I was looking at the news blurb on my home page about the “new” Osama Bin Laden videotape, and I got to thinking: do you think OBL has a chance to become a permanent part of our culture. I mean, he’s a symbol of evil, shows up about once a year, has his own holiday on our calendar (in a warped sort of way)…He’s becoming kind of like an anti-Santa Claus. A Satan Claus, perhaps?
What do you think? Will he turn into an everlasting boogieman in American culture, a name and personage evoked to symbolize evil and hatred? Is he there already? I’m not talking about in the speeches of politicians; he already fills that role. I mean in the broader cultural sense. Is he someone/something parents will scare their children with 50 or 100 years from now (assuming humans are still alive then)?
I kinda doubt it. I don’t even hear him referenced that much now by people in everyday life, while he’s an active, living political figure. I imagine Hitler will remain the symbol of “evil bastard” in American culture long after Osama is dead.
Of course if Manhattan gets nuked this coming Tuesday, I may have to change my mind on this.
Was thinking about this some more and trying to come up with other historical figures that have become cultural symbols for certain human characteristics. Hitler for evil, Einstein for smarts, Mother Theresa for selflessness, Ghandi for peacefulness. Perhaps Napoleon for ego and Attila the Hun for destructiveness (interestingly I couldn’t come up with any Americans who became symbolic to the same degree) Jesus of course for any number of good qualities though I’m not sure deities count.
But all of these people were considerably more “hands on” then Osama, who seems more of a spokesmen or figurehead of the islamic terrorist movement then someone who is actually calling the shots. Also he’s basically known for one event (he was involved in terror attacks other then 9/11, but I doubt he would’ve been remembered by future generations for the Cole bombing and the like). Hitler et. al. on the other hand made whatever qualities they became synonymous for their lifes work.
I’ll admit, you’ve put more thought into this than I did. In fact, I was almost being flippant up there in the OP. Nevertheless, I would say that, though Osama may be “known for one event” here it is six years after that event and reports of a message from him are still viewed as above the fold news. That’s some staying power.
Plus he’s got a very iconic look, or rather a look that lends itself to becoming iconic. Che Guevara wasn’t known in these parts for any particular actions, and he wasn’t really part of the international scene for very long (about a decade), but he became iconic enough that even today lots of people wear his image on their t-shirts.
Now, from a particularly flippant point of view, I think the ant-Santa Claus comparison still holds pretty well. He’s prominently displayed once a year, he comes from far away, he’s got the beard going, and whenever he shows up he delivers a present that no one really wants, in the form of a crappy video no one wants to watch. (It’s a jihadist polemic, not a DVD collection of season one of “Sister, Sister”, but the point’s the same.)
Clearly, I’m not sure how seriously I take my own premise…
I think Osama may become synonymous with the “evil mastermind in the shadows”, so as to let Hitler keep his “evil mastermind in your face” title. I still think Osama needs one or two more good-sized attacks in order to solidify his claim. Something at least 1/4th of a 9-11 in devastation. One-hit wonders don’t tend to endure in terms of trait personification.
I think his image may outlive him. Long after he’s gone (well 50-100 years or so), his appearance (as it is on the videotapes) will influence the way any radical Muslim extremist supervillain will appear, at least a little bit.
I’m a New Yorker who still vividly recalls the events and feelings of 9/11/2001. And yet, when I saw the headline announcing the imminent broadcast of the first video address from Osama Bin Laden in many years, my first reaction was to quip sarcastically that maybe it was at least partly an infomercial and it was sponsorship money that was luring him back into the public eye. (“Kill the Western crusader infidels… By making homemade fertilizer bombs with Scott’s Turf Builder! Only Scott’s gives you the quality, high-nitrogen content in their fertilizer needed to ensure a successful mission…”)
I do find it somewhat odd that he has remained so out of sight for so long. As a rallying symbol for the Enemies of the West, he would best have done (it seems to me) to make frequent video clips, effectively taunting the Bush administration about its ongoing failure to capture him.
And of course, if he ever is captured and “dealt with”, his symbolism as a martyr is directly proportional to his visibility at the time of his capture.
Either way it seems like he should have been making these things all along for the past 5 years. Why hasn’t he been? What does it mean? Hmmm…
I think he will be in our consciousness while he lives much as the Ayatollah Khomeini was back during the hostage crisis of 1979-81. Khomeini was viewed in the same light as bin Laden is today, as a symbol of evil and one of America’s great enemies. But once the hostages were released, he passed from our focus. His death in 1989 was practically an anti-climax. Probably very few people who were born in 1980 or later have heard of his name. Once bin Laden dies, whether he is executed, or evades us and dies a natural death, he will be at the back of our consciousness within a few years.