Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Meeting the Generation Gap, On My Way to Becoming the Crazy Aunt

My Niece knows that I travel a lot by plane, and she asked if I had yet gone through one of the new airport body scanners. I told her, no, that I try my best to avoid them, and she seemed truly perplexed by my aversion. I thought it was obvious. I mean, where do I begin: efficacy, safety, privacy? When she stared at me blankly, openly dubious of my objections, I was hit by the reality of our generation gap. My distrust of airport scanners must seem to her like my Mom’s misgivings about bank ATMs seem to me. 

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Things really are different for my Niece. She is firmly from the generation that has grown up with less expectations for privacy. Every aspect of people’s lives is up for display, discussion and minute dissection either through FaceBook, Reality TV, or the Patriot Act. Webcams, iPhones, YouTube; everybody’s watching so what difference does it make going through the aptly named “naked body” scanner? Nowadays it’s okay for your government to watch you if its stated goal is to keep you safe. What’s wrong with that, right?

I’m from a slightly different generation. I know the TSA’s job is to make travel a danger free experience, but I somehow think that criminalizing passengers, en masse, isn’t the way to do it. In order to get on a plane I have to practically disrobe and have my belongings searched. A government employee also has to verify that I have no more than a three-ounce ration of shampoo. And as near as I can figure, the only thing I did wrong was buy a plane ticket. Why don’t they just drop the pretense and make us all wear prison-issue orange jump suits? Isn’t there a better way to ensure security without violating the fourth amendment of the constitution, which is supposed to protect against unreasonable search and seizure?

But it doesn’t stop with violating our rights. Now with the introduction of body scanners and enhanced pat downs they are violating our person. On one trip, I opted out of the scanner. Yes, I’m modest. Call me a prude, but I have a problem with a stranger using a device to see through my clothing. I don’t like it when my stalker does it. I damn sure don’t like the legalized version of it.

Is it now okay for department stores to re-install two-way mirrors in fitting rooms, watching customers try on clothes? Why not? It protects the store from theft, and security is what’s most important, right?

Opting out of the body scanner meant I had to take the pat down. Did I feel safer? No, I did not. I felt sexually assaulted.

I briefly explained this to my niece, but she looked at me as if to say it was my own fault. If I had just done the damn body scan – which I still have medical objections to – none of that would have happened. I knew from the look in her eye, I was about five words away from being the crazy aunt instead of the funny aunt. And I can’t be the crazy aunt. I don’t even like cats.

I imagine we should take the TSA’s slogan at face value: “Our Priority is Safety” not truth, not justice, not the ever-changing American Way. Let me be clear: I don’t know what the answer is, but that should never stop us from asking the question. And the question is this: In the name of safety, what rights, liberties and personal freedoms will we be asked to give up next?

At an ever quickening pace, our expectation of privacy is steadily declining. Every year the bounds of what’s “unreasonable” are being stretched. Now that searches and scans are standard, is it only a matter of time before we’ll be asked — all in the name of safety — to submit to pre-emptive and “random” cavity searches?

Is this gross hyperbole or prophecy? I don’t know. It may come to pass around the same time we’ll all be required to have a sex tape. I, of course, don’t have one because I’m from a different generation.

Join The Urban Erma on Facebook or follow on Twitter. You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or subscribe on iTunes. Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

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