On CNN, Wolf Blitzer was live and reporting the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead. He talked to a correspondent just outside the White House who made note of the fact that a crowd started to form around 10:30 and 11PM just before the President's official statement in the East Room. The correspondent commented on the celebratory nature of the crowd that steadily grew and grew.
The crowd celebrated with singing and dancing, chanting, waving flags and causing a ruckus. I saw this and was a little disturbed by it. I don't begrudge anyone for wanting to celebrate. I merely pause to ponder it. I pause to ponder the celebration of the killing of a person. I know that most people believe that Bin Laden isn't a person, but a monster who killed thousands of innocent people, and I won't dispute that. I don't even necessarily dispute the order to bring him to justice, dead or alive.
What I dispute is the live shot that CNN held on TV of the celebrating crowd and what it signifies or means. My question is what does it mean that people would celebrate the killing of another human being, even one that's universally hated.
Some may think that I'm condemning the people celebrating outside the White House. Just after midnight, CNN got a live camera on Ground Zero in New York City where crowds of people were gathering too. The scene in the spot of Bin Laden's greatest attack in Manhattan didn't have the same vibe as that initial vibe outside the White House, which felt more exuberant and more elated. People in Washington were actually cheering Bin Laden's death.
Again, I'm not condeming the cheering. I simply couldn't help but feel weird and a little disturbed by it. To have exuberance, elation or extreme happiness over the killing of a person is a little disturbing to me. The news of the killing didn't make me personally feel exuberance, elation or happiness. At first, I felt surprised, surprised that after ten years since September 11, 2001, Bin Laden was finally found, not in caves in Afghanistan but in a mansion in Pakistan. Secondly, I felt relief, relief that a man responsible for thousands of deaths had finally been stopped. I felt relief and some comfort, but nothing that would make me want to sing, dance or cheer.
To reiterate, I don't condemn or begrudge anyone who would sing, dance or cheer at this news, but I am curious as to what it means. At around 1AM on FOX News, Geraldo Rivera had a live camera within that crowd just outside the White House. He commented that the vibe for those people was like Mardi Gras or New Year's. Granted, that most of those people in the crowd were college kids from George Washington University, as well as some service men and women and their families, but Rivera described their vibe as like "party central."
To me, it's disturbing that people would throw a party for the killing of another person. I know that there are funerals that instead of dressing in black and being somber are occasions where people drink and remember good things, but this is usually for people who are beloved and most time in cases of people who aren't murdered, even if it's a government-sanctioned murder.
For example, if a person has been tried and convicted in a court of law and they get the death penalty, do we celebrate that with singing and dancing? Whether it's the gas chamber or lethal injection, often times the victims' families and even media will be allowed to watch executions. Would it be appropriate for those in attendance to cheer as the inmate or convict is being killed. Arguably, we could agree that if a person is being executed, he or she probably deserved it and is a bad person, but is it okay to celebrate the needle going into the arm to kill that person? Is it okay to celebrate that with cheers and beers, as those kids from GWU who were surrounding Geraldo Rivera were doing?
If the answer is yes, and it is okay, then my next question is what does that say about our culture, especially our media culture, film and TV, which glorifies violence often. A couple of weeks ago, a movie was released in theaters called Scream 4, and in that film there's a scene where a group of teenagers and college kids are watching a horror movie and whenever they see someone get killed, they cheer. They actually celebrate watching killings. They're not scared or disturbed. They celebrate. When I saw it, I thought it to be a ridiculous scene and total exaggeration, but I now remark on how accurately satirical that scene really was.
It harkened back to a movie that came out earlier in the year called The Eagle. It was a sword-and-sandals movie, not unlike Gladiator (2000) but not as well done. It starred Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. In the movie, there's a scene where Tatum's character is sitting in an arena watching a fight where Bell's character is about to be killed, and the crowd around Tatum is celebrating and cheering for Bell to be murdered, despite Bell's character already being defeated and on the ground. As I watched this scene, I felt as Tatum's character felt that there's something possibly wrong with the celebrating and cheering of this killing, and perhaps to a lesser extent the wanting of it.
In that movie, Bell's character represented a group that the crowd hated. Tatum's character had sympathy for Bell, which is basic humanity as opposed to the weird animal nature of those around him. Now, I have absolutely no sympathy for Bin Laden nor do I think that anyone should, but following the news of Bin Laden's death, I got a message from Twitter.com. The tweet was from David Chen, the Managing Editor of the Slashfilmcast. Chen posted a blog, which rounded up some insightful articles about the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death. You can read it here.
But basically, Chen cited an article by Alexis Madrigal, which appeared online following the announcement for The Atlantic. Madrigal wrote, "I did not think the spontaneous party outside the White House was our finest hour." When speaking about how the crowd reacted, he went on to write, "As a public, we were loud and boorish and silly. We treated the killing of a man who promoted the killing of thousands of Americans like a game with no consideration of the past or future costs."
Chen also re-tweeted a quote from Harry Waizer, a 9/11 survivor. Waizer was quoted in a New York Times article by Elizabeth A. Harris, which appeared online following the news as well. Waizer said, "I just can't find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden."
And, I found myself sharing in this tweet's sentiment. Yes, there are tons of movies like action flicks or horror flicks where people are glad when bad people are killed, but what does that truly mean? Like I've said, I've felt relief or comfort, but I've never cheered a killing before because I'm not convinced that cheering it is a good thing no matter the person or the context, and given that hundreds of people did cheer for it on live television, it concerns me from a cultural standpoint.