Feb 092009

When I flew home from Washington, DC after a business trip last week, the TSA agent asked to test my laptop.  I politely asked what they were testing for.  It was just routine she told me.  And she’s right, it has become routine, a much too routine standard operating procedure designed to make us believe that the usurping of our privacy and human rights is normal and necessary if we are to be secure and free.

The obvious irony  is that we are not secure and  free if government agents have a right to violate our privacy and deny our rights without cause.  I considered protesting but I figured that the best outcome of that would be missing my flight, the worst case  being detained incommunicado in an undisclosed location.  The likelihood of a plausible explanation for this sudden interest in my laptop was undoubtedly nil. In otherwords, whatcha gonna do and TSA knows that.

My youngest son barely has a memory of when you could get on a plane without having to take off your shoes first.  He was in 4th grade on Sept. 11, 2001 and within  days his school was decked out in American flags and “I Support President Bush” signs appeared everywhere.  For him this is normal, the way things are supposed to be.  And that is no accident.

What is particularly disturbing about the normalizing of this notion that it is unpatriotic to question measures that supposedly defend us from acts of terror is the use of entertainment to hawk the message. In addition to the  Disney-owned ABC’s Homeland Security reality show, there is now a Homeland Security television channel on the internet that bills itself as,

(T)he world’s first online, on-demand television network dedicated to homeland security and global development. HSTV is a 24/7 interactive television channel dedicated to producing broadcast-quality video programs on all aspects of homeland security and the role of global development in fighting terrorism.

HSTV is also dedicated to facilitating rapid awareness of new technologies and services, and assisting in the transfer of those technology solutions to the government and critical infrastructure marketplace.

And the U.S. military has spared no expense giving kids every opportunity to play sanitized military video games that helpfully provide links to military recruiting sites. In addition to video games such as  “America’s Army“, the Army recently opening the $12 million U.S. Army Experience Center at the Franklin Mills shopping center outside of Philadelphia where kids can play sanitized military video games.”

The Philadelphia center lures recruits with a separate room for prospective soldiers to “fire” from a real Humvee on enemy encampments projected on a 15-foot-high (4.5-meter-high) battleground scenario that also has deafening sound effects.

In another room, those inclined to attack from above can join helicopter raids in which enemy soldiers emerge from hide-outs to be felled by automatic gunfire rattling from a simulator modeled on an Apache or Blackhawk helicopter.

Most insidious however are the toys marketed to preschool and elementary school age children that exploit the war on terror mantra.  Playmobil has several toys that fit that bill, including Playmobil Security Checkpoint  (for ages 4-7) and Playmobil Police Checkpoint (for ages 10 and up).

The only thing that gives one hope are the product reviews on Amazon where you can buy these propaganda for profit gems. Here is one of the reviews  of the Security Checkpoint toy:

Finally a toy that gets our kids used to living in a police state. Benjamin Franklin said that those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. But then again, he lived in France for awhile, so what did he know about anything.

Before this toy came out I was afraid my son would not know how to cope with the new reality of American life; how to prepare him to the future, I was wondering. Boy am I relieved; so many lessons learned! Now he knows that:

1) Some people can make a decent living treating others like cattle, and the best part: the cattle is paying their salaries.
2) You only have the rights that the government gives you; you can move around the country only if you comply with government regulations, no matter how frivolous they might be. No liquid you say? except if in a ziplock bag? Check. Lighter ok because the cigarette lobby fought the no-lighter rule? Swell. All passengers searched but cargo mostly un-scrutinized? No problem.
3) You should always bow to people in uniforms, even though they might be in this job because they could not qualify for police work (because of the rap sheet or the drug abuse).

Unfortunately, this toy comes short in a few areas:

1) It does not show that if you’re rich, you don’t have to wait in line for hours. If you can travel first class, you get your own fast-track screening. Too bad the terr’ists have plenty of Saudi and Pakistani cash and can easily travel first class should they want to. They should have included another screening set in the box.
2) It does not come with the 300 tired-looking playmobils you would need to show the passengers waiting in line behind the screening area.

However, it does some things very well: for instance, the screening apparatus is not actually functional. This represents faithfully the actual TSA system, which, every time it is tested or audited, fails to catch anything (weapons, even bombs).

So, thank you Playmobil. I hope they will expand their product offering and give us more toys that can help our children prepare for the new reality of a much safer America; specifically, I am eagerly waiting for the Staline-style Guantanamo American gulag set, the North-Korean-style CIA water-boarding set, the KGB-style NSA phone-tapping set. Some people will whine about the loss of their civil liberties, but my son knows that the North-Korean are some of the safest people in the world. They had virtually no fear of terrorists.

Quite honestly after falling out of my chair laughing at a whole slew of reviews in that vein, I began to think that never mind that I was reading this on Amazon, perhaps these were spoofs.  However queries to both Playmobil and Amazon confirmed that both products, sadly, are for real.

As difficult as it sometimes seemed to raise sons during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Ranger years, clearly teaching children the difference between right and wrong has  become far more challenging as the toys and games pitched at them become blatant police state propaganda.

 February 9, 2009  Posted by on February 9, 2009

  12 Responses to “Hey Kids, Wanna Play Security Checkpoint: The Terrifying Marketing Of Police State Normalacy To Children”

  1. The government received many deliberate and specific warnings from several sources about the threat of what could and did happen on 9-11, which it chose not to act upon or even attempt to prevent (except to make sure Atty Gen. Ashcroft was warned not to fly in commercial planes the month before).

    Not a single one of the planes was intercepted by the Military — which is the standard emergency procedure when any plane goes off-course. (As opposed to in 1999, just 2 years earlier, when a fleet of 6 Air Force jets were immediately dispatched to intercept a suspect plane flying over Florida.)

    So, 9-11 was “allowed” to happen by our own government. And aside from the thousands of deaths, the convenient excuse to start two unconstitutional wars in Third World countries, the repeated “bumbling” of catching Osama bin Ladin (to the point where it seemed as if he were being allowed to escape capture), the convenient excuse to rush out the monstrous “Patriot Act,” all the American People are left with is an increasing Police State and the increasing erosion of our civil liberties and freedoms.

    Obama wants to just move on and forget 9-11 ever happened while waving the flag of the Ever-Looming Threat of Osama bin Ladin’s ghost to keep the “War on Terror” pumped up, but the families of the victims of 9-11 and the American People won’t let him. We still demand answers.

    Anyway, thanks for the humor. America is in desperate need for a good laugh right about now.

  2. 911 was an inside job. The terrorist had help from our governement to get in the country.
    This is a all part of the brainwashing needed to get the kids to except the hijacked America that they are turning into a huge prison camp.
    Goolge FEMA camps.
    Check out your new home. I bet they willl let you play with the security check point toy in there.

  3. To the author:

    May I humbly recommend you reread the social contract theorists most scholars acknowledge as the basis of our society (Locke, Hobbes, et al). In order to make my point, allow me to quickly summarize. As a citizenry, we willingly give up the liberty to do whatever we wish in exchange for security. We give up the right to do absolutely whatever we please. We do this with the understanding that, in exchange for giving up this right to our government (comprised of duly elected representatives) we receive guarantees that we can go about our daily business (your flight out of D.C., for example) unharmed. We escape the state of nature. There are segments of society that would not exhibit self-restraint without some form of control from above. This is unfortunate, but undeniable. Under social contract theory, the government fulfills this role of moderator through its laws and powers. Implicit in this contract is the clause that should the government overstep the bounds of this power we willingly grant them, the contract is invalid. Thus, we no longer are obligated to give up our natural absolute liberty. A more apt phraseology would then be to say we loan out the right of absolute liberty.

    Implied in the objection to the search of your laptop is the assertion that such a search constitutes an unacceptable infringement on your liberties i.e. a breach of the social contract. I posit that it is not. You state that this search was “without cause”. Again, I disagree. You were flying out of this nation’s capitol. In the event of a terror attack, this would be a likely target. A breach of the social contract would be if the government, in this case represented by the TSA, did not take reasonable precautions to prevent an attack. A scan of a laptop takes less than one minute. If said laptop were to be used as an implement in an attack (say it contained a weapon in the case, for example), the damage would take much longer than that to undo. The search was not a muscle flex by an oppressive government agency (“In otherwords, whatcha gonna do”) but merely them upholding there end of the bargain.

    I have other objections to this post as well, but I have gone on long enough. Instead of thoroughly explaining my thoughts, I will just do a quick outline:

    “And that is no accident.” – What does this mean?

    “The use of entertainment to hawk this message.” – The entertainment examples are private companies e.g. Disney (I would be interested to know that shows ratings), HSTV (looks like a website thrown together in somebody’s basement), and Playmobil (more on that later), not government programs or mandates. The companies were not “use[d]”.

    “What is particularly disturbing about the normalizing of this notion that it is unpatriotic to question measures” – Then you go on to quote Amazon reviews that do just that, undercutting your assertion that we are desensitized to security measures.

    “Exploit the war on terror mantra” – Then do not buy the toy. Clearly, as again you showed through the Amazon reviews, people do not.

    Forgive me in advance; this isn’t the most well written comment.

  4. Great post, one question: are you sending your kids to government schools?

  5. I am glad to see more people awaken to the fact that our government is infringing on our liberties and undermining the legal framework of our Constitution, in the name of fighting those who apparently are trying to do the same.

    You cannot depend on the government to protect your rights, which sorry to say Pat, are inalienable according to our Bill of Rights.

    I think all to often, people make these issues out to be a Left vs. Right battle. Though I agree that social contracts are in place to accept a level of ‘management’ from the government, please remember that we are a Constitutional Republic and NOT a democracy. In a democracy, a citizenry may vote away the rights of others. Our government is supposed to be the guardian of our rights, not the trespasser.

    A police state exists in China, soon in Europe. Please do not allow the ‘authorities’ to run a fiat government without accountability. The British abused their power and oppressed us 233 years ago, and now our government is starting to adopt that barbaric form of rule.

    Did you know that the CIA and the Secret Service (the ‘SS’) are concepts originating from the Nazis? Did you also know that Obama recently passed 1404.10 Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, which is eerily similar to the German Stasi? It’s alarming, I know.

    I’m kind of rambling now, but in closing I just want to ask everyone not to approach this issue from a Liberal or Conservative point of view. Approach this issue as a freedom loving human being.

  6. To Pat Pelletier:
    Boy I bet you love the sound of your own voice, or the look of your perfectly penned paragraphs. While your words sound rather learned they are nonetheless wrong. I never signed this imaginary social contract you are talking about. No one has to take their shoes and belts off in Europe or even Isreal. I posit that the TSA an other government agencies are not interested in our protection but rather our submission to their power. The TSA and homeland security will keep inventing new draconian hoops for us to jump through (I’m sorry –“for through us to jump”). It was certainly a “muscle flex” rather than a protective act. Everytime we go through a TSA checkpoint we become actors in a theatrical farce. Take the liquids rule… couldn’t 5 people pool their tiny containers of liquid into a big bad of liquid?

    As for these toys, Pat says “Don’t buy the toy.” Duh, of course we won’t buy the toy; the point of the artical is that the toy is an abominable sign of our times which apparently you missed all together while thumbing through your thesaurus.

  7. […] Here’s a piercing reflection on the ways in which we are normalizing certain state security functions — to the extent that you can now purchase little toy Playmobil TSA stations for your child’s airport! […]

  8. History has proven that never has a dictatorship been stopped. Society uses neither its size, nor its arms to avert tyrranny. So welcome the prison camps in open arms, for we’ve done nothing to stop them.


  9. To Stephen:

    Ideologically, I agree with you. Liberty is paramount (individual responsibility goes along with this, but that topic and the interplay of the two is a different post). Yet society does need to have governance.

    I am glad that you brought up the founding documents. They are some of my favorite writings, and they have served this country admirably. As you know, the fourth amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizures. As such, that amendment is the most pertinent to this discussion.

    Ideally, there would be no need for searches of any type, and the concept of security measures would be a non-starter. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Let me make clear in advance: liberty comes first, security second. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable interplay between the two. Throughout history, we move along this liberty-security continuum. Right now, we just so happen to have more security measures than previously. Preventing society from moving too much towards the security side (i.e. police state) is our Constitution.

    As I asserted in my first comment, I do not feel that the fourth amendment was violated. The TSA’s procedure in this instance would not constitute an unreasonable search. It is not as if the official perused through the personal documents or communications of the author. The scanning procedure is non-invasive, and does not violate the reasonable expectation of privacy that our Courts have outlined (a quick aside: the idea of privacy is not explicit anywhere in the Constitution; it is derived by our Court from various wording throughout the document). The dangers the search aims at preventing make it reasonable; the non-invasive nature of it makes it legal.

  10. […] As Lucinda Marshall says over on Feminist Peace Network in a blog post on these toys: As difficult as it sometimes seemed to raise sons during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Ranger years, clearly teaching children the difference between right and wrong has  become far more challenging as the toys and games pitched at them become blatant police state propaganda. […]

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