TSA Debate Resurrects Puritanical Body Image

Janet Napolitano and the TSA have been hammered for months over homeland security’s new airport measures, namely: the full body scans. Infowars columnist Kurt Nimmo refers to the new policies as part of a “Gestapo zone,” while John Tyner’s proclamation “Don’t touch my junk” became a right wing rallying cry. This debate’s not simply about politics; it’s about our nation’s Puritanical traditions, ones that relegate the human body to the realm of sin.

TSA Debate Resurrects Puritanical Body Image

“These body scanners are a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Republican Rep. Ted Poe claimed earlier this year. “There must be a better way to have security at airports than taking pornographic photographs of our citizens, including children….” Even former ‘Baywatch’ actress Donna D’Errico has gotten in on the act, claiming that TSA employees unfairly targeted her buxom body.

Conservative columnist David Brooks offered a similar line of attack today, writing, “[The] machines provided graphic pictures of the male anatomy.”

He continued, “If the machines offend your sense of modesty or decency for yourself or your children, then you can request a pat-down where your naughty bits may be touched by a Transportation Security Administration screener rather than projected on a video screen.” Pardon me, but why are people so squeamish about the human body?

While the effectiveness of the body scans remains open for debate — Brooks, for all his right wing fear mongering, points out that the scans can’t detect explosives that blend in with the body’s form — this knee-jerk reaction over “nudity” points to a particularly American squeamishness over our biological make-up.

The United States’ puritanical history tarnished its relationship with the body. The men and women who founded this nation held a strict view of our biological components: they’re inherently sinful and therefore must be repressed, an idea that found legal representation in our “public decency” policies, which were used to combat everything from same-sex displays of affection to one-piece swim suits.

“[Puritan] body guilt and shame became the law of the land, and this law was even more extreme in the United States than overseas,” observes sexual anthropologist Dr. Aileen Goodson.

While, sure, our nation enjoys subtle reference to sexuality and one’s physical self — see shows like ‘Baywatch’ — we’re incapable of accepting our human makeup: breast-feeding, for example, remains a controversial subject, despite the fact that it’s perhaps the most nurturing expression of nudity in the history of man.

Considering all the scandal over people’s body’s, it’s surprising conservatives aren’t lining up to don hijabs and burqas.

The conservative connection between biology and sexual sin has also played a role in the debate over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Now that the policy’s on the road to repeal, right wingers are lamenting the fact that straight and gay men will have to shower with one another. “To pretend that throwing up a few shower curtains solves the problem is tantamount, again, to saying, well women should share close quarters with men, we’ll throw up a few shower curtains and that will take care of it,” remarked Elaine Donnelly, president of Center for Military Readiness.

Such thinking projects sexual fear-mongering onto the American body, as if we’re all incapable of seeing a naked body and not thinking about sex.

While Europeans and other cultures celebrate the birthday suit as part of nature, we Americans continue to obsess over the so-called dangers of our natural make-up. Our puritanical history has completely tainted our relationship with the human body, even eclipsing that other conservative idiom, “We’re made in God’s image.”