More Security Theatre – Farce

A farce is a particular type of drama, one that was considered a very low type of comedy.

The word farce derives from old French, meaning ‘stuff’ or ‘stuffing’ and may have originated in the comic interludes of medieval French religious plays serving as light-hearted stuffing in between more serious drama. Historically, the term meant a literary or artistic production of little merit.

Farce is a type of comedy that uses absurd and highly improbable events in the plot. Situations are humorous because of their ludicrous and often ridiculous nature. The choice of setting is a key factor in farce, as the protagonist is sometimes at odds with the environment. Often the central character in a farce does not (or should not) belong in the place of the action. The audience will only accept the situation if they follow the conventions previously established. But characters in a farce can also quite logically belong in the setting they are placed in.

Examples of farce can be found in the ancient Greek comedies of Aristophanes, the plays of Shakespeare and the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Farce in film includes the works of Charlie Chaplin, Keystone Cops and the Marx Brothers. On television, the best examples of farce surround British actor John Cleese. Ridiculous situations abound in the 1970’s television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus and later in the wonderful, but short-lived series Fawlty Towers. There are also several Monty Python films that are excellent examples of farce. Few actors possess the ability to create pure farce better than Cleese.

It is important to note that farce is both a verbal and physical humour, using deliberate character exaggeration by the actor. The Marx Brothers were renowned for using their bodies in such a way as to exaggerate the situation, thus making it even more farcical. Whether it was using on-screen props or simply their arms and legs, this famous team made farce a very physical form of comedy. Similarly, John Cleese also uses his body to extraordinary effect. By nature a very tall man, Cleese manipulates his body to create silly walks by simply extending his legs outward and exaggerating his movements for extreme comic effect.

Sometime the ridiculous aspects of farce contain only the blackest type of humour. A recent episode at the Fort Lauderdale airport has the ridiculousness of farce without much of the humour. The headline in the West Palm Beach News reads: “18-month-old ordered off plane at Fla. airport”

The story continues:

Eighteen-month-old Riyanna has been called a lot of things:

The face of terrorism

cute, adorable and now … a suspected terrorist.
She was called that on Tuesday night at the Ft Lauderdale Airport. She and her parents had just boarded a JetBlue flight when an airline employee approached them and asked them to get off the plane, saying representatives from the Transportation Security Agency wanted to speak to them.
“And I said, ‘For what?’” Riyanna’s mother told only WPBF 25 News on Wednesday. “And he said, ‘Well, it’s not you or your husband. Your daughter was flagged as no fly.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’”
Riyanna’s father was flabbergasted.
“It’s absurd,” he said. “It made no sense. Why would an 18-month-old child be on a no-fly list?”
Riyanna’s parents, who asked not to be identified, said they think they know the answer to that question. They believe they were profiled because they are both of Middle Eastern descent. Riyanna’s mother wears a hijab, a traditional head scarf. That’s why they have asked to remain anonymous. They said they’re concerned about repurcussions. That said, they are both Americans, born and raised in New Jersey, just like their daughter.
Riyanna’s parents said once they were taken off the plane, they were met by TSA agents and made to stand in the terminal for about 30 minutes.
“We were put on display like a circus act because my wife wears a hijab,” Riyanna’s father said.
Eventually, the child’s parents said they were told they could reboard the plane though they added that nobody offered an apology or even an explanation for what happened. The family refused to get back on the plane because they were embarrassed. They chose instead to leave the airport, but they still want to know why and how this happened.
WPBF contacted JetBlue and was told this was an issue with the Transportation Safety Administration. JetBlue also said both it and the TSA are investigating the incident.
But the TSA disagreed, telling WPBF this is an airline issue and therefore, it is not investigating. The TSA also said that since Riyanna and her parents were issued boarding passes, that means they had been cleared by the TSA and were definitely not on the no-fly list.
Riyanna’s father said he plans to consult an attorney.
“We were humiliated,” he said. “We were embarrassed. We were picked on.”

As the article points out, Riyanna name is on the no-fly list, at least according to TSA. If that is the case, any examination should have been done at the time of boarding. Even if we give TSA workers the benefit of the doubt and a slip-up occurred at the gate, surely they must have the leeway to very quickly determine whether the name on the list matches the individual in front of them. There is just no way an 18 month old could have developed the terrorist credentials to be a hardened terrorist. A quick glance at IDs and the situation is resolved.

Were the family profiled just because of the hijab and the colour of the father’s skin? I have no idea. However the TSA’s rationale of pulling the family from the flight because their daughter was on list of suspected terrorists is absolutely ridiculous.  The usefulness of profiling has been debunked by security expert Mike Schneider numerous times, most recently on Sam Harris’ blog in response to a Sam’s comments.

We would not accept police arresting an infant who happened to share a name with someone on a “Most Wanted List”. There is no way we should accept preventing a child from flying for the same reason.

Airport security is mostly theatre to convince people that giving up privacy rights is acceptable to prevent terrorism. However, the type of theatre most exemplified by increased security is farce, without even the lowest humour.

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