Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A chapter finishes...

Images can define an era more than a multitude of words. Even in our Digital Age, notable for the challenges of information overload and multiple media on demand, a single image can still have a deep impact. The United States has long known this and has often demonstrated its power through a single photograph - the hoisting of a flag over Iwo Jima or a man on a moon being two prime examples of an outward exertion of this power and a napalmed Vietnamese girl running towards the camera or an airplane hitting a skyscraper being images that critiqued or challenged this power.

Whether the picture given above joins this canon remains to be seen, but I would say that the image - taken (with permission) from the White House's Flickr profile - is one that speaks volumes about a blip in the American narrative that will be long remembered. It captures if not the moment but at least one of the moments during the killing of Osama Bin Laden, which was reportedly being livestreamed to the watching crowd via a camera in a Navy Seal's helmet. A mediated virtual reality, given meaning and validity by the screen the action appears on.

The audience for this 'reality show' sit rapt, eyes transfixed on the action unfolding on the screen in front of them. It could be a football game, looking at the expressions on the faces, but we the viewer of the viewers know better than that. The President is almost squeezed in the corner, a bit player in the room. His Secretary of State wears the tension in the room more visibly than the other assembled military personnel and support staff. Laptops and coffee cups cover the table and 'the winning goal' is yet to be scored.

What a contrast Obama makes with his predecessor, both in the images that he chooses to project of himself and the approach he takes to vengeance. Of course, he remains the President of the United States and 'killing the bad guys' is his job (or at least acting as commander of those that do). Guantanamo is still open. Afghanistan drags off. But Obama is no George Bush.

A chapter closed yesterday in the global narrative currently being told by the United States that began before the planes hit the World Trade Center. If history teaches us anything though, it should be that the story is far from over...

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