Don’t you love this picture? What do you love the most? Obama’s extra-loose fit bomber jacket (de riguer for any Commander-in-Chief)? Hilary Clinton trying not to throw up? Just how small this room is, and, why couldn’t they have gotten something roomier (with enough seats for everyone) to witness the assassination of America’s Enemy Number 1, Osama Bin Laden?
Fine details, all. But, the one I want to draw attention to is the technological means through which this room full of people are able to watch another room full of people (some of whom are about to die grusomely) all the way, live from Abbottabad. The Navy Seals we are told were wired up with cameras. What they saw, Obama, Biden, Clinton et al saw.
In real time.
In first person POV.
On a screen.
I haven’t been a computer games’ player for decades now (Angry Birds doesn’t count: Chuckie Egg did), but I’ve seen enough of today’s cinematic, hyper-real offerings to know that first person POV is the subjectivity par excellence of ultra-violent games playing. It’s the locus of exporting those morally dubious parts of your consciousness (xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Teutonic, etc), so that all kinds of politically incorrect irritations can be normalized and – hey! – libidinally exorcized. After all, it’s “just a game” – the blood isn’t even red paint but red pixels.
I then remembered an advert from around 2004 for this game:
Bombing the crap out of the Tora Bora caves had not yet yielded the desired, symbolic kill. I remember on that poster, by the Eurostar in Waterloo, Osama Bin Laden was loudly pronounced Enemy Number 1. Fear not! What the US army and CIA couldn’t ( / wouldn’t) achieve in real life was handed over to owners of the XBox and Playstation for a modest sum. In these parallel Wars on Terror, OBL has probably been killed a million times or more, in first person POV, on millions of screens all over the world. This is all the more likely when certain gaming cheats instruct you to: “When playing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border mission, pause the game to enter the following code: Circle, circle, circle, square, square, square, R1, to make every other bad guy look like Bin Laden.” Osama meets John Malcovich on the shores of irreality…
There is some mediatic symmetry to the birth and death of the first decade of the 21st century (2001 – 2011; although arguably another shorter version exists too: 9/11/01 – Global Economic Crisis 2008).
Bin Laden had planes (Modern Symbol No.1) fly into skyscrapers (Modern Symbol No. 2) ensuring this act of destruction not only be transmitted live, but be recorded for eternal playback (Modern Symbol Medium No.1). Nearly a decade later, Obama gave the OK to send troops in to Bin Laden’s compound and watched the incident as though it were the final-final game of ‘America’s 10 Most Wanted’ – at last, reality caught up with the fantasised version of events gezillions of kids (and kidults) had already enjoyed years ago. This act of vengeful destruction – the killing of America’s Most Unwanted Modern Symbol – is now also enshrined onto videotape/avi/mp4, therefore, it must be true, right? History can believe it happened. Closure. But what about that pesky corpse? As I write, the American authorities can not decide whether or not images of Bin Laden’s gun-blasted head should be released. However, no such hesitance was even mooted with regards to the immediate fate of his dead body.
The ocean that absorbed the stateless corpse also absorbed its symbolic, material excess. The ocean thus returns Bin Laden to the realm of the already-dead and the spectrally virtual.