Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Dark Side of Victory

In the wake of president Obama’s recent “victory,” my feelings are mixed.  Immediately upon hearing the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I felt a sense of elation not too dissimilar to the displays that where shown on television late Sunday night and early Monday morning.  I felt proud of President Obama, and happy that he had finally scored a decisive “win” to counterbalance (and possibly negate) all the criticism he has received since his term began.  My posts on Facebook reflected this.

The next morning I came across an illustration done by  talented artist Sam Spratt that depicted Obama triumphantly displaying the severed head of Osama Bin Laden.  I thought the image was cool, and not unlike the painting that Alex Ross had done of Obama tearing away his shirt superman style to reveal his own Iconic symbol.  I shared the image with a friend, thinking he would share in my jubilation.  I was taken aback when he replied with the simple observation “That’s ghoulish.”

Sam Spratt's Illustration

It was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped on me.  I had been snapped back to reality. The drawing, while wonderfully rendered, communicates a childish sentiment, one that reduces one of the most important moments in American history to a battle royal suitable for an action film.  It’s right in line with many celebrations that took place in front of the White House and elsewhere.  Again, my friend observed how people where acting like their favorite team had just won the Super Bowl.

Alex Ross's painting.

It’s no mistake that Americans are quite taken with imagery and symbolism.  The most successful Hollywood films are filled such iconography.  We have been inundated with these images to the point that we begin to see real life events in fantasy terms.  Remember George W. Bush’s address at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001?  A specific part of it reminded me of a similar moment in Independence Day, to the point where I figured that the seemingly dimwitted former president possessed a keen understanding of how such dialogue can motivate people (The YouTube clip is below.  Go to the 46 second mark to see the specific moment I am talking about).  The powers that be have an acute pop culture awareness that manifests itself by manipulating the American public through its news media.

The problem comes when people respond to real life events in the same manner they would a sports playoff game, or a summer blockbuster.  In the movies, the bad guy is dead and the credits roll shortly thereafter.  If the filmmakers have done their job, the closing of the film is met a healthy round of applause from audiences around the world.  The news of Osama’s death at the hands of a navy seal team elicited the exact same response.  That is troubling to say the least.

I love action films precisely because of the cathartic release they facilitate.  The villain receives his comeuppance, often in the most violent and hellish way possible.  The hero emerges triumphant, and all is right with the world.  In real life, death has consequences that supersede whether or not the person in question was deserving of what they got.  Terrorism still exists, and the United States still has many enemies who employ it often and without hesitation.  Many of them will likely see the demise of America’s “bogeyman” as a call to arms.  They will not let the infidels rest easy.

Unlike the movies, the problems that exist in the real world cannot be solved by simply killing “the bad guy.”  The mindset and socio-political conditions that gave rise to Osama Bin Laden still exist.  Conflicts that have gone on for millennia still rage in the Middle East.  The United States is still responsible for a number of atrocities around the world that will likely one day give rise to a new bogeyman.  As we make efforts to quell the conflicts that rage on foreign soil, we should also recognize how we play a role in our own demise.  Trivializing such matters by treating them like a form of entertainment shows how we have allowed mythology and popular culture to inform our worldview.  Such is the perspective of children, not adults.

I do not mourn the death of Osama Bin Laden one bit, nor do I empathize with his loved ones or supporters.  He was indeed a blight on humanity that needed to be removed. However, his death is not something that should be celebrated or commemorated in this way.  One of America’s greatest enemies has fallen at the hands of a president that struggles to do what’s best for the people in spite of the abject stupidity he is often faced with.  Now that my initial moment of elation is over, I feel embarrassed and a bit ashamed at my initial reaction to the news of Osama's demise.  At this moment, I hope that Osama’s death leads to our troops being returned home as soon as possible.  God be with us all, and I do mean all of us.  Not just the United States, but the entire world.  May the Middle East truly know peace one day.

*You can check out the above mentioned piece as well as Sam Spratt's other wonderful artwork over at his website and/or Facebook page.

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