Monday, May 02, 2011

The Tale of Osama Bin Laden

Today, the defining myth of modern America comes to a close.

I choose my words carefully, but people can get the wrong idea when they hear the word "Myth". They think of "Mythbusters", urban legends, Greek Gods... This word can commonly be understood quite simply as, "Something that isn't true". But there is a more important connotation to "myth" that I would like to utilize in this instance.

I call the "Tale of Osama Bin Laden" a myth because it's a story which would still be important even if it weren't true. It's a larger-than-life chronicle which helps a large group of people understand itself. A universally relevant narrative that is meaningful to any American you could possibly encounter. It doesn't mean the same exact thing to each American, but it means something to all of us.

The mythological potency of the "Tale of Osama Bin Laden" was illustrated particularly strongly by my twitter feed. I was not surprised to see everybody discussing and/or mentioning it. But I WAS surprised a the sheer volume of retweets--as opposed to plain old-fashioned tweets of one's own thoughts--which populated my timeline. Many of them were the same handful of people (i.e. @hodgman, who, among others, seemed to go on an aggregation rampage). But still, more than a third... almost half of my timeline (especially going back closer to last night) was composed of people sharing the proclamations of others.

Bin Laden's death is the reason language exists, so that people can help explain the world to each other. We can take insanity like 9/11 and put a face and a reason behind it. It's actually not far from a religious myth. One of the key differences is that an assortment of voices can agree on the same events having happened. Factuality lends this myth to quicker and more unanimous acceptance.

Certain people will doubt that Bin Laden is dead. Even more will say that he's been dead for quite some time. But whether or not he's 1) finally dead 2) been dead or 3) still hiding in a cave somewhere... is not actually all that important. What's more important is that the most cathartic, most redemptive of these three possibilities has culminated in a kairos for our president to make a long-awaited speech and put a capstone on the history of our decade.

This tale is not unlike religion, and you don't have to look hard to find the word "minister" in "administration". While Obama does attach himself personally to the destroying of Osama, he offers a clear congratulations to the official hero in the story: America.

This is the spirituality that is perpetuated by the "Tale of Osama Bin Laden". It is why accusations that 9/11 was an inside job--while asinine and groundless--are briefly entertainable when you see the inflation of our government's relevance against the backdrop of a villain.

Despite my tone in these last few paragraphs, I don't know that our dependance on myth is necaserrily a bad things. I'm not sure that our modern psyche has the fortitude to stand up on its own quivering legs without the support of a consistent narrative. OR... Are tales like that of Osama Bin Laden just training wheels keeping us from realizing the chaos that Heath Ledger's Joker tried to highlight in "The Dark Knight"?

While we think that over, enjoy president Obama's most poised, confident speech ever. And one which will certainly resonate in his favor come next November.







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