Gadhafi: Pop culture meets reality

The words shouted by Dr. Emmett Brown are still ringing in my head, decades after they were uttered.
“It’s the Libyans!” he screamed into the night from an empty Hill Valley, Calif., parking lot in 1985 as a baby blue Volkswagen van carrying a man firing a machine gun quickly approached.
That scene from the sci-fi movie “Back to the Future” — fair or not — was my introduction to the North African country of Libya.

Gadhafi statue

Rebel fighters trample on a head of Moammar Gadhafi inside the Libyan leader’s main compound in Tripoli on Tuesday. The longtime leader is still at large despite the opposition forces taking control of most of the city. (Sergey Ponomarev / Associated Press)

And it wasn’t until the attacks on the World Trade Center (1993 and 2001) and the bombing of the USS Cole that I expanded my image of terrorists beyond the “Libyans” portrayed in the film.
As a child of the ’80s, I haven’t given Moammar Gadhafi’s name the same villainous weight as Americans older than I am. Until recently, I’ve viewed him as more of a cartoon character than a threat to the greater good.
After spending a significant amount of time in America’s and President Reagan’s doghouse, Gadhafi went silent for 20-plus years. And when he did appear, he seemed like a caricature of the man who had been Public Enemy No. 1. His Bono-esque trademark sunglasses, combined with his lavish — and sometimes outlandish — attire, made him more of a late-night punch line than a despised dictator.
The PG-Gadhafi in my head merged with the real-life tyrant who denied Libya’s citizens their human rights and had thousands killed when singers Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Usher and Nelly Furtado were criticized this year for accepting “blood money” for performing for the leader’s children in the past four years.
It seems inevitable that his almost 42-year reign as dictator of Libya is days — if not hours — from coming to a close. Rebels in the country stormed Gadhafi’s compound Tuesday, but there was no sign of the 69-year-old and his loyal sons. This week, world leaders, including President Obama, urged the hated leader to step down as plans for a post-Gadhafi Libya began to take shape.
Another line from Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, in that scene from “Back to the Future” was: “They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me.”
Let’s hope those words, spoken in a fictitious film, will be said in a real-life ending for Gadhafi.

Jimmy Bellamy is the multimedia editor at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at (218) 723-5390 or This column originally appeared here.