This Sunday morning, sitting reading the news at my corner coffee shop, I found myself sitting amidst the News Feeding Frenzy that is the Transportation Security Administration “controversy”: as I struggled to find an article not focused on TSA screening procedures, two young women next to me worry aloud about being “felt up” at the airport, as if they were performing a live parody of the viral video sensation “Don’t Touch My Junk,” which sparked this frenzied, paranoid debate in the first place. In fact, it was just last week – a decade in Web 2.0 years – that John Tyner became famous for telling a T.S.A. screener patting him down that “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”
Now, Tyner’s comment not to “touch his junk” has became a viral sensation, with the endless parodies, blogs, and commentaries in the new grand tradition of Mob Journalism, on par with the Ground Zero Mosque, the Koran Burner, Christine O’Donnell, and Tiger Woods. Tyner, as with all of these controversies, becomes a blogospheric black hole, a dying neutron star, into which all coverage, all informational resources and attention are sucked away.
But more than distracting us from real news, “Junk Man,” as Charles Krauthammer fondly dubs him in his commentary this week for the Washington Post, has became an “airport hero,” a symbol, really. Junk Man, according to Krauthammer, is an icon, he is common man tired of the government – of Obama, of Big Brother – trying take his rights. The Junk Man is a modern day revolutionary, and
“Don’t touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don’t touch my junk, Obamacare - get out of my doctor’s examining room, I’m wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don’t touch my junk, Google - Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don’t touch my junk, you airport security goon - my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I’m a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?”
In short, the Junk Man’s outrage is not really about airport policy, it’s not about scanners nor pat-downs, really, but more broadly, as Krauthammer points out, his outrage is about the powerful victimizing the weak, and his anthem “Don’t Touch My Junk” is a call to arms on par with “Don’t Tread on Me.” And in Krauthammer’s worldview, the powerful is not the Koch Brothers who funded the Tea Party, nor is it the Neo-Cons who engineer Trickle Up economics, but rather, it is Obama, it is government supported healthcare – it is the government, really.
The Junk Man is a marionette for the anti-government, neo-conservative agenda, an agenda that thrives on our fear and paranoia, and the TSA controversy has presented yet another opportunity to focus the newscycle on attacking the government, and to encourage privatization, de-regulation, and the free market. Ken Taylor, a writer for Red State, exposes the real agenda behind the Junk Man Best: “TSA Controversy Exposes Failures of Government Control.” He argues that this episode “exposes the true and real failures of government control over anything especially involving individuals and businesses.”
But more so, the Junk Man episode reveals not a failure in government, but in our press, a press that reacts as a mob, frantically feeding on neo-conservative manufactured controversy like the Ground Zero Mosque, the Koran Burner, and the Tea Party itself. And all of us, the entire media that has fed into this controversy unreflectively, that have participated in this News Feeding Frenzy without asking why it’s a frenzy, about asking whether these stories deserve the volume of press they receive, have also become marionettes for this same agenda, pulled around by Krauthammer and other fear mongers who use these discussions to forward an neo-conservative agenda.
Even in writing this essay, and in writing on the Tea Party, and in writing on the Koran Burner, I too am a marionette, coloring within the Talking Points set by the neo-conservative controversy, which ultimately, serve to privilege neo-conservative ideas. When these discussions surround me – in person and online – I find it hard to not comment, as is the case with most writers. We want to jump into the conversation, to say our piece, to get into the fray.
And yet, as we jump into the conversation, so do we make the crowd bigger, so we do add volume to the echo chamber, making it harder to escape. We simply make the conversation louder, and more dominating. I wrote in “Unknown Bigot Given Media Megaphone” that we should ignore these controversies in order to take away their power, to turn down the volume. The more writers – and citizens in general - that refuse to speak, to write, to blog, to join the conversation, the lower the drone, the more other conversations and ideas can emerge.
Ignoring these manufactured controversies is only part of the solution, I realize now, as it seems unrealistic to think that our new media participatory media landscape – which thrives on debate – will stop these Feeding Frenzies. While we should work towards constructing a press not authored by mob-ocracy, while we should strive to not participate in the echo chamber that shuts out any diversity in news stories, we should at the same time work in the independent press to continue to create and cultivate alternative dialogues and debates, on our own time, and not in lock step with the corporate media constructed controversies.
This Thanksgiving dinner, rather than talking about Junk Man, or about the evils of the T.S.A., let’s start our own conversations, ones that are emotionally relevant, ones that everyone wants to join in and talk about. Then, once back, let’s keep doing it, online and in person.