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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.

Gone.

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.

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Andrew Panebianco For the last six years, Andrew Panebianco has worked as a roving humanities professor in Philadelphia. He received his MA in writing studies from Saint Joseph’s University and his MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch LA. He is the section head for CNF at The Splinter Generation. He lives in New Jersey (which isn’t remotely as awful as television would have you believe) and can most often be found drowning in research for his first book on burial and funeral culture. He posts occasionally on his own blog, http://eugenicsbeginswithyou.wordpress.com, the contents of which might bore or horrify you. Or both.

26 responses to “Dislike”

  1. […] Click here to be magically transported to my jittery, fractured prose. […]

  2. Mary Richert says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m going to share it with people, and maybe it will help us all keep our heads on straight.

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    It would have been nice if people could have united behind Osama’s final defeat they way they did in the aftermath of his greatest moment of evil.

    It is as simple as good versus evil. Good defeated evil this time, and we should enjoy it.

    But we should also remember that this doesn’t bring an end to anything. Bin Laden wasn’t working alone and whilst we’re using this as an opportunity to open political divisions what are the bad guys going to be doing? Uniting together with fresh fuel on their fires of hate.

    This should be a moment of unity for our side too. United by hope, rather than fear this time.

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    Bin Laden is open-source now, and everyone’s in a rush to make what they can of him.

    Two snaps.

    Let him be dead, indeed.

    But that’s not really in people’s nature. Especially not with a US presidential campaign on. The part of me that is overjoyed and relieved that the man’s gone is simultaneously filled with the loathing that stems from knowing that now, at least for the next year and a half or so, he will loom larger in death, likely, than he has since Sept. 12th a decade ago. The…gestalt…of the thing will be magnificent and terrible. Nearly forgotten about him until now? Never fear. You won’t be allowed to forget again for some time. Not by Dems, Republicans, nostalgic and/or opportunistic major media outlets, pundits, poseurs, muslims, Christians, bigots, do-gooders, countrymen, foreigners, Netflix featured movies, and History International.

    I’ll stand by you, though, Andrew. We’ll hold hands. Together we’ll get through this. Let our snark strike true and the wounds cut deep. It’s all we can do.

    • dwoz says:

      We imagine this to be in the context of a US presidential campaign, because we now live in a world where the political campaign industry is a 100% duty cycle. It used to be, only a few years ago, that political campaigns were like school, and everyone went home for summer vacation, giving us a tiny respite.

      Basically, there is no longer ANY moment that is NOT part of the US presidential campaign.

      And the unfortunate result of that is that a simple, required, necessary international law enforcement activity such as finding OBL becomes by default, politicized.

      I saw a picture floating around the internet, of Osama Bid Laden, with the headline: “Osama Bin Laden: Hide and Seek Champion, 2001–2011.”

      That is as emblematic as anything of his stature as a talisman or icon.

      • Andrew Panebianco says:

        That was the first thing my friends and I started talking about… you know, once we started talking. How is this going to play during the election? When I listened to his speech, I hate admitting this, I listened in part with an ear for the politics. How will he phrase it? Will he mention Iraq (which he most surely did not… and good for him)? How blatantly political will the speech be (not very – or, rather, if it was… the strings were very well hidden).

        I should have watched his address just as a man, or as an American I suppose. But there was that tangy side of me, the one that’s addicted to the politicking.

        I need a shower.

  5. I kept quiet yesterday, as I tend to about political matters in social media, but were I to say something, I would want to say it as compassionately and eloquently as you have in this piece. Great, great, great, great job.

  6. Heather L says:

    Excellent job, just what I need to read this morning.

  7. Sarah says:

    I witnessed on Facebook two women argue over who was a better Christian – the one who is celebrating that bin Laden is burning in fiery hell or the one who laments the loss of any human life no matter how evil. That’s right ladies, this is all about you and how cool you are for being closer to Christ than someone else. Whatever.

    My crazy aunt (not for her severely conservative Tea Party beliefs but, like certifiably forgets to take her meds crazy) is praising Bush today and refusing to give Obama any credit for the raid. It was pointed out to her that she can’t simultaneously blame Obama for the economic collapse in this country and not give him credit for getting bin Laden but she’s maintained radio silence since her original post.

    It has been an interesting day in cyber-land, to be sure.

    Tomorrow it will all return to crazy spring weather, wacky things our kids say and do, and basketball/hockey playoffs on my feed.

  8. Thanks for this Andrew. Although I’m not sure I agree with everything you’ve written. As I am not glad Bin Laden is dead. Just because America assassinated a murderer doesn’t make it right, nor should it be believed the movement has been stopped, or that there will be no retribution. But then again the country will be amazed when the next atrocity happens – the populace will cry, “what did we do?” – while pointing fingers as masked figures behead people on grainy videos on YouTube, calling them “fucking barbarians” while posting facebook pictures of the Statue of Liberty holding aloft Bin Laden’s severed head. Killing a “leader” doesn’t stop the followers, it just makes a martyr. And celebrating a murder brings those who judge to the same level of the killer.

    However, it does make for good re-election fodder.

    But yeah, thanks man, well done, it needed to be said.

    • dwoz says:

      You know…it should be the unquestioned goal of any citizen of any society that due process, justice and the law are fair, impartial, evenhanded and compassionate.

      Such a social contract demands that “summary judgement” be anathema.

      However.

      While “summary judgement” is by definition an abrogation of process, it is not always an abrogation of justice.

      Am I one of those rabid voices that apoplectically screams “blame America First!” at anyone who tries to point out that insurgent terrorism is the merely the second half of the cycle, the first half of which is imperialism and self-serving intervention in the sovereign business of other nations?

      No.

      I get it. We all get it.

      But sometimes symbolism is meaningful. OBL may have been an artificially-hyped boogeyman pressed into icon service for the hyper-partisan agenda of a conservative government, but he’d already made himself, even before the neocons found him useful.

      I am old enough to remember a time when every once in a while, the government did things in non-partisan ways. The hyper-partisanship we all enjoy so much today was not the norm even 15 years ago. with that said, I think the Obama administration has (so far) done a credible job of making this as politically neutral as is possible (today).

  9. Gloria says:

    Nicely said. I’m glad this thinking is getting it’s moment in the discussion.

    Let him be dead. Yes, that.

  10. Man, the internet depresses the shit out of me sometimes.

    Not, however, when reading this.

    Nice rumination, Panebianco.

    • Andrew Panebianco says:

      I was just about to comment on your piece, too.

      Thank you.

      If we’re ever in LA at the same time, I’m buying you a drink. Because I think you’re the cat’s pajamas.

  11. I am heartened at the same time, what with all the thoughtful, nuanced genuflection I’ve read on the subject as well. This being a good example. And the unfolding of this media event has reminded me of The Warriors as well, but mostly the close ups of that woman’s lips huskily talking into a microphone, advocating revenge. And then a big multicultural handshake on the beach at the end.

    • Andrew Panebianco says:

      This is amazing. I didn’t even consider it to that extent… but you’re ABSOLUTELY right!

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