Come on, New Yorker: TSA/Sexual Assault Cover [UPDATED]

Scroll to bottom for update (or see this separate post that includes the update) – New Yorker rep specifically says this is NOT about sexual violence.


[TW for discussions and images of sexual assault, especially regarding the new invasive TSA pat downs.]

This was the image I saw when I got The New Yorker in the mail yesterday:

“Feeling the Love” by Barry Blitt

[In the image, a white female TSA agent (as is obvious from her ponytail, eyelashes, and lipsticked-lips) is physically pressed up against a white male passenger that she is patting down.  The two are so close that they are liplocked in a kiss.  Her left leg is lifted so that her toe rests on the ground and her heel is in the air, the bottom of her shoe pointed out, as if she is enjoying the kiss. Another TSA agent looks through the metal detector in the back of the shot, apparently grinning at what is taking place.]

Clearly this is “making fun” of the new TSA regulations that call for invasive pat downs.  But it’s fucked up.  Seriously fucked up.

First, she is sexually assaulting this man using her authority as a TSA agent and the backing of the federal government.

Second, another TSA agent is watching and thinks this is funny and amusing.  The observer is condoning and even encouraging this behavior by his intense watching and his smile.

Third, this image ONLY works because it is a woman doing this to a man.  If the image was reversed, it would clearly show how the TSA patdowns are akin to sexual assault and, thus, ruin the “joke” and make it inappropriate for mailboxes everywhere.  If it was a woman doing this to a woman or a man to a man, well…

Unlike the (in)famous Obama cover during the 2008 election (also drawn by Barry Blitt) that was at least blatantly satirical even if it was satire that failed (see here and here), this image does not seem to be trying to comment on the sexual assault issues inherent in the new TSA pat downs.  If it is satire, it’s really, really, really bad.  This is simply a joke to the editor of The New Yorker and to Barry Blitt.  Also, it certainly isn’t creating the media storm that the Obama cover did and I’m sure we will never have to hear from Blitt on what his cover means, how it is important for showing how bad these pat downs are.  Because if that was truly his intent, he would have drawn a picture of a lady TSA agent patting down the genitals of another lady, as the passenger looks on fearfully as she is legally violated in public.  That would make an actual statement.

Instead, this image says that it is HAHAHAHAHAHAHA so funny that you have to be willing to have your vagina rubbed under your pants in order to get on a fucking flight these days.

Also, this points to the fact that the TSA issue wasn’t an “issue” until white dudes thought it was and made a stink about it.  As Melissa at Shakesville put so nicely (as she always does):

Anyway, it’s certainly been interesting watching privileged white men get OUTRAGED! about being treated like women, and men of color, get treated all the time. Yeah, it’s not fun having your body treated as public property, groped without your explicit consent, searched without cause, and exposed to a government-sanctioned experiment that may have negative physical ramifications, and then being dismissed as an overwrought hysteric who’s just looking for something to get mad about, is it?

I’m sure it’s too much to ask that these gentlemen remember that the next time they’re inclined to tell a woman, or a man of color, to suck it up and stop whining about how they’re treated—and how that treatment affects their quality of life, sense of self, and regard for the sincerity of promises made about equality in this alleged land of the free.

By highlighting the passenger here as a white dude, we don’t have to think about the effect this has on women or men of color who are subjected to their bodies often being treated as public property.  No, instead with this dude and his pretty lady TSA agent, we see how this could be a “good” thing because a totally hot TSA agent could make out with you by accident thanks to the lack of boundaries.  This plays into the narrative that these here pat downs, they ain’t so bad.

The fact that for sexual assault survivors (who, of course, are mainly – though not at all exclusively – female) this can be re-triggering (both the pat down and the fear of the pat down) and traumatizing doesn’t matter to the editors of The New Yorker.

For them, this is a joke.  For me, it’s not funny.

I am so very, very disappointed in a magazine that I usually can’t wait to get in my mailbox.

If you’d like to contact the editor to tell them that this is not okay, the link is here.



I just saw this piece at Forbes, which questioned why it is a hetero pair instead of a woman TSA employee groping a woman, since that is TSA regulation.  The author of the post, Kashmir Hill, wrote to The New Yorker to ask why the artist chose to conceptualize this moment in this way:

The New Yorker sent me a response from art editor Françoise Mouly via email:

When we chose to publish Barry Blitt’s image about the TSA’s new frisking rules, we were looking for a comment on what got people talking, not for a literal illustration. The image Barry Blitt presented captures what the conversation is about, and, while we were aware of the TSA’s same sex rules, we didn’t feel the TSA issue was about same-sex touching. Similarly, the artist did not portray a man groping a woman, which would have had implications of sexual violence and rape, which we also felt were not part of the conversation at hand (so to speak.)

First, why does a woman groping a man NOT have implications of sexual violence?  The implications of sexual violence do not arise here because of gender, though other gender pairings would make the implications much more strong (as I say above).  They arise because this is an extremely unequal power relationship: the passenger, in order to get on his flight, MUST submit to be fondled and in this case, kissed.  There is no choice on his part.  If he feels uncomfortable and wants to stop the screening, he can be fined thousands of dollars and he will miss his flight (which he may have to take because his work requires it of him and he needs to keep his job).  Of course, this is not a problem if one assumes that he is enjoying it and would consent anyway.  But that is a HUGE assumption based on the beliefs that all men are always looking to get some good hetero action at any point with any lady who is willing to give it (an idea that is part and parcel of our problematic rape culture).

There is so much FUCKED UP about that.

So, what is the conversation about?  What was it, New Yorker/Blitt/Mouly, that “got people talking”?

Even more than before I contend that this cover is making light of a subject that is triggering and traumatic to survivors of sexual assault and is upsetting to those who fear being sexually assaulted/groped/violated simply to get on a plane.

I am not just disappointed anymore.  I am disgusted.


3 thoughts on “Come on, New Yorker: TSA/Sexual Assault Cover [UPDATED]

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