Of course, you've all seen this footage. Even if you haven't seen it, you've seen it. Were we to have speculated, three weeks ago, about what the streets of the U.S. might look like upon news of bin Laden's death, we probably would have imagined scenes such as these or maybe this:
As a friend of mine suggested, this latter video is, perhaps, a parody. However, the question of this video's sincerity takes us right to heart of the cave in which bin Laden will always hide regardless of how many times we kill him. The reason that we all secretly knew exactly what would happen when bin Laden was killed, the reason that satire falters upon the news of his death is because bin Laden is spectacle through and through. So, in a sense, the cave in which bin Laden will forever hide belongs to Plato. As spectacle, everything about bin Laden's trajectory through history is utterly predictable, and as spectacle, he is, for better or worse, timeless. We all knew that this whole Bugs Bunny chase scenario was a sham, just as we all knew that our exhibitionist-nationalist responses to its culmination would be a sham, and it's quite difficult to parody something that is already ridiculous.
But calling bin Laden a spectacle is about as predictable as the most recent Lady Gaga video. Thus, why say another word about the killing of Osama bin Laden? Why contribute to this nauseating hide-and-seek game that is the "war on terror." Where is he hiding? Will Obama hide the photographs? Why couldn't we see the body? Why couldn't Pakistan see bin Laden? All this chatter about visibility. Fuck that.
We need to discuss the death of bin Laden, not on these terms, but precisely because his death signaled an alarming absence of discussion on the part of both liberals and conservatives. And in this void of thoughtful discussion democrats and republicans have come together in a big old greasy gang bang of hardcore patriotic punish fucking to the pelvic thrusting chants of "USA USA USA." Hark, the sound of hegemony quakes upon the horizon. While conservative juggalos jumped at the opportunity to do their Larry the Cable Guy routine,
the popular liberal response went something like this: "I know his death changes nothing, but I'm still happy he's dead." What these responses share is happiness. There seems to be a mandate right now to confess one's joy at the death of bin Laden. Whether we dance about in the streets, proudly, with cowboy hats and American flags or murmur our enthusiasm with a healthy bit of guilty apprehension, we must, it seems, make visible our pleasure. Even if we preface this admission of exuberance with a well-reasoned account of precisely how this one death means absolutely nothing with respect to ending the war on terror, we must still make it clear that we are glad bin Laden is dead.
Because, honestly, the war on terror has always been a feel-good war. The primary concern has always been the emotional state of the Americans. Hence, not the conservative populism of new country music, but instead, the vacuous emotional excess of emo-core provides the perfect soundtrack to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq:
We're told that the death of bin Laden is good because it "gives the victims of 9/11 closure" as though this entire war were a big exercise in group therapy! Scream therapy to be more precise. To sample some Zizek here, the liberal emo response -"but still I'm glad he's dead" - reiterates the "I know very well that this is the case, but nevertheless" structure of ideology, and the subject reflected by this formation is precisely the American subject who is at once melancholic and ecstatic, who is both a tragic victim and a heroic patriot, both the wounded sensitive croon and the aggro scream. In this respect, our liberal response smacks of a particular insincerity since much of our enjoyment is projected onto conservative juggalos who are only too eager to act out our pleasures like so many court jesters. The overarching subject, however, must enjoy this death one way or another.
So, once again, through the presto-chango magic show of the war on terror, the story of a dead Arab transforms into the story of a victimized America overcoming its adversities. In order to adequately address this reversal, we must talk about a concept that has been almost entirely erased from discourses about the war generally and bin Laden's death specifically -race. Always at the forefront of American political discourse, South Park new immediately that the war on terror would be about race. By being honestly racist and by referencing the history of racist caricatures in American cartoons, South Park captured the centrality of race to American ideas about bin Laden, and, now, we are only too happy to actualize the jouissance depicted in "Osama bin Laden has Farty Pants." We are only too happy to embody Cartman. Long before the war on terror, the "Arab" of racist fantasy always reflected perverse sexuality, surplus enjoyment and, conversely, the worries that Western subjects aren't enjoying, that we might be emotionally deadened by our consummerist culture, that we just aren't feelin it. Should it be surprising, then, that this collective swelling of American enthusiasm results from the killing of a figure who has, for a long while, embodied all these racist ideas about Arabness? Should it come as a shock that even those who admit that his death changes little in terms of geopolitics still express relief at his death? Should it be at all astonishing that the death of bin Laden is "worth it" merely because it "makes us glad"?
Make no mistake, there are no exceptions to this pronoun "we" that I'm bandying about. Even in theorizing this American emoting subject, I am not excepting myself from it. We are all in the same public pool, drinking the same piss, and there is no life guard to blow the whistle. Indeed, bin Laden and countless other Arabs, whose deaths and humiliations at the hands of Western imperialism are either hypervisible or visible in their horrific censorship, amount to a bare life. Their deaths mean nothing; they are not sacrificed. But their killing is mandated in order to support a multicultural collective "we" of Empire. The mourning that must take place for there to ever be an end to this war, and, unfortunately, the mourning that will probably never take place, is the mourning for these bodies. Hence, the anxieties about disposing of bin Laden's remains in a way that wouldn't allow for memorials. The Arab "terrorist" body signifies nothing; it will not be buried properly.
What would have happened had we done the unthinkable and mourned the passing of bin Laden or the countless other Arab bodies that have been disappeared by the C.I.A. in a torture program that has now found renewed enthusiastic support? Of course this is a silly question to ask in the current climate of Bind, Torture, Kill and Celebrate. What's clear now is that all the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations leading up to bin Laden's death can find a bizarre sort of justification in our collective melancholic festivities.
Duty now for the future, spuds.