Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

August 11, 2006

Terror Theater: when “explosives” become props

Filed under: mediachumps,News,terrorism — secretmojo @ 11:41 pm

Okay, so you’re watching a play. In a heated scene where you don’t know whether she’s going to succumb to his advances or explode in fury, she suddenly thwacks the door in his face.

But: the walls of the set tremor.

The emotional power of the moment derails. In an instant, the stove, the couch, the picture of their boy, and the trembling chandelier become ersatz; flimsy origami paper barely holding reality together.

But it’s a play. A minute or two of actors refocusing their emotions, and suspension of disbelief rescues the faltering advance of the show.

Consider, now, this observation. Are we all actors watching our own performances, from policeman to passenger to CNN reporter to reader? It’s clear here that nobody, not even bystanders in the thick of a terror alert, accepts that these liquids may contain nitro-glycerin. The procedure displayed here is so thoroughly divorced from any HAZMAT guidelines that any person with half a brain should conclude that it is pure theater — a “duck and cover” newsreel that pantomimes to the public that our officials are “on top of it.”

Yet, in a funky torque of the mind, everyone both believes and disbelieves the show, CNN contributing to theatrical legitimacy by vidding the event, without comment, as evidence of bomb threat reduction.

Imagine the kind of jedi mind trick a person must perform on himself to report it like CNN. First, you must accept the threat as real and the response as logical, otherwise, why report it so? Yet, in a magical dichotomy of cognitive weirdness, you must also be convinced there can be no bomb in those bottles — otherwise, you’d freak when witnessing a man blithely dumping explosives into a can.

All the world may be a stage, but we are, in the end, horrible method actors. I’ve seen plenty of movies with Thespians who simply cannot handle guns properly; carrying them like stress balls, resting fingers dangerously on triggers, looking dead in the barrel as if their brain had no chance of being blown apart by the act.

But to see abysmal acting in real life, with hundreds of unwitting zombies, from security guard to CNN reporter, all playing along as if it were both true and false at the same time, astonishes me.



  1. hey, when I clicked on “Related Posts” this was the first blog entry that popped up. And an excellent read, as always.

    (but do you mean “thespians” instead of “thesbians?”

    Comment by Ms. Clio — August 11, 2006 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  2. Hehe. Thanks. You caught my mind in a Freudian reverie…

    Comment by secretmojo — August 12, 2006 @ 12:03 am | Reply

  3. What part about this ‘act’ disturbs you the most? The fact that it is being put on, or the fact that the people (in some sense) buy it?

    From another angle: is it possible that the reassurance of the gullible is worth the inconvenience of the incredulous?

    Comment by Aurenande — August 12, 2006 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  4. I think they bought into the “idea” of it. And in this ritualized, symbolic act of taking threats and pouring them down the drain, everyone present concluded that “something is being done.” It is cult behavior to believe in the symbology of a thing more than the thing itself. And that is what disturbs me.

    As to your other angle: I resist most arguments for propaganda. I’ve read a couple of history books, so I know what propaganda can do. Therefore, flat out, I reject the idea of deceiving the public when there are already plenty of truthful ways of reassuring them (providing that’s the intent to begin with).

    Comment by secretmojo — August 12, 2006 @ 7:18 am | Reply

  5. Did some digging, and found this article which briefly mentions arbitrary inference, or “magical thinking,” in the context of terrorism. It’s a good read, and explains many things I was not capable of articulating in my post:

    Comment by secretmojo — August 12, 2006 @ 7:44 am | Reply

  6. Thank you for your dissection of the ‘cognitive wierdness’… It’s much like the previous set of bureaucratic overreactions, forcing people to divest themselves of nail clippers and related tools when boarding a plane. How many hijackings did the lack of nail clippers avert?

    A set of rules are promulgated and to save anybody actually having to use their judgement to distinguish between threats and non-threats (the managers apparently can’t trust the rank and file security to do any of that, although we’re supposed to put our faith in them), we have these ridiculous rituals of safety, as if performing in them will magically produce security.

    Meanwhile, the altitude-sensitive switches in the luggage placed in the cargo compartments are ready to go…

    Comment by fencer — August 12, 2006 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  7. Hmmm…I definitely think you have a good point about propaganda and ‘feeling’ secure. I hadn’t really thought about it that way.

    I do have a small issue with this specific case. Now, I’m certainly no expert in the field, but I was under the impression that the explosives in question could only be detonated by something else (ie a batter and a timer). If I am correct on this matter, then such disposal of liquids seems an adequate, if somewhat less than top-notch security procedure. Do my facts sound correct?

    Comment by Aurenande — August 12, 2006 @ 8:04 am | Reply

  8. Aurenade, You may want to refer to this PDF table provided by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which lists chemicals that produce toxic gases when dropped into water:

    An ugly, but readable, text version is here:

    There are others that produce explosions, etc. when introduced into water, and some that release toxins simply by being poured. Some are innately unstable, like nitroglycerin.

    If any malicious person saw the showy but inadequate “disposal” technique on CNN, he’d know exactly what to fill his bottle with before going to the airport.

    Keep in mind that each chemical reacts differently with other chemicals, and no effort was made to identify the chemicals going into the bin. If you’re to believe the threat is real, you could only conceive of this intentional chemical spill as playing Russian roulette.

    There are HAZMAT standards for disposal which require a certain amount of distance from a chemical as well. Clearly, in those photos, people are standing way too close for even ammonia disposal–that is, if the threat’s to be taken seriously. Dumping it out back was an option, or better, not “dumping” it at all, but keeping the bottle intact and taking it to a remote location and dealing with it. None of these basic rules were followed.

    Security people should know better, and it’s my guess that they do; they simply weren’t convinced of the threat, but put on the show anyway.

    Comment by secretmojo — August 12, 2006 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  9. Mr. Angry will have something out on this in a day or two – you may want to give him a read….he’s one of my favorites…

    Comment by Sandra — August 12, 2006 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

  10. Beyond laughing about the absurdity of the entire thing, I’d not given much thought to the way these sorts of stories are designed to manipulate us. It’s been done so much, by people who so clearly are not interested in anyone’s safety, that surely nobody’s reacting with gratitude anymore at being saved from a shampoo bomb. Are they? Yikes, I hope not.

    Comment by bloglily — August 12, 2006 @ 7:08 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks for the link Sandra, it’s a bit of wackiness I apparently missed out on for two years!

    bloglily, you and fencer point out well that this has been done so much already. I began to wonder: if we’ve all acclimated to this atmosphere of symbology, couldn’t it make us more susceptable to more “ambitious” future projects? Like you said: Yikes, I hope not.

    Comment by secretmojo — August 13, 2006 @ 4:26 am | Reply

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