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Picture This!

07 May Posted by in Jewelle Gomez | 2 comments
Picture This!

Last week the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of Navy Seals rocked US citizens and most of the world. I’m not one for cheering at the death of anyone, even a sexist, despotic killer. I think celebrating any death diminishes life in general. But that’s just me.

For years the world will be debating whether or not the White House should release the graphic photos of that death, trivializing (I think) the death itself. Perhaps some might want the pictures delivered with an original copy of the Presidents birth certificate?

What I found most interesting in the news coverage is what has become an iconic photograph of the President and his national security team in the War Room (is there a Peace Room?) watching the attack on OBL’s compound and presumably his death. That photo is telling and chilling as it shows their rapt attention before a bank of laptop screens where the video of the raid must be streaming.

Most of the team, white and male, sit stony-faced as they, I imagine, try to digest the shocking images before them. They are rigid and non-revealing, after years of training in public service. I don’t say this as a criticism, just an observation of what kind of behavior political people utilize to navigate the choppy waters of public life. Movie starlets respond by appearing half naked, make up smeared and drunk; politicians adopt expressions so bland they could be watching a TV commercial for paint thinner.

The President and his Secretary of State were an interesting departure from the ranks. In contrast to the other men the President’s body language was more complex, less cloaked. Normally a man with very upright and elegant posture, the President here was slumped forward in his seat. Clearly taking in what he saw but also looking almost puzzled.

Even more dramatically Hillary Clinton sat with her hand clasped over her mouth in a much more raw reaction. Her expression reflected the horror of death she was witnessing. Through her eyes we can feel the depth of what is going on. And even if she refutes her posture, claiming she was holding back a cough…well I think I’ll go with I see.

Each of the people in that room will forever carry the image of those acts with them, as they should. There was no evidence of joy in that room in that particular photo, rather the solemnity and burden of the event pervades even those who are masked. So too, will the soldiers who carried out the mission, if they are truly moralistic humans, feel the weight of the deaths that day. That is as it should be. Taking a life, even one of a killer, is no small matter despite what video games teach us. If we can’t make the death of another dignified we should at least carry it ourselves with dignity.

The death of OBL signals many different things to many different people. Who knows what it will mean for terrorism and the war. But that photograph of those faces in the War Room says so much about what war means; about who wages war; how we come to believe in war and how we each approach and live with war differently. Sometimes if feels like Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are just like the politicians who held those positions before them. But truth is they do have many things in common with the predecessors but they will never be just like them…fortunately.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories. Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp. Or her website:

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  • Gina says:

    Really well Said.
    Thank you!

  • rachel wahba says:

    their faces…yes, depart from the usual…their feelings are showing…when the face of war is in your face its sombering, deep, and there is no room for cheering as if some sports team has won.