Monday, June 10, 2013

See Something, Say Nothing We are all suspicious now

When you find suspicious activity, that’s just where suspicious activity is most likely to be found.

In an early Tom Stoppard play called After Magritte, a family returns home after visiting an exhibit of paintings by the famous Belgian surrealist René Magritte. (You know: The guy who has it raining little men with bowler hats, or who gave us a pipe with the caption, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” and so on.) In the play, a policeman peering in the window watches as the family assembles into a bizarre tableau, reminiscent of a Magritte painting. The policeman understandably finds this suspicious. It turns out, though, that there is a perfectly logical explanation for everything. Moral (I suppose): Don’t jump to conclusions.

I’m reminded of this play every time I’m in an airport and hear that announcement about how you should report any “suspicious activity” to the police. You look around and, my god, from the pre-9/11 perspective, it all looks suspicious. Businessmen taking off their shoes and placing them in plastic bins, elderly ladies and people in wheelchairs being frisked, long lines of people waiting for the opportunity to give up all their possessions and forms of identification and walk into a large plastic cylinder that looks as if it might just as easily beam you up to Saturn as find where you’ve hidden an illicit tube of toothpaste.

In my experience, the Transportation Security Administration people who work the security checkpoints at airports are invariably polite, helpful, and patient to a fault. I wouldn’t want to be their cat when they get home. What are they so happy about, after hours of smelling strangers’ shoes? Isn’t that a little suspicious?

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