Sunday, 8 May 2011

You have been watching...

Maybe we've been spoiled by the movies. For decades, we've been treated to endless scenes of witty, urbane villains who assassinate their underlings with ruthless efficiency, and live in well-appointed modern properties with every technological convenience at their disposal. No wonder the villains are usually the most interesting characters - they've certainly made the right decisions in terms of consumer durables and real estate. Snappy dressers too.

So seeing the footage of Osama Bin Laden, released by the Pentagon following his recent death, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. For the last ten years he's been portrayed by the media as an all-powerful bogeyman, controlling an invisible network of operatives across the globe from his secret hideout. Blofeld and Hannibal Lecter weren't fit to buff this guy's sandals. Or that's what I thought, until I saw his underwhelming home movies.

Sitting in a hovel that looks like a lazy EastEnders set, Phil Mitchell's crack pipe just out-of-shot, he watches a 14-inch portable TV that wouldn't get him a fiver in Cash Converters. To make matters worse, he seems to be struggling with the EPG for his satellite. He wants to watch Al Jazeera, but I get the feeling he's just accidentally Sky-Plussed a series link for Larkrise To Candleford.

Of course, this is all pure speculation, since the intelligence officials who issued the clips to the news networks have removed all the sound. They say they don't want to help "spread the word of a terrorist", but as Gawker has pointed out, this just makes it easier for anyone with a YouTube account to help create a hilarious new meme using some shareware dubbing software.

I understand that the administration is in a no-win situation. If they don't release information and video footage, they're accused of being secretive and untrustworthy. And by issuing these clips, they've inadvertently humanised a near-mythological figure. Watching outtakes of Osama's propaganda broadcasts, we're reminded of the extended Family Guy skit that turned into a pretty sharp pastiche of Naked Gun. Hardly what we expect from our super villains.

This is not to diminish the very real threat of terrorism and extremism - but it does shed an interesting new light on the media's depiction of our enemies. Even as we label Bin Laden's films as 'propaganda', we have to mindful that we're occasionally guilty of instilling a similar bias in our own broadcasts.

Irrespective of the detail, this is still a fascinating insight into the realities of a world we know so little about. And I'm sure this isn't the last we've seen of Osama flubbing his lines or looking into the wrong camera. How long before Harry Hill gets his hands on enough material for a special edition of You've Been Framed, Assassinated and Buried At Sea? There must be loads of clips - Osama on a dicey-looking rope swing, sitting on a rotten beer garden bench, or getting whacked in the nuts by a dizzy toddler with a rounders bat.

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