The Infamous “We Got Him Party”

May 2011 sparked a very interesting perspective on American culture. Osama bin Laden was killed by navy seals, and we celebrated. At the time I was a junior in high school, and I remember GOING CRAZY. Me and my gang of kooks got a bunch of beer and threw the infamous “We Got Him Party,” and like you guessed, at no point did we stop shouting in each other’s faces “WE GOT HIM!” The performance of celebrating death certainly empowered us, which was what really got the momentum of the shin-dig going. However, this performance of death is important to analyze in that it is like no other I have ever witnessed and is still happening. In reflection I now look back at that party with complicated emotions. Yes, this was a productive event for the safety of our nation, but what about my celebration of death made it insensitive?

“Echoes in the Bone” quotes Victor Tuner in his book “Forest in symbols” saying “Celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders of kings.” The connections between this text and the death of bin Laden is blatant.

I would never hesitate to admit that the death of Osama bin Laden was a great thing. He was the most impactful terrorist in American history. Obviously, he was viewed globally with intense collective attention since he was responsible for the formation of the terrorist group Al-Queada. Although Al-Queada is still an active terrorist group, since the death of their leader in 2011, they have had “tactical issues,” with its leadership and no longer operates on the scale that the group previously had. This is fluent with Peter Metcalf’s quote in “Echoes of the Bone,” “It seems that the most powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, by a strange and dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader…

The news of his death provided a sense of comfort (or social renewal) to a large part of the American population who were living in fear of terrorism since September 11th 2001. By renewing the sense of powerful American pride, the death of the terrorist marked a turning point for American moral in the war against terror. Obviously, this event called for some sort of celebration.

Recently Rob O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden, has appeared in the media for speaking out against president Trump’s plan for a military parade. His status in this story proves we as a culture still celebrate his achievement even years later. If any other SEAL spoke out against Trump’s military parade, they would just be another person speaking out against the president. By acknowledging O’Neill in the news, we are celebrating the death of bin Laden since it is known that is the only event changing O’Neill’s status from Navy SEAL to celebrity is his achievement. Most news outlets didn’t even use his name in their headlines, they only printed “ Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden slams Trump’s military parade”

The mission to kill bin Laden was also performed in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” which was celebrated in American box offices only a year after the event. It stared Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain and made $132 million by marketing its narrative as “the greatest manhunt in human history.” It received overwhelmingly great reviews from publications like the New York Times and Time Magazine.

When talking about the performance of memory, this movie is the most obvious example. The events in the film are supposedly accurate performances of the mission to kill the terrorist and also explains how the mission was a near disaster. By performing the memory of the assassination—just like the actual assassination—it empowered Americans in the face of the things many of us have come to fear, via celebration.

Largely the difference between this celebration of death and the party I attended, is that the movie considered all events surrounding the assassination. In addition to explaining the mission, it offered a wider perspective by highlighting the ones lost in terrorist attacks, honoring the ones protecting our country and meditating on the progress that still needs to be done. Since the movie properly noted all the sensitive topics surrounding the assassination, this celebration of death was largely not viewed as offensive.

Looking at on my phone, I still have a photo of me and my friends smiling and holding the banner that said, “We got him!” and I know now that we took this too far. This can clearly be viewed as insensitive, not because a horrible human was killed, but because the “We Got Him Party” focused in on one death by ignoring the larger scope of a situation that included thousands of innocent deaths. This performance is the same and different as the performance of the tot-tanic that we discussed in class. It’s different in that, a celebration of death wasn’t out of line; but it’s the same in that we chose to ignore sensitive subject matter that was affiliated with the event for the empowerment of our performance. A celebrating a death that implies progress and greater safety in our country wasn’t an issue, attending a party that’s invitation said “come over and devour some chips and al queseo” was.

Performance of Memory & Conspiracy Theories

Well I’ve put this off for far too long…

As we continue to read our text in class it is very easy to see parallels between the key points we take away from the text and the actions of the characters (performers) in “When the Levees Broke.”

“Echoes in the bone refer to not only to a history of forgetting but to a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” —Joseph Roach, “Echoes in the Bone”

Apart from marginally having the best nickname in the film, Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook was the first to talk about the boom, or explosion, that happened in the lower ninth ward during the storm. The noise was never fully explained, but the residence had several theories as to what it was. Some suggested it was a transformer, a barge hitting the levee, a hole in the levee forming into a crack, and most noteworthy intentional dynamiting of the levee. This is the resurrection of the 1927 rumor that the levee was intentionally destroyed in Saint John Parish, and flooded more than a million people out of their homes, to preserve more expensive lake front property.

This was “never proven nor disproven,” however the parallels between the two disasters are incredibly strong and, conspiracy theories are stronger than levees. They can be overwhelmed by facts and not so much as crack. However, it doesn’t seem as if this conspiracy theory has been overwhelmed by facts, on either side of the argument. Professor Doug Brinkely of Tulane University, claims in his book “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast” that the people of New Orleans have had a sensitive on-going history with poor, racially based, treatment while in the face of disaster.

Professor Brinkely’s argument spawns directly from Roach’s key themes of the performance of memory. By performing the memories, the residents of the ninth ward—such as “Swamp Thing” himself—that witnessed the unexplained “boom” felt empowered to understand the present. “People who believed that the levee was dynamited, have a long experience of being ripped off.”

And it’s true, between hurricane Betsy and the 1927 floods the rural/impoverished sections of New Orleans have had a long history of misfortune that is clouded with the suspicion of poor justice. In a Time Magazine article, Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami claims, “Conspiracy theories are for losers.” Professor Uscinski does not mean this is a derogatory way, but in a literal way—people who have lost.

I find this very relatable. When I was a high school cross country runner we lost the federation championship to St. Anthony’s high school, horrifically. We were seeded to win… but we got our asses kicked. After the race settled weeks later a rumor surfaced that the team was using P.E.D’s to win the race. I believed it. I wholeheartedly thought I lost to a bunch of cheaters. But looking back at it, I know this is ridiculous to believe! We were children! I know that now, but now that I have distanced myself from the situation I know I should have known that then too. But I was too preoccupied being a loser.

In our topic of the flood history of New Orleans this is also very applicable. Every person involved had lost, whether it was family, homes, things or mental health. There were no winners. Yet weather or not (pun intended), the levees were intentionally destroyed, it is likely we will never know. There isn’t strong evidence for either side of the argument. But by performing the memories of the past, the citizens of New Orleans will feel more empowered to believe whatever they suspect.