There is perhaps no better microcosm of how easily the internet can throw together seemingly disparate images and have them make total sense than the Transportation Security Administration's Instagram account, where photos of confiscated weapons and weed are juxtaposed with snapshots of the adorable dogs that find them.
The TSA's Instagram account has amassed more than 140,000 followers since being created last June. The account currently follows 17 others: the Instagrams' of other American government agencies (NASA, the White House, the Postal Service) and select airports (Dulles, Gatwick, Hamburg, Indianapolis and LAX). It is, for all intents and purposes, an obligatory PR move—having an Instagram has risen to the marked status of Necessary for any brand, business, and branch of government at all interested in properly existing on the internet.
The art of the TSA's Instagram is beholden both to the rigidness of the uploader's art direction—never using filters, only posting photos of confiscated weapons and drugs and dogs employed by the agency—and the Instagram app itself. Yes, you could look at the photos on a computer, but most people look at Instagrammed photos on their phone, in the official app, one at a time, scrolling through a curated feed. Owing to these conventions, and like so much on the web, the TSA's Instagram account occasionally stumbles onto brilliance, hilarity, and profundity. (See also: Twitter bots.)
To wit, here is a photo of a firearm discovered at Palm Beach International Airport from July 13 of this year:
The account's next upload? Gunner, the "explosives detection canine" who works with his owner at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska:
Next? This "stun cane" taken from a passenger's bag in Tampa. The caption politely reminds you (the reminders are always polite, gentle nudges to please not bring weapons with you onto planes with other human beings and their children, if you could), "While stun guns are permitted in checked baggage, they are prohibited in carry-on bags. You should check state and local laws concerning stun guns prior to traveling."
The account is rife with cute dogs interpolated with strange, sometimes terrifying weapons. This gun was taken from a bag at the airport in Austin:
And then to lighten the mood:
From the photo's caption:
#TSAOnTheJob: Honey is seen here with her handler, Eryka Stevens, at the Seattle-Tacoma (#SEA) cargo facility. Honey is one of hundreds of #TSA explosive detection canines that work around the nation daily to keep our transportation systems safe.
A weapon, a dog named Honey, and then:
The potential multivalence of the absurdism at work here is impressive: While it's apparent that the account's uploader (uploaders?) more or less sticks to an innocuous script of documenting what the TSA encounters every day on the job (guns, drugs, dogs), what's not so clear is intent, and that's what makes the account interesting. Are they aware of how funny it looks to put photos of dogs between photos of crazy weapons? Is this person purposefully creating these juxtapositions between cute and carnal? Or is it literally just a straight, I-upload-em-as-I-see-em setup?
I am inclined to believe that whomever is in charge of running the TSA's Instagram is at least partially aware of the photos' sequencing, or has at least realized, a year into the account's life, that there is indeed a method to the madness of ephemera and there's a latent performative nature to all social media.
The account has been posting more photos and more frequently, and has been especially active this summer. I like that the dog photos are now sometimes turned into trading cards:
But after turning it over in my head for a bit and deliberating internally some more, I have decided that this is the best photo from the TSA's Instagram thus far:
#TSACatch: Any item resembling an explosive – whether it is real or not - can cause significant delays in screening, while #TSA explosives detection professionals determine if the item is a threat. This modified grenade was discovered at the Salt Lake City #SLC airport and was eventually determined to be as harmless as a fly.
What endears me to this specific photo, and perhaps most social media, is the labored, terrible play on words in the caption. Like in improv comedy, so much of the internet's humor is having the boldness to fail fantastically, knowing you'll live again to say something even worse. This caption indicates, if ever so slightly, that the person (or persons) behind the account are in on the joke, too.