So has the TSA really made us safer? No. If you need a whole movie to prove that point, you’re in luck!
Dir Rob DelGuadio, 2010, 90 min
I can very dimly remember a time when people could go straight up to the boarding gates at airports, and be able to greet or bid farewell to their loved ones with ease. That probably won’t ever be happening again, at least not any time soon. So does stuff like this make us safer? Would 9/11 have been prevented if only the terrorists had been forced to take off their shoes before entering the airport? Does the Transportation Security Administration really do any tangible good? Is it any safer to fly now than it was before 9/11?
You already know the answer to those questions. It’s “no.” It’s something that we all are just kind of aware of, but no one seems to want to do anything about. I’m not sure what that says about us. Or I am, but don’t like thinking about it. Please Remove Your Shoes illustrates through concrete facts everything that we already “know.” If only it followed that path to its logical conclusion, it could have been a real gem. As it is, it’s a perfectly serviceable little film.
About a third of the doc covers the security practices in place before 9/11. It details the numerous failings of the FAA, all of which were commented on by various employees of the organization at one time or another. Yet officials chose to ignore their warnings. And then, after calamity, those same officials suddenly showed an immense concern for the practices of airport security. The TSA was meant to be a more efficient governing body over sky safety, but instead turned out to be a bureaucratic clusterfuck of the highest order.
The parade of screwups on the TSA’s behalf in this movie is as scary as it is unbelievable. There’s continual failures to pass basic tests of the system, exercises that have gone horrifically wrong (including one delightful incident when a plane full of passengers thought they were about to be murdered), and a general sense of institutional ineptitude. One illuminating detail concerns how air marshals, who ideally should blend in on any flight, are required to dress well and board early, thus making themselves incredibly obvious and rendering a sort of crucial part of the job null.
Any documentary worth its salt will unfold its subject until it strikes at whatever part of human nature is responsible for the problem at hand. This movie dances all around the many, many things wrong with the TSA, but doesn’t ever dig into why this incompetency is accepted by the public. If I had to guess, based on my wholly intuitive, academically uninformed opinion? I’d say that it stems from the fact that people generally don’t care how safe they really are, as long as they feel safe, and that they’re willing to put up with any amount of lunacy so long as it creates that façade. But Please Remove Your Shoes isn’t interested in any of that.
Which is a shame, because it does a great job of exposing the myriad things wrong with the system. It’s ultimate answer to the problems comes down as rather simplistic, amounting to a few no-brainer suggestions that are so shallow I couldn’t wonder why they even bothered. There’s no reason for it other than to sneer at the TSA a little more (and the subtitles pretty much say as much that that’s the intent). While no doc has to be prescriptive, meaningful diagnostics get to the cause of a sickness. Please Remove Your Shoes identifies the symptoms quite well, but can’t fully unravel this issue. Which is a shame, because if we’re not really any safer than we were before 9/11, then that’s something we should probably be talking about more.