Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2001 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Medved

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Zap! Have fun and help defeat terrorists, too --
WILL computer games win the war on terrorism?

The idea's not as outrageous as it sounds, especially in light of the determined and imaginative efforts launched by developers of these digital diversions. Dozens of free games have already turned up on the Internet, allowing players to do battle with murderous terrorists.

My favorite new offering, Yo Mamma, Osama! features an animated version of Osama bin Laden, who is hiding behind sand dunes to avoid the heavy fire you can direct at him. This inventive game, which solicits users to contribute funds for victims' relief, even features a brief appearance by O.J. Simpson. In Get Osama, another offering easy to download, players can aim cannons and rockets at the terrorist mastermind, who then disintegrates into ashes.

For teenage cybergeeks, there's Bad Dudes vs. bin Laden, in which you control a teenager in baggy pants and tank top who uses martial-arts maneuvers to cripple the world's most wanted terrorist. For connoisseurs of urban grit, Bin Laden Liquors allows players to fire away at the fugitive Saudi millionaire as he pops up behind a liquor-store counter, shouting anti-American slogans.

In addition to these participatory computer experiences, the Web offers a dazzling array of timely terrorist humor. I've installed a screen saver that presents the bright-purple, smiling image of a "Tali-Tubby;" it's a familiar plush Teletubby, complete with red purse, but additionally equipped with a submachine gun, long beard and turban, in the style of a "Tali-Terrorist."

Another choice in screen saver shows bin Laden riding on a flying carpet, tailed ominously and immediately by a U.S. Air Force F-18.

If you enjoy topical - and tropical - music, there's an animated version of the Calypso classic Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), ("Come Mr. Taliban/Hand over bin Laden!") as performed by a cartoon version of Colin Powell accompanied by George W. Bush eagerly beating his bongos.

Another animated skit shows demonstrators, chanting, swaying together, carrying placards with peace symbols and singing Kumbaya. They take a transport plane to Afghanistan, where they meet bin Laden - who is profoundly moved by their obvious sincerity. As tears roll down his cheeks and he offers to embrace the visitors, they suddenly remove their T-shirts and wigs, revealing themselves as camouflage-clad members of U.S. Special Forces - who proceed to take out submachine guns to eliminate the distressed al-Qa'eda leader and his colleagues.

Some might describe such comedy as tasteless and inappropriate, particularly in the face of the devastation we all experienced on Sept. 11 and the real warfare that currently occupies our armed forces. But the truth is that this sort of mockery of a hated enemy represents an honorable American tradition.

Crews of World War II bombers painted messages on the ordnance they risked their lives to deliver, addressing their bombs as "Special Delivery" to Hitler or Tojo. During that desperately destructive war, the madcap bandleader Spike Jones enjoyed a smash hit with his song, Der Fuehrer's Face - featuring bawdy, flatulent sound effects suggesting the rudest possible way to say, "Heil! Heil! Right in Der Fuehrer's Face!"

Part of the spirit that allowed our side to prevail in the epic struggle against Nazism involved our sense of humor - the spontaneous, earthy, edgy wit of ordinary people facing the prospect of defeat and even death with flair and elan. It's hard to imagine our German or Japanese adversaries in that conflict deploying similar comic commentary to ridicule their enemies - since neither regime normally would be associated with a hearty sense of humor.

And neither would the Taliban nor the al-Qa'eda terrorists, those scowling, death-embracing, fun-hating fanatics who despise America precisely because of the cheeky, irreverent, improvisational aspects of this society. Somehow, it seems perfectly appropriate that some sources reported that the terrorists considered Disney World and Disneyland major targets, and both parks closed briefly on Sept. 11. While FBI officials found no evidence of credible threats, it's only natural that terrorists would scorn these theme parks - lavish, glitzy, wildly imaginative places in which ordinary Americans spend billions of dollars for no other purpose than fun and laughter.

The computer games and humorous resources that have popped up everywhere on the Internet in recent weeks display not only America's rudeness, but also its dazzling creativity - with literally hundreds of thousands of people, some of them merely teenagers, expressing themselves and indulging their imaginations and exchanging comments.

Even those of us who have criticized vulgarity and rudeness on TV and in movies should celebrate these impolite expressions on the Internet. Unlike major network offerings or feature films, this Web wackiness hardly constitutes a well-considered investment by a huge corporation pushing a product on the public in order to make money. These inventive examples represent, rather, the most vivid demonstration of free speech possible - populist, spontaneous and, indeed, free.

It is this spirit, this explosive streetwise energy, that ensures our long-term victory in the complex struggle that lies ahead. Yes, computer games and gags can help win this war. There's little chance that our daughters will feel so attracted to Islamic radicalism that they'll start wearing burqas, but it's highly likely that the children of our enemies will don blue jeans and express themselves freely by playing silly games on the Internet.

JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved, a "survivor" of his own family with three kids, hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . You may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Michael Medved