The Best Thing About Teenagers: They Didn't Know Bin Laden

Obliviousness seems a fitting tribute to a mass murderer

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Osama bin Laden became a household name just shy of 10 years ago, which means there are people today who have known about him for as long as they've been politically conscious. Now that bin Laden is dead, the younger generation is going through its own kind of emotional readjustment. It is tempting to think of teenagers as clueless, but in this instance, it's a strangely comforting way to pay tribute to a mass murderer: do not acknowledge him. But the last day's worth of media frenzy have made them more than aware and here are a few of the reactions we've seen from millennials:

Trepidation. Adam Mawson at Ohio's The Morning Journal talks to high-school students, some of whom were in kindergarten on September 11, 2001. Many of them heard about bin Laden's death through Facebook, which didn't exist when the terrorist attacks took place. Janelis Quinones, 17, said that she "was nervous" when she heard: "Everything started flooding through my head. People think that just because he's dead it's over and it's not." Melody Oritz, also 17, echoed these thoughts: "I believe there's going to be more threats ... I don't think it's going to be the end of it. I know [finding Bin Laden] is a good thing because there was a war going on. Some people think it's going to end, but I don't."

Ambivalence. The Seattle Times interviewed a number of college students and found some pushback against all the celebration. "It was disgusting," said Joseph Heffernan, 22. "It just shows how much American exceptionalism is a part of our culture, because of the way we were jubilantly celebrating the illegal assassination of an -- undoubtedly evil -- man." Thanh Hyunh, 21, said that while the "symbolic victory" was important, bin Laden "was killed violently. No one should celebrate violence."

Jubilation. Richard Beck at n+1 took a cab out to Ground Zero on Sunday night and took in the crowd; the singing, the chanting, the camera crews. Beck describes how "two men who probably aren't out of college yet climbed a telephone pole ... They displayed a painted cardboard sign, reading, 'Obama--1, Osama--0,' to cheering. And then, to extended, loud cheering, they popped open two bottles of champagne and sprayed people near the telephone pole." Not everyone was pleased with this display, Beck notes:

Three young women, looking up at the telephone-pole boys with the rest of us, were unhappy with the attention they received. "Why aren't we looking at the monument?" one said, referring to the Freedom Tower that has begun to rise out of the ground. "Why are we looking at two douche-bags waving flags around? I just feel like it's not respectful. I don't know how I feel about this whole event."

Puzzlement. Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing points us toward an interesting phenomenon: It looks like a lot of people on Twitter don't actually know who Osama bin Laden was. Jardin posts a screenshot of the writer Ned Hepburn's Twitter feed, where Hepburn has been retweeting puzzled messages since yesterday: "Who is Osama bin Laden???" "Who is osama?! & why is it so good he died?!" "Who is Osama bin Laden? is he famous? am i the only one who don't know who is he?"

Evidently not. According to the Yahoo Search Blog, one in five Yahoo searches for "Osama bin Laden" on May 1 was conducted by a teenager, and "25% of searches overall for Osama came from those under 24." The top search on Yahoo was "is Osama bin Laden dead?"--which, don't worry, there's already a single-serving Web site for that--but people were also wondering "how old is Osama bin Laden" (#4), "how tall is Osama bin Laden" (#8), and, yes, "who is Osama bin Laden" (#5). Yahoo says that 66 percent of the people searching for "who is Osama bin Laden" were ages 13 to 17.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.