TSA crime featured in Netflix series Orange is the New Black

TSA is the new IRS. 

Allow me to explain. Throughout history, literature, cinema, television, and even religious texts have employed the archetype of the heartless, obtuse, and abusive government agent; in so doing, writers have frequently turned to some variant of the tax-collector. This character — a loathsome IRS agent, say — usually symbolizes an overarching societal ill. By giving physical form to the source of our despair — and oftentimes, equipping him or her with a bitterly comedic persona and a reliably Orwellian vernacular — writers have explored, with varying degrees of success, such issues as the soullessness and waste inherent in bureaucracy; the creeping malignancy of government overreach; and the sadistic, sociopathic criminality that invariably begins to flow when some humans are allowed to wield outsized, unearned power over other humans.

Now that Americans — a people whose very existence  as a nation and culture is largely rooted in migration, in travel — find themselves being forced to submit to unwarranted, intrusive searches of their bodies and belongings, at the hand of the government, simply because they wish to engage in said travel, it was probably inevitable that the TSA-agent-as-emblem would begin appearing in popular culture.

The well-received Netflix series Orange is the New Black, now in its second season, is a drama set in a women’s prison. What makes the show compelling is that the writers, in addition to scripting a present-day storyline that takes place inside the institution, routinely explore the inmates’ individual backstories through flashbacks. Thus, characters who initially seem harsh, difficult, and generally unlikeable become fully realized and sympathetic once their humanity is revealed to the viewer. Concurrently, a funny, attractive, and/or appealing character can, when her backstory is told, turn the viewer’s perception of her on end: she has now become abhorrent.

This is precisely what happens in Season 2, Episode 7 of Orange is the New Black (entitled Comic Sans), wherein we get to really know the once-likeable inmate named Cindy. From Tom & Lorenzo’s excellent recap:

Cindy gets her flashback this episode and like Lorna’s, it served as a jarring reminder that some of these ladies, no matter how entertaining they are as inmates, are real assholes in the outside world. To an almost shocking degree, she was shown to be irresponsible and self-absorbed, leaving her sister/daughter alone in a car while she runs upstairs to get high with friends or constantly abusing her position as a TSA agent, in a manner that taps into real fears people have about the security state in this country.

By “abusing her position as a TSA agent,” they are referring to the Cindy character engaging in the unethical and illegal acts that real-life TSA agents engage in every day, at airports across the country, and have for years. As documented in our extensive (and ever-growing) Master List of TSA Crimes and Abuses. Waste. Fraud. Theft of passengers’ belongings (especially electronics, like iPads). Inappropriate sexual touching. Waste writ large.

The TSA’s abusiveness being so clearly depicted in a TV show can be viewed two ways. It’s disturbing to consider that this agency’s criminality has become pervasive (and invasive) enough to earn the TSA agent/character a place in the imaginations of screenwriters. But it’s also gratifying in the sense that these artists are choosing to shine the light of popular culture on issues — most saliently the government-sanctioned violation of our Fourth Amendment rights — that far too many Americans still pooh-pooh as “needed security.” Until, that is, the abuse, theft, or assault happens to them.

[Photo via the tumblr Orangeis]

  • RonBonner

    Lisa is making her presence known in Merry Old England!!


    American journalist Lisa Simeone, 57, said security staff at Heathrow were carrying out “vigorous” physical searches which she likened to assault, as well as extra tests for explosives.

    The airport security blogger said men and women manning the scanners had adopted “invasive” methods akin to those in the US.

    Speaking airside at the airport, Ms Simeone said there was a clear change in the tactics.

    She said: “I saw one woman, she was white, being really badly treated. She was patted down twice and nearly lost her balance they were being so vigorous with her.

    “There was also a lot of swabbing going on, people’s belongings, their clothes and shoes, they even swabbed a baby’s pushchair. It was so unnecessary.

    “People were being checked for iPhones and things like that, but the biggest difference was in the physical checking of people’s bodies.”

    • Marie Shively

      I can confirm that London Heathrow security is both rude and aggressive. I went on a trip to London and back a month ago and the security thugs had a fit because I would not remove my shoes. I have diabetes and do not wish to risk infection by walking shoeless through the airport terminal. They were flabbergasted and continued to berate me for my lack of cooperation while they physically assaulted me. Security was kind of a farce in Italy (Venice). They did grope me but it was perfunctory at best.

      • Marie, I witnessed some cursory pat-downs and some of what I consider outright gropes (luckily, I just walked through the metal detector; so did my husband). This was totally different from what I saw at Heathrow just a year ago. It’s obvious the US has come in and thrown its weight around. The UK is a lapdog of the US anyway, and they’re just as bad when it comes to civil liberties. I wish the EU would stand up to the American bully on the block.

        So it looks like the TSA’s abusive procedures will be the new normal. Which means my world is narrowing. I can still take the QM2 over, as I did this year and last, but flying back, esp on British Air where I have tons of miles, is going to be problematic.

        God, I hate all these hysterics and paranoiacs. If they’re so sure a “body-bomb” is in the offing, why aren’t they doing cavity checks?? What a load of rubbish.

        • Daisiemae

          Be patient. Body cavity checks will be here eventually. It’s only a matter of time.

    • Wow, that was fast. The story went out while I was still in the air. My quote — well, the way they chose to make the quote — the word “vigorous” is good, but I didn’t use it. And the only reason I said one of the women was white was because he asked me to physically describe her. It comes off here sounding like I’m trying to single out the fact that she was white, when it was only incidental. I said, “She was older, blonde, well put together, with black jeans or blue jeans and top that they kept lifting so you could see her stomach, and patting and re-patting and rubbing and wanding her.”

      And there were no scanners. None. They must be using the term to mean the x-ray belt machine.

      The reporter who interviewed me isn’t by-lined in any of these. He writes for a wire service, so I guess that’s why. His name is Ryan Willkinson. He was a peach. But I guess his report got picked up by other newspapers and they put their own reporters’ by-lines on the articles. The Telegraph was the first to print it; these others have followed suit, with different rewrites and quotes:




      • Daisiemae

        Yeah, I thought that didn’t quite sound like you. These reporters change things around any way they want, and then they make you look like a fool or worse.

        I was interviewed for an article once and they said I was a member of the Mayflower Society. Totally not! Never even mentioned that in the interview. I guess the reporter thought that sounded good and threw it in for good measure.

  • RonBonner

    For TSA Blue is the new Brown.

    • TestJeff Pierce

      Excellent and creative comment!

    • So disturbing. As truth often tends to be.

  • Daisiemae

    Dexter had an episode where Lumen went through a TSA checkpoint. It showed a clear depiction of what it was like for a rape survivor to be subjected to TSA’s special treatment.

    • You’re right–I remember that episode.

    • CelticWhisper

      Dexter was SO frustrating with regard to Terrorists Searching Americans. Between the obvious depiction of what happens to people like Lumen, the quick bit where he makes up a cover story to get by them in season 7 (unfair, really, given Dexter’s intelligence and TSA clerks’ utter lack of cognitive function, but then TSA deserves every horrible, unfair thing that ever happens to them) and the airport scene in the series finale, there were SO many opportunities for a TSA clerk to end up on Dex’s table. And yet none did.