We may never know, in perfect detail, what happened during the hunt for and eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, as film director Kathryn Bigelow confessed during the Washington, D.C., premiere of “Zero Dark Thirty” on Tuesday night. There is still information that, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain hidden from view, always behind a whispering veil of secrecy.
But in the age of the Internet, that whisper sounds a little different – a little louder, perhaps — than it might have sounded in the past. Today, we are used to having information available at our fingertips on just about everything. Rarely can the word “data” be said without the word “big” directly in front of it. Even the former director of the CIA learned the hard way that it is all but impossible to keep anything online secret for very long.
Watching the Academy Award-nominated film, directed by Bigelow of “Hurt Locker” fame and based on the screenplay by investigative reporter Mark Boal, it occurred to me that this transformation in our outlook on access to information has probably altered the nature of mythology.
“I believe I was spared so I could finish the job,” says fictional CIA agent Maya in probably the most quintessentially heroic line of the film — an engaging and visceral exploration of the intelligence gathering and eventual raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But the movie is still somewhat hazy on the grim details that data-drenched audiences want to be absolutely certain about.
Since the raid, video games have been released featuring the bin Laden compound and a book by one of the Navy SEALs who participated in the raid has slid up and down the best-seller lists. The desire to know every detail about the raid runs very deep for many who are likely to see the movie.
And one additional detail may yet surface. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that a court will consider whether the government should release photographs taken of bin Laden post-mortem.
Perhaps this means that whatever’s left of the bin Laden hunt and raid mythology will be short-lived. But in being short-lived, it will be a testament to the nature of mythology in the digital age: a temporary semi-fiction eventually blown away by facts delivered under the duress of a public that knows the data is there to be had and will not be denied.
Kolawole is the editor of Ideas@Innovations.
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