Five minutes before President Obama addressed the nation and told us that his administration had successfully tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden, I was watching Airplane! with some friends.
I’m not making that up, I swear.
Five minutes after that I, like millions of others around the world, went online and started blabbing about it on Facebook.
I’ve spent the rest of the night reading Facebook threads and message boards. And if what I’ve read is any indication, the internet has done what the internet tends to do: It brought millions of people together and offered them an opportunity to have an adult discussion.
And from what I’ve seen, a generous amount of people have done exactly what people tend to do on the internet: Engage in that adult conversation for maybe three minutes, and then promptly reduce it to a puke of capslock arguments, hyperbole and schlocky ad hominems.
Spiced liberally throughout each debate have been innumerable abbreviated, internet phrases – omg, stfu, lmao.
e-cronyms, I call them.
The Truthers are lecturing those who’ve praised Obama’s actions: I mean, WTF? Don’t they know it was all an inside job, and Bin Laden’s been living in a space capsule for the last nine years? (Or, you know, whatever…)
The Democrats are gloating and making fun of Bush. Using the same bumpersticker rhetoric they (and I) decried during his tenure as president. I’ve lost count of how many times someone’s pecked out some snarky derivation of, “Mission Accomplished.”
The Republicans are reminding us that, sure, this is nice and all, but Obama’s still got no leadership skills and doesn’t deserve to be president. Yeah, Bin Laden’s dead, but what have you done for me lately?
The Tea Party still thinks he’s Hitler. Or the Joker. Which is ludicrous as it’s philosophically impossible for him to represent both men’s ideologies simultaneously.
Any minute now, the Birthers are gonna start demanding to see Bin Laden’s death certificate.
I’ve been thumbing through Facebook feeds and message boards for hours now, and I can’t help but feel like Swan from that old cult movie, “The Warriors.” One guy gets shot and suddenly every gang in town is going completely bonkers. Everyone’s yelling and screaming and running around like nuts, and all I want is to figure out what the hell is going on and go home.
Like it or not, I’ve become quite used to this. This is what a lot of us do these days – we stay up late and yell at each other with our fingertips. It’s interesting, though, to see how rapidly each group (or gang) attempts to appropriate the freshly crafted symbolism of the now late Osama Bin Laden.
Prior to his death, I’d always seen Bin Laden represented as a pretty general image – one the good guys hate and the bad guys like.
This, I admit, is pretty simplistic.
But now that he’s gone, it’s as though the patent on his identity has expired.
Bin Laden is open-source now, and everyone’s in a rush to make what they can of him.
It was scary enough when Osama Bin Laden was a living symbol – the walking, talking, AK-47 firing ombudsman of a nebulous and ancient Islamic rage. Or the manifestation of 40 years of shortsighted and morally questionable American foreign policy. Or a testament to how easily any group can be swayed when they’re afraid.
And this was all when he was still around to send out videotapes to help steer his image a little.
I worry about what he’ll be now that he’s gone to collect his virgins.
We’re in such a rush now, it seems, to define what Bin Laden means, that we’ve forgotten to stop and consider what he meant. We did the same thing with 9/11. And with Obama’s election. It’s just what we do, I guess.
A friend of mine posted something on her Wall that I found strangely irritating at first, but quickly came to feel is both cogent and lovely: There’s something grisly and cold about celebrating a person’s death – regardless of who it is that’s died.
Personally, I’m glad he’s dead. Fuck him. But I’m not sure I should dance on his corpse. And I certainly don’t want to drag it off and make it into something it’s not.
If Osama Bin Laden’s life was a symbol of anything, I think it’s safe to say it was a symbol of death. The deaths of nearly 3,000 people, nine years ago. The death of that then-quintessentially American feeling of imperviousness. He could represent the deaths of so many people throughout the world at the hands of those forces more powerful than they: The Soviets. America. Poverty. Ignorance. So many cruel and heartless and self-serving misrepresentations of religion.
Bin Laden could represent the death of what it is to know Good.
Take your pick.
Nine years ago, when we watched the towers vaporize on live TV, I think we all felt some shred of innocence within us fray. You lose something when you watch someone burn, I think. Or when you watch someone burn another.
That innocence, or Good, or whatever you want to call it – it frays pretty easily, I’ve found. It frays for me whenever I watch people respond to an event like this by snarking at one another on the internet. And when it frays, it makes me want to write back and say something biting and miserable, and then refresh, refresh, refresh until they respond, and then I do it all over again and wake up in the morning with stiff fingers and cloudy eyes, completely unable to remember what it was I had cared about in the first place.
Let’s not do that.
Let Osama Bin Laden’s life inform how we see him in death.
Let Osama Bin Laden be dead.
Let him be a memory not just of fire and falling, but also of just how precious it is to cling to that shred of what’s good in us.
Let’s all have a drink and toast to life. And to death.
And then we can post something about that on our Facebook wall.