Some of you may have already heard the story. If not, let me bring you up to speed. Last Thursday, Geoffrey McGann of Rancho Palos Verdes, California tried to take a flight from the Oakland airport. As with other passengers, he stood in line at security. When he got the front, he put his backpack on the belt and his watch in the little bin. And that’s where the trouble began.

McGann’s watch was not a simple Dakota Watch Company thing from a mall kiosk. Nor was it fancy Patek Philippe or a even a Timex or Seiko. No, McGann’s watch was his own customized creation and it did not look safe to the TSA folks. Fast forward a day and the Associated Press has a nice little article about McGann’s arrest. The article also mentions his boots as being “unusually large and stuffed with layers of insoles.”

So, why was McGann arrested?

Not for having a bomb. The bomb squad was called at the time and quickly determined that he had not explosives. Nor for threatening anything or for possessing weapons. No, McGann was arrested for “possessing materials to make an explosive device,” which apparently means anything that involves watches or electricity to the Oakland Country Sheriff’s department.

You can see an example of McGann’s watches (not the one in question, but another he made) at the top of this post. I will grant that is unusual looking. I will even grant that it does look like it could be a bomb (based on my years of study watching television and movies). So calling the bomb squad doesn’t seem completely off base to me. Even McGann knew it would attract attention:

“It is not a surprise that I got stopped by TSA…They are precarious looking watches. It’s just they said it was alright if I put it in the bin,” McGann said. “I knew I might be stopped sometime and that I might have to explain the watch as I did the first time I went to TSA months ago.” [via Palos Verdes Patch]

All that said, once it was determined that he had no explosives, why not let him go? He had told them the watch’s alterations were art. He had said his boots were stuffed to make him look taller. Not unreasonable explanations and there was no evidence of a threat. So he had big boots and a weird watch on? TSA was apparently satisfied, but not the Sheriff’s office who not only arrested McGann but charged him with a crime guaranteed to bring on the press yet without any supporting evidence.

“My issue is never, and was never, with the TSA… They were doing their jobs,” McGann continued. “My issue is with the Sheriffs Department and painting that picture… It is just irresponsible what they did.”

McGann has since been released and the District Attorney’s office has, sanely, chosen not to press charges. The whole thing feels very much like a bunch of high school jocks picking on the nerd for wearing his Spock ears to school, followed by the teacher telling them to cut it out. And just like that situation, until the teacher arrives everyone not involved just keeps hearing about how the Spock kid is the weirdo, i.e. the problem.

Perhaps the oddest thing for me is that everyone has been calling the watch “Steampunk” based on one comment on Facebook by David Burkhead.* I tend to take a fairly inclusive view of Steampunk. If people want to call it Steampunk, so be it. That said, I see almost nothing in these watches to suggest applying that term to McGann’s watches. Sure, they are elaborate and customized and a bit technofetishist, but there is little retrofuturistic or neoVictorian in them. If McGann calls them Steampunk, hey, welcome aboard. But otherwise can we drop the label.

And while we’re at it, can be drop the hazing of those who are different as well?


* It is depressing to think that I found the Steampunk label’s application to be the oddest thing here, but, as a nerd myself, I find the bullying aspect of the story repugnant, but not surprising.