A Brief Survey of Osama Bin Laden in Pop Culture

Coming soon: a likely storm of Osama Bin Laden–related entertainment, from Discovery Channel “insta-mentaries” to high-profile Kathryn Bigelow movies. But all of this imminent material will, of course, have to reflect the historical events of Sunday night. Which means it’s time to say good-bye to a specific era in bin Laden’s pop-culture representation, the period between the 9/11 attacks and the day he died. He was mocked, he was animated, he was rapped about, he was fake-assassinated — he really got around. A quick look back at how pop culture has tackled OBL up till now.

Not surprisingly, it was South Park that jumped the gun: Within two months of 9/11, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had hustled “Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants” onto the air. His depiction — as a crazed buffoon, spouting gibberish and running around aimlessly — was a safe move considering the environment at the time. In retrospect, though, making him the feckless Elmer Fudd to Cartman’s Bugs Bunny was bolder than it seemed, a subtle “Okay, I know you’re pissed, but let’s try to chill the fuck out” to America.

Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants

Bin Laden would be a recurring character on South Park and (sensibly, considering the detachment animation provides) cartoons in general. Whatever your latter-day opinions of Family Guy, this bit — in which Osama breaks character during a videotaping, revealing himself as a lovably self-deprecating dude intent on cracking the cave up — is pretty brilliant.

Osama Bin Laden- Family Guy
Tags: Osama Bin Laden- Family Guy

Elsewhere on Family Guy, the episode “Meet the Quagmires” had this exchange, provided without context:

Molly Ringwald: Hey, did you guys hear on the news about President Gore hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden with his bare hands?

Lois: I know! Who would have thought bin Laden was hiding out in the cast of MADtv?

There was also this throwaway joke about bin Laden evading authorities:

The Simpsons tended to skirt the topic, with bits on a website called “Bin Laden in a Blender,” a reference to Homer and Osama being pen pals, and Krusty selling a line of merchandise that includes the character Osama Bin Scratchy.

Over in the realm of live action, there are also some goodies. Most recently, Chuck featured a bin Laden shooting-range target. Way to be freakishly topical, Chuck!

Here’s Bruce Willis in Robert Rodriguez’s underrated Planet Terror, explaining how he killed Osama:

Sayid! By the way, the “two in his heart, one in his computer” is almost what actually happened: CNN says bin Laden was shot once in the chest and once in the head. Don’t quote us or anything, but we think “two in the chest, one in the head” might be military protocol for these situations? Referring to someone’s brain as a “computer,” though, is not.

The fake B-movie above is a good segue into a real B-movie: In 2007’s Postal, from notoriously schlocky director Uwe Boll, bin Laden and crew are looking to infect dolls with bird flu, and that is certainly just the tip of the B-movie iceberg. More people are probably aware of Morgan Spurlock’s stunt-umentary Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden, in which the handlebar’d one set out to track down the world’s most wanted man. Spoiler alert! He did not find him.

Better, then, is this bit from Louie, in which Louis C.K. undergoes some heavy-duty medication while at the dentist’s office that leads to an imagined sit-down with bin Laden. Louie then asks him if he would want someone to do a “9/11-y thing to you.” That was just from last summer, but live-action bin Laden in a comedy still felt risqué. (Points, then, to Louie for this being yet another crazy idea that show managed to more or less pull off.)

Speaking of real-life bin Ladens: Way back in 2002, a prime-era Eminem donned the familiar flak jacket for his “Without Me” video. In this scenario, he’s a high-stepping, fun-loving Osama, and he is ultimately discovered and hunted down by Eminem’s crew, D12. Needless to say, if this actually happened, it would be by far the most productive thing a famous rapper’s crew had ever done.

Hip-hop in general is obsessed with referencing OBL. T.I. pushed forth the trend in 2002, with “Rubber Band Man”: While bin Laden himself was absent from the lyrics, T.I. did describe himself as “wild as the Taliban.” From there, it was a hop and a skip to rappers positively identifying with some of the gnarlier aspects of Osama’s public persona.

Swizz Beatz, on Kanye’s “Lord Lord Lord”: “All white Bentley, I call that momma / My life crazy, like Obama’s / You talk slick well, I’m Osama / Bin Laden, what’s happenin’ I get it crackin.’”

Sometime-rapper M.I.A., on “I Got Grapes (Lazer Sword Treemix)”: “Down there in my garden / I keep my trees hidden like bin Laden / Down there in my garden / I keep my shit hidden like bin Laden.”

Rick Ross, on “Blow,” compares facial hair with the infamous terrorist: “Ridin’ with that big thang, lookin’ like a bomb threat / Bin Laden beard, Afghan in a bomb vest.”

Some emcees have a social conscious about it. Common, on Jadakiss’s “Why” remix: “Why is Bush acting like he trying to get Osama / why don’t we impeach him and elect Obama?” (Note: This was a while ago.)

Sometimes, through, referencing Osama is just a helpful way of timekeeping. Jay-Z, from “Beware of the Boys”: “It’s international Hov, been having a flow / Before bin Laden got Manhattan to blow.”

Or to be funny. Das Racist, on “Shorty Said”: “Wait, shorty said I look like Osama / Plus Obama, minus the drama.”

Or to demonstrate your power. Jay-Z again, on “The Bounce”: “Rumor has it, The Blueprint classic / Couldn’t even be stopped by bin Laden / So September 11th marks the era forever / of a revolutionary, Jay Guevera” (Blueprint came out on September 11th).

Okay! Other than stand-up jokes that more or less follow the construction “they can find my cousin Jerry but they can’t find Osama?” — what’d we miss?

A Brief Survey of Osama Bin Laden in Pop Culture