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Retrospect: OBL In The Media

President Obama's historic address on Sunday night put a closure on America's hunt for the "world's most wanted man", but what about his decade-long trail of footprints in the media and on the web? Having been a both political and fundamental religious figure whose messages were broadcast around the world, Osama bin Laden certainly made himself an easy target for mockeries online, as well as parodies in pop culture. Here's a brief history of how Osama bin Laden has been portrayed in the Western media and on the Internet:

Osama bin Laden in the Media

  • From September 2001 to May 2011, over 35 video tapes (unconfirmed and verified) carrying bin Laden's announcements were broadcast across major U.S. networks and worldwide, not to mention dozens of documentaries and published books detailing the history of his upbringing and involvement with al-Qaeda.

  • Since the beginning of War on Terror in 2001, whereabouts of Osama bin Laden had been a hotly debated topic, spawning numerous conspiracy theories and media speculations throughout the decade. One of the most widespread theories asserted that bin Laden died of kidney disease or military air strikes in 2002 during the Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan and the U.S. government has been forging evidence to sustain the myth that he is still alive. This debate reached its pinnacle in 2007 with the release of a videotape depicting a man who looked noticeably different in comparison to bin Laden's appearances, inviting various media speculations that he might have been deceased for some time.

  • Google search shows there are over 53 million webpages and 5 million images associated with the keyword "Osama bin Laden."

  • Along with U.S. president George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden is arguably one of the most photoshopped political figures in the past decade, fueled by post-9/11 patriotism and anti-war activism from both sides. YTMND search lists 285 sites containing the word "Osama" in the title, though many of them have been posted as bait-and-switch links.

  • Osama bin Laden has been also portrayed through popular American TV shows. In the Family Guy episode "Road to Rhode Island," bin Laden attempts to evade airport security by singing a show tune. In another episode titled "PTV," bin Laden is seen laughing out loud while attempting to record a threatening video message to the US. He has been also portrayed in a number of South Park episodes. American Dad! also aired an episode where bin Laden is already in the US working undercover as an accountant.

  • After a series of failed attempts at locating and killing Osama bin Laden, people began comparing the man to Waldo from the popular puzzle book "Where's Waldo?"

  • Bin Laden has been a staple character in several drawing / exploitable memes, including fsjal and Conga! and Bert is Evil.

  • On YouTube, there are dozens of parodies, remixes and original skits based on the al-Qaeda leader, typically dressed in green camouflage jacket as shown in his video messages.

Author's Note

This week, we've been monitoring and documenting an unprecedented scale and scope of online conversations over Osama bin Laden's death, which already set an all-time high record for Internet traffic and number of tweets per second. While most user-generated images and videos illustrate the Americans' reactions towards the news, there is yet another wave of conspiracy theories rising on the horizon: Is Osama bin Laden really really dead? For reals, is he dead?

The U.S. military's decision to give him a low-profile burial at sea has certainly invited speculations from skeptics and conspiracy theorists already, not to mention American public's growing demand for Pics or It Didn't Happen (a recent image allegedly showing his corpse has been identified as fake).

So now that Osama bin Laden is a dead man, what now? Will the cloud of conspiracies and myths that have surrounded the man for years after years simply fade away into realm of history? Are we going to stop talking about bin Laden? Or will it be the birth of a new internet folklore and an icon, like the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler who still lives on in his Berlin bunker, ranting furiously over the death of an ally in Pakistan?

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