Obama 1, Osama 0

May 2, 2011 § 6 Comments

Given the intense longing for righteous victory in U.S. national culture, the celebratory mood online and (apparently) on the streets of New York and D.C. should surprise no one, and yet just as obvious is how tasteless it all is, not to mention painfully hypocritical. Sensible justifications for a decade and more of war, like, say, control over a strategically important region, the undermining of its civil society, are unspeakable in polite discourse without being branded a ‘conspiracy theorist.’ In their place we have an action movie. Not because the reality is ‘too complex’ — all coherent narratives can be simplified — but because it is a shade too direct for the orchestrators of a blatantly unjust war that has killed hundreds of thousands at least, millions more likely. It would permit public recognition of a humiliatingly simple story: that what is happening ‘over there’ is just a more extreme application of the same principles we see in action everywhere. The death of Osama bin Laden is the one kill the official ‘narrative,’ or blood-soaked montage rather, can justify as unquestionably righteous, and is at the same time its proper conclusion. And thus America celebrates the end of a narrative that no one could ever really accept, a joke from the moment Dubya made the “dead or alive” crack, simply because it’s the only one we can address with the full force of the rich world’s media infrastructure — it’s the only celebration we will ever be allowed to have for this neverending war. Like so many things American, we have to refuse it in order to maintain any sense of dignity whatsoever. And this, in terms of the national dialogue, renders us effectively mute.

Everyone has their own way of coping with this painful dilemma. If you’re a pundit or a politico, you moved on long ago to “peace in the middle east,” and when that dream was over you hovered somewhere between “responsibly eventual withdrawal” and the exciting possibilities for security in a multipolar world. For the rest of us, apathy is always available. Compulsively picking over the collapsed husk of Obamamania is another option. A few busy themselves with imagineering ‘new myths’ to inspire ‘revolutionary change’ — because surely the problem is the bourgeoisified mass’s well-known lack of creative Wille.

Will the lack of immediate replacement for the always-already parodic “bringing Bin Laden to justice” narrative create an opening? Or have we learned our coping mechanisms too well? I can’t tell if the general half-assedness I pick up from the various jubilations is a good or a bad sign.

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