[-empyre-] social wearables and scanners

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Thu Jun 2 00:55:46 EST 2011

dear all

I liked the response by Van Dyk:
The discussion is missing the simple fact that the 'greater public' are not fooled by these bits of technology that have the potential 
to overtake the body and affect a colonization that would negatively affect their most visceral freedoms>>

except that one might want to discuss further how they overtake or undertake bodies, and in what contexts.
and what are our most visceral freedoms?  (see Guillermo Gómez-Peña's newsletter posting, which is quote below)

I think much of what we have entered, this month, was either artistic/performative territory (and as I said, in previous
times we would speak of costumes and equipment/instruments in the theatre, not of wearables, so the idea of a "wearable"
seemed intrinsically connected to the interactional fucntions, the prosthetic functions the technological bits or the integrated
"intelligent" clothing or the sensortized accessories have for us), or social territories outside the primarily aesthetic/art sector,
even if fashion straddles both, but the link to Human Interaction Design, and the research/marketing agendas developed by product designers
and mobile tech interaction designers were maybe not as much touched upon.  

But i had the impression that many of us here were talking about interactions (from/with the body-worn technologies) with others
and with (augmented/responsive/unresponsive) environments, and thus the issue of colonization and self-colonization may have been
part of what we worried about or explored; 

again, we worry except when we don'; when we tend to think that clothing, and accessories we wear, 
are not for function alone, but for social and psychological purposes that always exceed primary function and involve various backstage scripts,
and are we fully conscious of the choices we make and what gestures we have adopted, and then again, often we are fully/performatively conscious
of the roles we play, and thus colonization (if you look at the text below) is a fractious political problem.

Johannes Birringer

>From our friends at NAFTAZTC

State-sponsored sexual harassment vs. the sinister human scanner
 by Guillermo Gomez-Peña
“We pledge to treat you with courtesy, dignity and respect.” (2nd paragraph from ICE’s “Pledge to Travelers” posted as you arrive in a US airport)
Definition of Airport: A bizarre laboratory of human and civil rights violations where regular citizens from all ages, social classes and races, men and women, are more than willing to give up their rights  all in the name of the “freedom” to travel between two places.
It’s 9 am in the San Francisco International Airport and I am patiently standing in line at the security checkpoint, waiting for my turn to be humiliated. I take off my shoes, my belt and jacket, and place my laptop, wallet, coins and keys on a plastic tray.
The thing is that, with my long braids, my feather earrings and my Tex Mex jacket, I don’t exactly look like a “real American.” A Filipino security officer signals me to go through the human scanner. I tell him that I object to a full body scan. “I’d rather be hand searched.” He asks me, “Why?”
I reply that I simply don’t wish to be seen naked by bureaucrats I will never meet. “It’s an ethical issue.” He clearly does not know the meaning of the word “ethical.” It’s not in his training manual.
If you decide to object to the sinister human scanner, and I have objected more than 30 times, give and take, this is what will happen to you:
The Filipino officer calls a second officer. An African-American male in his mid-30’s asks if I wish to be searched “in private or in public.” “I want you to be accountable for your actions. Do it in public!” -- I whisper to him defiantly. He puts on his white rubber gloves and begins the ritual of humiliation.
He tells me to open my legs and raise my hands to shoulder level. He begins to “pat” me on my torso, back, neck and arms. It reminds me of one of my troupe’s performance exercises but devoid of tenderness. He then meticulously feels my hair (in case I have a mysterious weapon hidden inside my braids?) and asks me to open my mouth.(Is he looking for microfilms of subversive literature and maps hidden behind my teeth? Which action films has he seen lately?) He then searches around my waist with his fingers and finally…he kneels right in front of me. “Is there a particularly sensitive part in your body?” –he asks me. “Well, of course, my genitals. Aren’t yours equally sensitive?” –I respond.
He continues to follow the Homeland Security script. He fondles my ankles and legs firmly and finally reaches for my genital area and around my testicles, looking for an “underwear bomb”. I tense my whole body. He looks at me intensely and asks, “Are you Native American?” “Yes, in the larger sense of term,” I reply.
I can detect in his eyes that he understands the historical predicament he is facing: An African American descendant of slaves grabbing the crotch of a descendant of the indigenous genocide of the Americas, all in the name of “Homeland Security”? Whose security? And whose homeland? The mythical one invented by the people whose ancestors enslaved His People and killed mine? Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture. I notice a glimpse of humiliation on his part, perhaps a vague historical memory emerging from his DNA. The loss of dignity is mutual but he has been trained to not think about it. For a moment, mutual compassion floods the security checkpoint. It quickly disappears.
Once he is done harassing me sexually, he makes a quick chemical test of any traces in his gloves and tells me that I am “cleared.” The humiliation ritual is over…until the next time I decide to fly. I pick up my belongings, put on my shoes and jacket and walk away feeling extremely sad.
The other option to this state-sponsored form of sexual harassment, the full body scan, is much, MUCH worse. If you accept to go through the scanner, they will tell you not to worry. “The radioactivity is actually minimal. The media exaggerates”-someone told me once, probably to ease my anxiety. But that’s the least of my concerns. What they don’t tell you is that anonymous officers, both at the airport and at Langley will be watching, scrutinizing, judging a tri-dimensional high definition image of your fully naked body in strata. The human scanner IS in fact a surveillance camera located simultaneously outside and inside the sacred home of your body and these people aren’t exactly doctors.
Is it okay for security officers you will never meet to see your genitalia, breasts and butt in detail? Your secret tattoos and piercings? The intimate shape of your body? The bodily secrets you only share with your lover? And what about them, whomever they are (you will never know who they are), watching your family and loved ones naked? Not nude, naked! Watching your children, your spouse or lover, mother or grandmother fully naked? Why is this acceptable? What has happened to us since 9/11? What ever happened to the right to protect our privacy from the state? Why have we become this desensitized to the loss of human dignity?
Then you cannot help but to think of the fate of these nude images. What do they do with them? Are they stored in a data bank and later on reviewed by more officers while drinking beer and joking around? Is this a new form of political porn? What’s next in this saga? The deep hand search of our body cavities? The ingestion of minute video cameras? Taking samples of our DNA without us even realizing it? Genital-recognition technology?
The fact is that everyday in US airports hundreds of thousands of Americans are willing, more than willing to sacrifice their civil liberties and human rights on the altar of “national security” and with a few exceptions of mild complaints and a couple of articles printed here and there, it doesn’t t seem to be a big deal for most people: In fact, these extreme humiliation airport rituals might be the most common internationally shared experiences we have as humans. And all we can do is joke about it. Like my friend, Argentine performance artist Susana Cook, says: “Can’t they at least give me a free mammography?”
After objecting more than 30 times to the human scanner and loosing connecting flights for doing so, I finally gave up last week and experienced a full body scan for the first time ever. I only had 10 minutes to make my plane. Since that moment, I haven’t been able to take that sensation of utter humiliation out of my chest and abdomen. This is precisely why I chose to write this text.
I’d say, even amidst the jubilant responses to Osama Bin Laden’s death, we have already lost the war on terror and we are not even aware of it.
(Special thanks to Emma Tramposch, Anastasia Herold and Carolina Ponce de Leon for their input)

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