The Full-Body Monty: I See You

Dec 31, 09 | 9:18 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I’ve been full-body scanned—and it was pretty disturbing.

This was at the beginning of the Iraq War. Every journalist trying to get into the daily briefings at CENTCOM headquarters in Doha had to go through the machine. This went on every day for weeks so a certain affability built up between scanner and scannee and, eventually, curiosity willed out.

Here then, in a privileged glimpse, I saw the topology of the human condition, every shadow, line, contour. This is who we really are. Not to boast, but I’ve been running four or five miles a day for 25 years and, frankly, thought I was ready for the machine. But nobody is. This is mercilessness of a most brutal kind. We are all, in the eyes of the machine, a portrait by Francis Bacon.

No vanity can survive it. Pride dies. Narcissism melts. Self-love sickens.

Is this, then, the basis of the mounting Republican objections to having full-body scanners in American airports? Privacy is the buzzword. But what actually does that mean? If everyone is similarly exposed, what’s the issue?

There’s an evident right-wing-leaning concern about nudity, with the implication that somehow this machine has sex on the brain (visions of sniggering technicians). Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz is even evoking sex and children: “I don’t think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane.”

But nobody who has ever seen a full-body scan would associate it with sex, or attractiveness, or prurience (although I suppose a full-body-scan fetish must exist), or pornography.

Indeed, the resistance on the part of the right wing to full-body scans, even as a tool in the war on terrorism, the cause they love most, has to indicate something else: some pretty basic personal issues, I’d say.

Perhaps the right believes that a full-body scan is a slippery slope to greater public nudity and sexual freedom. But I think it is, more obviously and painfully, the idea of their own imperfect selves, and of them being rendered so, well, nakedly. Of not being able to hide. Of being mortified by the machine. Of having to display the thing you find most painful. What if you are actually…gross? The machine would be a kind of ultimate confrontation with yourself. I’m not sure denial would any longer be possible.

Some people, it seems, are just more willing to take their chances with the terrorists than to stand before security guards with their guts and rolls and waddles and deep crevices and unnatural indentations and unseemly overhangs and moonscapes of puckles so vividly and cruelly exposed.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter:
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