Snowden saga in overdrive after flight to Russia

Internet snark intensifies amid uncertainty about NSA leaker Edward Snowden's current whereabouts.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Journalists show passengers arriving from Hong Kong a tablet with a photo of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programs, at Sheremetyevo airport, just outside Moscow, Sunday.

If the Edward Snowden saga didn't feel enough like a spy flick yet, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein pushed it over the edge when she told CBS’s Face the Nation that “the chase is on.”

Having been surreptitiously whisked out of Hong Kong hours before an extradition request from the US went into affect, Mr. Snowden and a shadowy associate arrived in Moscow yesterday, only to disappear again today when the world’s most wanted man failed to show up to a booked flight to Cuba.

But unlike a spy movie, where the character operates with stealth and under cover of darkness, Snowden has been accompanied every step of the way by an ever-watchful audience. As several cranky journalists aboard an Aeroflot flight to Havana can attest, the Snowden story has taken on a life of its own.

As the Huffington Post reported, Snowden’s no-show surprised dozens of journalists who rushed to grab a ticket aboard his flight to Cuba, only to be greeted by an empty seat.

There is even a Twitter feed dedicated to his unoccupied Aeroflot seat

This is only one instance of the fixation on Snowden, as everyone seems to have something to say and the Internet has provided the platform for panoply of jokes, memes, and commentary.

On Twitter, Snowden’s fate and his possible whereabouts are the subject of massive speculation, and no small number of wisecracks:

Others have used it as an opportunity to poke fun at Russian President Vladimir Putin as well:

Several high-profile figures have come out in public to either support Snowden, like Oliver Stone, or to condemn him, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney. And as if it were some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, there have already been negotiations over the film rights to his story, as the Guardian reports. However, most of this attention has been focused on Snowden and his personal life, rather than the issues of privacy and surveillance that his leaks have raised. There's even a popular mania surrounding his pole-dancing girlfriend.

“The story is extremely Hollywoodesque,” says Professor Sarah Sobieraj, an associate professor of sociology at Tufts University. “News is character driven… Snowden is a very compelling character from a storytelling perspective.”

This is not to say that important conversations aren't taking place online and in creative ways. Don't like the administration's surveillance habits? There's a Tumblr for that: Obama is Checking Your Email. BuzzFeed parodied Obama's snooping agenda following revelations about the US government's phone surveillance by reimagining a Verizon ad campaign.

But in many cases, these discussions are crowded out by the larger-than-life details of Snowden's location and plans.

“Is he a hero or a traitor? This complexity is interesting to people,” says Prof. Sobieraj. “[But] the fact that the focus is more on where he is and what is going to happen to him and considerably less than the national surveillance and privacy issues is problematic.”

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