The Spirocentric Glass Panopticon

May 2, 2012

I stand quietly in line, boarding pass in hand and a small satchel slung over my shoulder. I have ensured to pack no liquids with me to avoid trouble but still, the feeling remains that I have left something tucked in an unknown pocket to alert the security guards ahead. I place my bag, keys, wallet and belt in the basket to pass through an x-ray machine and step as nonchalantly as possible through the metal detector doorway. Although I pass through with no issues, I am stopped and directed to a machine that will scan the contents of my shoes, while my bag is brushed with swabs to detect explosive substances. I continue towards the boarding gate, having presented no perceptible risk to airport security.
Michael Foucault’s texts ‘discipline and punish’ describe aspects of the experience as methods of control and surveillance. There is isolation, where I am singled out, removed from discussion and conversation with others, even families are separated briefly and individualized as a prisoner in a cell. There is routine and repetition, each traveler follows a series of steps starting in the home with packing, then the collection of boarding passes, the multitude of opportunities to wait in a queue and the process of security screening. And there is the continuous submission to the airport authorities, your freedom, the permission to board an aircraft can at anytime be impeded by any member of the airport, without a call for reason. The removal of liberties is not by force, but by an acceptance that the only way to fly, is to respect the authorities.
The public spectacle of punishment and humiliation is still somewhat present, pat-downs, bag openings and screenings are all performed in view of the public. The element of the threat of observation is only partially retained in the so-called random searches; the system is more reliant on total control and observation, which in Foucault’s eye may appear to be an archaic method of control.
A greater level of surveillance understanding may be observed in subway networks, where only random checks or inspections are present, and posters dictate the mantra: ‘if you see something, say something.’ The reliance is on the panoptic possibility of observation (random inspectors) as well as the reliance of the public to observe and report suspicious behavior or events.

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