Dispatches | February 17, 2011

Yesterday I went through airport security.  I cannot go through it without thinking of two things, both of them scenes from movies, one from Twelve Monkeys and the other from Spinal Tap.  I have not seen either film lately, but I know that if I watched them I would be struck by how impossible some of the scenes they portray would be today.  In Twelve Monkeys [spoiler alert] a man with a suitcase filled with lethal viruses is stopped for just a minute or so by a bewildered, ineffectual security officer, then let go.  In Spinal Tap, Derek Smalls has an uncomfortable exchange with a woman holding a metal detector.  There’s no need to describe how the scene ends, as everyone has seen it (if not, see below, if you can withstand the advertisement that may precede it).

Neither of the depicted scenarios seem, today, in any way plausible.  If a man tried to creep through airport security with deadly viruses this afternoon, he might not be met with the most effective response, but if nothing else multiple bewildered TSA employees would stop to investigate, and I feel confident that he probably wouldn’t make it around the world with his bottles of invisible death without someone figuring out that something was wrong.  If a heavy metal bassist who was stopped at a security checkpoint were to throw a tinfoil-wrapped vegetable onto a table and storm out, he would be stopped for acting conspicuous, if not for not taking off his shoes.  It wouldn’t be funny at all.

I could be wrong, though; it could be that the scene from Twelve Monkeys was never plausible, that airport security has always been effective, but that now we merely approach that scene with greater solemnity and fear, and that has made all the difference.  I don’t know.

If you’d like to know more about airport security, book a flight somewhere and experience it for yourself, or listen to Harry Shearer’s radio broadcast Le Show, which regularly features his segment “Tales from Airport Security.”  Perhaps not coincidentally, Shearer played Derek Smalls in Spinal Tap.

Also, you should consider submitting to our audio contest.

Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.