September 21, 2007

I’m shocked and appalled that you’re shocked and appalled

A creative MIT student made a thing out of a circuit board and some LEDs and wore it on her shirt. She’s young, 19, so it’s understandable that she didn’t quite understand how things are in airports these days, and when she walked into Logan Airport she was surrounded at gunpoint by security men who suspected her of carrying an explosive device.

Her self-description: “In a sentence, I’m an inventor, artist, engineer, and student, I love to build things and I love crazy ideas.”

The head of security: “I‚Äôm shocked and appalled that somebody would wear this type of device to an airport.”

Lots of comments on blogs saying that she is an idiot. She’s a college sophomore. Not many comments about what a loss it is to our culture that simple creativity generates such paranoia.

Note that Boston’s police were the same ones who freaked out about the Aqua Teen Hunger Force ad campaign and arrested the artists there.

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7 Comments »

  1. Yes, and I understand that our local bomb squad blew up every single last one of the
    Aqua Teen Hunger Force LED signs, even after it was discovered that they posed no threat.

    Note the reference to the MIT student’s personal wearable artwork as a “device”. This word showed up in a Boston Globe headline as well. A good example of framing at work. How different the headline would have been if it had read “Wearable Artwork Frightens Airport Staff.”

    Comment by David Miller — September 24, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  2. I have to admit that this isn’t that shocking to me. Not the security team’s reaction, but the oblivious attitude of this student.

    Yeah there is something to be said about being creative and allowing an outlet for that expression, but this was thoughtless, irrational, and unprofessional on her part. Though our culture may still be facing an ever increasing paranoid mindset, understanding the situation at hand is something any rational individual should strive to do.

    Would we be having this discussion if her expression had been to wear a bandolero or a shirt that said “The only truth is suicide.”

    ….probably not.

    Comment by John Fudrow — September 25, 2007 @ 8:20 am

  3. If her expression were something that really suggested danger or violence, then no, we would not be having this discussion. There would be no issue. I realize that I don’t know the details, but it seems to me that she created an art project without it occurring to her that security agents would think it looked like a bomb, because the paranoid mindset had not reached her. And even if she were aware that security guard types might think it looked like a bomb (and I have seen plenty of this type of art that has nothing to do with bombs), I think there is justification in going ahead with her project, as a way of making the statement that art is being crushed by fear. I know that’s a pretty simple narrative, but it is borne out in what happened.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — September 25, 2007 @ 8:53 am

  4. “Yeah there is something to be said about being creative and allowing an outlet for that expression, but this was thoughtless, irrational, and unprofessional on her part.”

    Isn’t “thoughtless, irrational, and unprofessional” pretty much the definition of college student? She’s a sophomore, fer god’s sake!

    It makes me sad to think that we expect sophomores in college to be paranoid.

    Comment by Mike Bloomberg — September 25, 2007 @ 5:11 pm

  5. Beautifully put, Mike!

    Comment by Rory Litwin — September 25, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

  6. A little more about “she should have known”, especially in the Boston context. Although we’re talking about something much greater than local politics, there’s an attitude toward art in public around here which could be politely described as extreme unease, if we get beyond anything immediately understandable (and obviously innocuous).

    For example, I recently attended a show in a small gallery with works which aimed to highlight or point out aspects of our everyday environment, providing points of focus we might not otherwise be aware of. One of these projects was to have been a small rectangle of transparent plastic material, surrounded by a larger black frame, attached to a light pole. As the sun moved through the sky, there would be a moving patch of light silhouetted on the sidewalk, and outlined by the artist in chalk. Simple, elegant, and probably delightful in a quiet way.

    What actually happened was shown in the gallery — a substantial part of one wall was taken one with copies of emails and correspondence, mostly with city agencies. The object itself — the “device” if you must, for god’s sake — was sitting on the gallery floor. It couldn’t be allowed to happen after weeks of negotiations.

    This isn’t caution. It’s a combination of ineptness and flat-out paranoia. “The only thing we have to celebrate is fear itself.”

    Comment by David Miller — September 28, 2007 @ 9:43 am

  7. Paranoia? Have you all forgotten already about the would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid?

    She was over 18 — an adult — and as an adult, responsible for being fully cognizant of the restrictions imposed on air travelers. Considering that she was from Hawaii, and going to school in Boston, it defies rationality to suggest she could somehow reasonably have been oblivious to the restrictions the TSA now imposes on air travelers for their own protection.

    Not one person who’s posted to this blog has acknowledged, either, that she walked into the airport not merely with the contraption on her jacket, but also carrying a hunk of plastic material that security reasonably feared might be plastic explosives. It turned out to be a hunk of Play Doh, but unless and until it could be examined it had to be considered potentially dangerous. Furthermore, it wasn’t a mere circuit board she was wearing, but a rather a breadboard, which if hooked to a battery and plastic explosive evidently could make a VERY effective suicide bomb. The armchair experts on this thread should therefore read these:
    http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/?p=124#comment-62699
    http://www.boingboing.net/2007/09/21/mit-student-arrested.html#comment-22990
    http://www.woggie.com/archives/51#more-51

    Comment by Charlotte Eeyouskwew — November 5, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

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