I like to watch, Dave.
— Chauncey Gardiner, Being There
Where is the DoD going with the video of bin Laden watching TV, the scene that has circulated as much as the “rehearsal” clip also released this past weekend?
1. A Proper Living Room
To an American audience (reinforced by who knows how many sitcoms and commercials), watching TV in a house nearly always involves a sofa. If we’ve seen lots of scary video clips of bin Laden sitting on the ground outside or in a tent, this indoor, suburban bin Laden is intended to look pathetic — a couch potato with no couch.
More media associations: You can’t make anyone seem more common or pathetic, even, than to depict them as a TV-crazed channel-flipper. Maybe the bearded one was running the network off of thumb drives. Still, Americans equate a scene like this to: “looking for a life.”
3. Bed-time, Osama!
Sketch out for American audiences someone sitting on the floor for hours a day amidst wires, gizmos, video boxes and what have you, and the picture that typically comes up is the bedroom of a twelve-year-old boy.
4. Down and Out
If sitting on the floor in a blanket is a common scene in Central Asia, paring OBL in a blanket and a loose fitting knit cap in a room with dingy walls and hanging wires, and — again, to a Western audience — it connotes: “indigent,” even “crackhead.”
5. The Narcissism Factor
And yeah, even though you can bet everyone from Mike Huckabee, Joe Biden and even Hillary (when she’s not overly suffering from her “allergies“) must love watching themselves on TV and we can be sure folks from Justin Bieber to Jay Rosen keep almost daily tabs on their Twitter tally, the assumption here is that OBL, actually caught watching himself on TV (although we Americans will deny to the death how narcissistic we are), is good for a “gotcha.”
(4pm PST – slightly revised)
(video: Department of Defense via PBS)