Security Theater

The current hubbub over the TSA’s latest inane, invasive “security theater” measures reminds me of nothing so much as high school. In the wake of Columbine and at the height of the late ’90s “school safety” obsession, my public high school installed two metal detectors in the gym and began requiring all 1,400 of us students to bottleneck through them every morning on the way to class. It was never entirely clear if the metal detectors actually worked, or were being used properly — they seemed to beep at random as students walked through, with no apparent follow-up. The most visible effects of this policy were to make lots of students late for class, and to ensure the daily existence, at least for an hour or so, of a crowd outside the building. Anyone who really wanted to, say, shoot or blow up a lot of students could easily have done so now that we were all conveniently gathered in one place every morning. Of course, what really kept us safe all those years was not these silly “security measures” but the basic fact that the vast majority of people aren’t trying to commit mass murder the vast majority of the time. 

Around the same time, the powers-that-be also instituted new rules prohibiting us from going outdoors during the school day. Apart from the creepy lockdown-like quality to this policy, it was also logistically silly because my high school was basically a square, built around a courtyard, but with one corner of the square left open. In other words, it was designed around the assumption that students would be allowed to go outside. Not being able to cross through the courtyard meant that it took twice as long to get from one part of the building to another in between classes. Oh, and we were also required to tote our books in see-through backpacks — we could choose between clear plastic or mesh. At the time, as a know-it-all teenager, I thought the people who ran my school were idiots, but now I see that they were visionaries, years ahead of the federal government.

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