20 January 2010

Osama bin Laden and "1984"

Father John McCuen has noticed some interesting parallels between Osama bin Laden and one of the characters in George Orwell's 1984 Observations from an Empty Well: Osama bin Laden and "1984":
What strikes me most about these news reports is not so much the farce of the hunt for bin Laden as how he continues to be brought out from time to time by the media. For some reason, he strikes me as the modern-day equivalent of the character Emmanuel Goldstein, from George Orwell's novel, 1984. Goldstein is the novel's Leon Trotsky to Bib Brother's Josef Stalin: once a member of the highest level within the Party that rules Oceania who broke with Big Brother and formed 'The Brotherhood' for the purpose of bringing down the Party. Consequently, every failure that is acknowledged by the Party is blamed on Goldstein and the Brotherhood; and Goldstein features prominently in an exercise known as the 'Two Minute Hate'; with his image being replaced by that of Big Brother, whose appearance brings calm and peace and joy to the rank and file at the end of the Two Minute Hate.

This is not the "real" Osama bin Laden. It is Osama bin Laden the mythical monster, Osama bin Laden as invented by the regime and the media.

Many years ago, when TV was relatively new in South Africa and we didn't have a TV -- we lived in a village, Melmoth, that was then outside the reception area -- there was a TV series called Rich Man, Poor Man. We never got an opportunity to watch it, but apparently just about everyone in the big cities did, and it dominated the culture of the media. Apparently the villain of the series was called Falconetti, and Falconetti was the guy everyone loved to hate. Any bad guy anywhere was compared to Falconetti. For those of us who had never seen it on TV, however, the cultural reference escaped us. But it was clear that he turned up in every episode of the TV series, plotting new evil, trying to destroy the lives of the heroes.

Eventually I bought the book and read it, in the hope of getting a handle on this cultural phenomenon. It was a great disappointment. Falconetti was a very minor character who appeared on about 5 pages, and wasn't really a villain, certainly not the villain of the story, as he was in the TV series. And its seems that he was not as much a villain of the TV series as he was of the media writing about the TV series. And so it is with Osama bin Laden, and of Slovodan Milosevic before him -- the cardboard cut-out villain trotted out for the obligatory two minutes hate.


Shane said...

The idea of the myth of Osama bin Laden has been on my mind much of late. I'm even beginning to lean toward the conspiracy camp; knowing the psychological need that we seem to have for a bad guy, the perpetuation of the bin Laden is alive and threatening us is the perfect tool to keep us scared and obedient. The latest aged photo of Osama using a Spanish opposition politician? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8463657.stm What's up with that?

James Higham said...

Excellent take - one has to concur.


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