Is it OK to joke about bin Laden?

The al Qaeda leader died violently, and leaves a legacy of mass-murder. But that hasn't stopped many Americans from laughing about his demise

President Obama attends a 9/11 ceremony in New York City Thursday: Despite the gruesome circumstances of his killing, some say its OK to joke about bin Laden.
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The killing of Osama bin Laden has stirred up painful memories of 9/11 and spurred President Obama to place a wreath at New York's World Trade Center site to honor victims of the attacks. Yet within hours of the raid that killed bin Laden, jokes about the al Qaeda leader's demise erupted on the internet and late-night TV. (David Letterman: "At least bin Laden lived to see the royal wedding.") Is it cathartic to laugh about something as deadly serious as the shooting of a terrorist blamed for killing thousands of innocent people? (Watch Jimmy Kimmel's bin Laden Real Housewives spoof.)

With bin Laden, it is not too soon: There's usually a waiting period before it's safe to joke about death, says Carol Hartsell at The Huffington Post. But there was nothing "shocking or inappropriate" about the brutal mockery of bin Laden. "There's an obvious difference between jokes about a disaster that killed thousands of innocent men, women, and children and jokes about the most wanted man in the world being shot in the head by a Navy SEAL."

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Some bin Laden jokes are better than others: Some comics pulled it off brilliantly, says Scott Wampler at How can you quibble with Jon Stewart's mockery of the media bending over backwards to avoid spilling the news before Obama came on the air to announce it? On the other hand, Jimmy Kimmel's take, in which he inserted bin Laden into the role of the party-going corpse in Weekend at Bernie's, didn't quite work, and understandably generated some controversy.

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And other jokes were just tasteless: "A case can be made for laughing in the face of darkness as a way to overcome obstacles, for sure," says Brenna Ehrlich at Mashable, "but there do seem to be some cases where the revelry can go too far." For example, Next Media Animation released one of its bizarre computer-animated videos on Monday "depicting bin Laden's gruesome death, soldiers urinating on his body, and, finally, his spirit being gang-raped by pigs." The video has been yanked.

"Too soon? Osama bin Laden memes abound"

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