A patriotic probe?

Most rallying cries revolve around some spontaneous heartfelt outburst or, by contrast, carefully chosen prose. For either to be effective it must capture the imagination and establish a connection with the cause.

So where does “don’t touch my junk!” stand in the epoch-making stakes? Up against ‘eich bein ein Berliner’; ‘we will fight them on the beaches’; and even ‘I shall return’ it’s fairly low profile but it does capture the mood and the moment.

If you’ve had your mind on other matters here is what the fuss has been all about. A traveller, John Tyner, queuing up for a flight out of San Diego, took exception to what he perceived was overly ambitious probing of his private parts. He let fly with the catch cry: “Don’t touch my junk!”

From there the story took flight. If you’ve missed out on the outrage and want a taste of what the fuss is all about check this out.

The incident has even inspired its own anthem with the dubiously-named Health Rangers singing their way to stardom.

So why the outrage and who’s really interested? No doubt Freudians are having a field day working through how a certain part of the male anatomy ended up being called junk. Yet like the shot heard around the world signalling the start of the 1776 US ‘revolt’ against Britain, the vernacular has ended up in world headlines thanks to the groping efforts of the TSA and one person who decided to stand his ground against what he decided was a probe too far.

The challenge for communicators is to find a sensible and credible middle ground in which to conduct the discussion.

It has certainly created a maelstrom around who exactly the TSA are and what gives them the right to ‘touch the junk’. The acronym stands for the United States Transport Safety Authority and they are the ones, as the name implies, given the authority to make transport safe. In the latest move to rid the world of incendiary commuters and other militants they have taken the ‘nab and grab’ game to a whole new level by literally, if you haven’t caught on yet, feeling up ‘junk’ and other parts of the anatomy.

The justification for this extraordinary super-sizing of people handling is somewhat akin to the rationale for the introduction of the United States Patriot Act. Post 9-11 there was a common phrase going round the land to justify what was clearly a series of outrageous abuses of the Constitution and other key values. The expression was simple: “We don’t mind giving up our freedom to be free” and seemed proof to some observers of the notion of the absolute conviction of second-rate minds.

So one now wonders what the reaction might be to this literal invasion of privacy, and how the laudable aim of keeping US air travel terrorist-free will be squared with the desire of many travellers to have their junk left ungroped.

I guess it’ll come down to whether the travelling public see this level of ‘personal’ handling as a fight for freedom or a massive erosion of human rights. And here the TSA has a giant messaging challenge on its hands.

One of the first to stake his claim to ‘junk touching’ being more than just a physical act to safeguard freedom is CommonDreams.org writer Ted Rall who believes the battle cry for the final fight to preserve his version of freedom may well be “DTMJ—or don’t touch my junk.” He admits it’s hard to imagine even the likes of Winston Churchill giving this enough gravitas to rally the troops but, if you’ll pardon the expression, the brevity of it all might just inspire and cause society to draw a line in the gland sand.

To be fair, Rall does admit there is a sense of choice in the matter—particularly if you happen to be passing through one of 68 US airports that has gone high tech rather than remaining exclusively ‘high touch’. The ‘choice’ being one of either passing through a highly-charged, full-body revealing x-ray machine or opting for the hands-on approach.

Interestingly, the TSA has actually established a blog in an attempt to humanise the process and give concerned citizens a chance to vent their proverbial. The language involved, though, now reads more like a porn site than what is actually a version of an FAQ document about the what, where, why, when and – more importantly – how of the physical engagement process.

The challenge for communicators – be it those supporting the proposition that this latest development is in the best interests of the nation, and even the world, or those railing against its excesses – is to find a sensible and credible middle ground in which to conduct the discussion. Some say that questioning the motives and ‘junking’ the process is akin to supporting terrorism and an anathema to freedom.

One also has to wonder whether the TSA’s training, explanation and management of public expectation might have been handled a little better. Even after the fact. Remember when the Walt Disney Corporation was enlisted to make US officials at Los Angeles Airport seem friendlier?

There’s clearly a job to be done on both sides—but in the meantime there are only two options. Succumb or take the bus. The man who coined the words that are now the catch cry for a return to a less digital approach to battling terrorism, namely John Tyner, was last seen boarding the bus.

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