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Homepage / national security

How Osama bin Laden Has Evolved in Pop Culture

photo of Julia Edwards
May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden was not unknown to many Americans before the September 11 terrorist attacks, but afterwards he became a pop culture heavyweight: Terror personified on the one hand and a symbol to be mocked on the other. Looking back on the first images of the al-Qaida leader tracks the changes in public discourse on terrorism. 

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Comedians cast bin Laden as the arch-nemesis of President George W. Bush. Above, Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell impersonates the president on October 6, 2001: "Make no mistake, we are coming for you, bin Laden. I’m gonna make you my own personal Where’s Waldo."

Country and novelty singer Ray Stevens was particularly aggressive in lampooning the terrorist. In the title track of his 2002 album Osama-Yo'Mama, Stevens sang, "Osama -- yo' mama didn't raise you right / When you were young, she must have wrapped yo' turban too tight."

Alongside the influx of American flags that waved in a resurgence of patriotism was anti-bin Laden paraphernalia. Above: crosshairs over bin Laden's face as printed on mugs, posters, and T-shirts at the start of the war on terror.

Darryl Worley, seen above with U.S. troops, released Have You Forgotten? in 2003 in part as a response to the backlash against U.S. military action. Worley sang, "Don't you tell me not to worry 'bout bin Laden. Have you forgotten?"

About 24 hours before President Obama would announce the death of Osama bin Laden, Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers cracks a joke about the terrorist's whereabouts at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Meyers's joke reflects the change in bin Laden's public image in the U.S. from reachable to elusive. Obama, who's seen laughing along, had already authorized the mission to take out the terrorist.

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