Friday, May 06, 2011

Osama bin Laden and the Dread Pirate Roberts

It has been very interesting watching the administration's finesse in handling the bin Laden assassination. Some of the interest was in doing the right thing because it is the right thing, some of it has been to make sure that there was as little backlash in the Muslim world as possible, but some of it has been driven by the desire to deflate bin Laden instead of inflate him. The possibility of conspiracy theories has been a genuine concern and things have been done in the way they have to try to create a context the inhibits the rise of conspiracy theories. The question I have is how important this squelching really is.

What the Obama administration is clearly worried about is the "Dread Pirate Roberts Syndrome." In The Princess Bride, when Wesley explains how he both is and is not the dread pirate Roberts, he recounts getting the title from someone else who had inherited it. "It is the name that is important." The "brand" dread pirate Roberts is what instills fear and gives the current Roberts his power, regardless of who happens to be the CEO of DPR, LLC at the time. What concerned the President was that the disappearance of bin Laden would give his name a similar power.

But would the conspiracy theories make bin Laden legendary or would it marginalize those who bought into it? Think of those who did not -- and especially those who still do not -- believe that President Obama was born in Hawaii. The so-called birthers are an embarrassment to conservatives. Would the same be true of those who thought that bin Laden was alive and living with Elvis somewhere in Michigan?

Are the conspiracy theories that may have sprung up around Osama bin Laden to be feared, or do they help identify and marginalize those would seek to introduce other forms of nonsense into the popular discourse?