Joking with weapon-like toys

Warning Sign at Dulles AirportA few days ago I posted about the absurd attention the FBI has shown in a computer science student who created a fake boarding pass generator.

The true threat of a simulated boarding pass is not that it would allow terrorists to board a plane (and get an exit row seat, no less). No, the true threat of a simulated boarding pass is that it reveals that an actual boarding pass is meaningless when it comes to security. The fake boarding pass destroys the alibi of the real boarding pass.

It’s a crisis of simulation. And now I’m thinking that there’s no better space to analyze the anxiety that surround simulations than airports and airport security.

Consider the photograph above, taken at Dulles International Airport. “Weapon-like toys” are just as prohibited as real weapons.

I’m reminded of something the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote years ago, wondering which is more threatening to the state: a real bank hold-up or a fake one? Baudrillard suggests that “a real hold up only upsets the order of things, the right of property, whereas a simulated hold up interferes with the very principle of reality” (from “Simulacra and Simulations”–the same Baudrillard essay which inspires Morpheus in The Matrix to say, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”). To those who doubt his claim, Baudrillard says, “Go and organize a fake hold up.” And you’ll find out that a fake hold up is treated exactly the same as a real one. “You will unwittingly find yourself in the real,” Baudrillard warns.

So it is with airports now. There is no room in the system for simulation, even in play.

So what’s a terrorist to do? Perhaps the answer is right there, in the message on the sign. If “weapon-like toys” are banned, why not turn to toy-like weapons?