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May 9, 2011

Narcissist! Couch Potato! Twelve-Year-Old! — DoD Spins bin Laden Watching the TeeVee


I like to watch, Dave.

– Chauncey Gardiner, Being There


Where is the DoD going with the video of bin Laden watching TV, the scene that has circulated as much as the “rehearsal” clip also released this past weekend?

1. A Proper Living Room

To an American audience (reinforced by who knows how many sitcoms and commercials), watching TV in a house nearly always involves a sofa. If we’ve seen lots of scary video clips of bin Laden sitting on the ground outside or in a tent, this indoor, suburban bin Laden is intended to look pathetic — a couch potato with no couch.

2. Zapped

More media associations: You can’t make anyone seem more common or pathetic, even, than to depict them as a TV-crazed channel-flipper. Maybe the bearded one was running the network off of thumb drives. Still, Americans equate a scene like this to: “looking for a life.”

3. Bed-time, Osama!

Sketch out for American audiences someone sitting on the floor for hours a day amidst wires, gizmos, video boxes and what have you, and the picture that typically comes up is the bedroom of a twelve-year-old boy.

4. Down and Out

If sitting on the floor in a blanket is a common scene in Central Asia, paring OBL in a blanket and a loose fitting knit cap in a room with dingy walls and hanging wires, and — again, to a Western audience — it connotes: “indigent,” even “crackhead.”

5. The Narcissism Factor

And yeah, even though you can bet everyone from Mike Huckabee, Joe Biden and even Hillary (when she’s not overly suffering from her “allergies“) must love watching themselves on TV and we can be sure folks from Justin Bieber to Jay Rosen keep almost daily tabs on their Twitter tally, the assumption here is that OBL, actually caught watching himself on TV (although we Americans will deny to the death how narcissistic we are), is good for a “gotcha.”

(4pm PST – slightly revised)

(video: Department of Defense via PBS)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb

    Terrorism is a media performance. Not surprising that the star performer wants to know how he is playing. Professional viewing, not narcissism. The final act may have been as martyr. Perhaps because they understood this, is why the Obama administration has been so stingy with the ocular proof. http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/2011/05/dc-forum-the-killing-of-osama-bin-laden-part-three/

  • Anonymous

    What are they trying to do to bin Laden’s image? He’s supposed to be a scary dude, and so evil that we’ve launched big time wars to get rid of him. But the guy in the flophouse watching re-runs of himself isn’t scary at all; he’s rather pathetic.

    I wonder how many people, seeing these pictures of a lonely guy in front of a television screen, are thinking, “Maybe I should give Dad a call to find out how he’s doing . . . ” I don’t get couch potato or 12-year old. I do get a guy in a watch cap sitting alone in a messy room. The image doesn’t frighten me, it humanizes bin Laden.

    Somebody at the Pentagon is releasing these images selectively as a kind of triumph over the monster who directed the attacks of September 11th. “See? He’s not such a badass. He’s just a chump!” But that’s not the effect these images are having. In fact I’m creeped out by their invasiveness.

  • Bugboy

    What audience are these pictures the DOD intended for? Perhaps to pacify the American Public that OBL is not the bad ole’ boogeyman he’s been made out to be? To put him behind us as a singular force that we as a country have made policy after? To equalize him on the level of all the other propaganda makers the world over? Then these images do that job, don’t they? Even if it is throwing stones at glass houses. No one ever said propaganda was fair.

    Just like the President of Iran making threats to destroy Israel…he isn’t talking to Israel or anyone else: he is talking to the hard liners in his own country. That leadership was on dartboards in this country for how long?

  • Bugboy

    What audience are these pictures the DOD intended for? Perhaps to pacify the American Public that OBL is not the bad ole’ boogeyman he’s been made out to be? To put him behind us as a singular force that we as a country have made policy after? To equalize him on the level of all the other propaganda makers the world over? Then these images do that job, don’t they? Even if it is throwing stones at glass houses. No one ever said propaganda was fair.

    Just like the President of Iran making threats to destroy Israel…he isn’t talking to Israel or anyone else: he is talking to the hard liners in his own country. That leadership was on dartboards in this country for how long?

  • Bugboy

    What audience are these pictures the DOD intended for? Perhaps to pacify the American Public that OBL is not the bad ole’ boogeyman he’s been made out to be? To put him behind us as a singular force that we as a country have made policy after? To equalize him on the level of all the other propaganda makers the world over? Then these images do that job, don’t they? Even if it is throwing stones at glass houses. No one ever said propaganda was fair.

    Just like the President of Iran making threats to destroy Israel…he isn’t talking to Israel or anyone else: he is talking to the hard liners in his own country. That leadership was on dartboards in this country for how long?

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