I wonder how accurate is Jim Blanchard's Stranger cover depicting Osama Bin-Laden's face pre-bullet. There's a strong case for the cover becoming the most poetic artifact from the time immediately proceeding the event, but visually, Blanchard's Osammy is a drooling, lifeless mug shot. Perhaps the best representation of this uber-terrorist icon is a pop equivalent to those soulless portraits of early American presidents: someone we may or may not know a lot about but whom we've become attached to in an incredibly personal way. Because Bin Laden hasn't really been a terrorist for some time. Not really. Regardless, though, for many Americans he's to terrorism what George Washington is to the founding of the nation: namely, the first symbol or idea to appear in the mind when approaching the subject. It's this reaction, most likely, that incited the cheering crowd outside the white house and other locations when news broke of the assassination. More than “patriotism” or catharsis, a violent need to react to Bin Laden's death prompted people to the streets. His image has settled into the muddy American consciousness, becoming the starting point on the linear timeline of the War on Terror that extends straight towards today and goes back no further than 9/11.
Now that the man who started all this, according to the linear timeline, is dead, everything's going to be okay. “We got him,” part two. Blanchard's cover, though, transplants the entire terrorism narrative into the realm of poetics, where every image and idea may be attached to two or three separate ideas by metaphor, and simply by existing destroys any chance of the linear timeline monopolizing the narrative. This is a terrifying prospect for adherents to that timeline, and assassination is a poor substitute conversation, poetic or not, about where America stands as a nation.
On May 2nd, the day after Osama bin Laden's death, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill spoke on Democracy Now!:
I found it quite disgusting to see people chanting, like it was some sort of sporting event, outside of the White House. I think it was idiotic. Let’s remember here, hundreds of thousands of people have died. Iraq was invaded, a country that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. The United States created an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq by invading it, made Iran a far more influential force in Iraq than it ever would have been. We have given a grand motivation to people around the world that want to do harm to Americans in our killing of civilians, our waging of war against countries that have no connection to al-Qaeda, and by staying in these countries long after the mission was accomplished. Al-Qaeda was destroyed in Afghanistan, forced on the run. The Taliban have no chance of retaking power in Afghanistan. And so, I think that this is a somber day where we should be remembering all of the victims, the 3,000 people that died in the United States and then the hundreds of thousands that died afterwards as a result of a U.S. response to this that should have been a law enforcement response and instead was to declare war on the world.
Basically, to call the celebration moronic would be an insult to morons. It seemed like a joke. A cartoon not unlike the bullet screaming towards Bin Laden’s head on Blanchard’s cover. Evidently the bullet was a last minute addition. Blanchard finished the cover in an astounding 14 hours, from Monday May 2nd to the evening of Tuesday May 3rd, and was asked at the last minute to include the bullet. Its cartoonish quality was chosen because it was expedient rather than poetic, but its presence is important none the less.
With the bullet the cover becomes less serious or, perhaps, less exultant. It asks us whether or not the narrative we consider ourselves a part of is actually a cartoon, a fake, and if it is a cartoon, who's holding the pen how do we get off the page?
In the end the idea in the cover may not catch on, and the cover itself may be forgotten within a month or two. But this silly, soon-forgotten thing, simply because it came and went, expresses the real truth about the assassination of Osama bin Laden: that his death is about as relevant to global security, to our lives, as the May 4th cover of The Stranger.
-- Ian Burns