, unlike in most European countries, it is mandatory for passengers to remove shoes at airport security. However, I understand that the TSA is experimenting with x-ray devices that are hoped will make shoe-removal unnecessary.

Although many people complain and complain about having to take their shoes off at the airport, personally I see something positive in this bizarre practice that we have experienced over the last few years. I think it will be a little sad if removing shoes is finally phased out.

People in the west put so much effort into construting their professional and social identities. For many people their money and profession is such a fundamental part of the image they project about themselves. That is why the old drinks party question "what do you do?" is so important.

Yet at airport security, all this is stripped away. No matter how rich you are, no matter how respectable your profession, or your celebrity status, all must stand in stocking feet before the men and women who work in airport security. As I have said before, coming through airport security is the nearest thing that most people experience to being arrested- pockets are emptied, belts and shoes are removed and one is powerless before the agents of the state. It is at the airport that the fundamentally coercive nature of modern society is revealed.

It is at airport security that we become truly human in our vulnerability.

The identities and masks of social status are stripped away at the security checkpoint. The brogues of the well-heeled businessman are removed to reveal socks with holes. The Jimmy Choo stilettos of a footballer's wife are removed to reveal cracked heels.

At this place we reveal our true selves and our frail humanity. We are allthe same in our vulnerability and human weakness.

Perhaps there is something comical in it too. Perhaps the experience of the horrors of terrorism has enabled us to find something funny, a light relief in the incongruity of the great and the good all standing shoeless.

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