Fall from Grace: Celebrities’ Support of Dictatorships
BY: ANDREW SVEDA, CONTRIBUTOR
“Did you see what he posted on Twitter? Oh, my gosh, no he didn’t! Is she going to break up with him? Have you watched the newest Keeping Up with the Kardashians yet? What did she wear to the Tony’s?”
This is the culture of modern America, one that is centered around supposedly superhuman celebrities. It seems as though the sun does not set without one of their names being mentioned, and they know this. With the limelight on these adored personalities, too many attempt to exert their political influence on the public. As the late MGM producer, Irving Thalberg, once put it, “Everyone has two businesses, their own and the movies.”
But in this article, I do not plan to focus on the modern political stances of famous notables. Rather, I would like to highlight their ignorance or indifference to the atrocities of totalitarian leaders. The most recent incident occurred this June, when the basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman flew to Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit his “old friend,” the ruthless Kim Jong Un, for the fifth time. Furthermore, despite hopes that “the Worm” would advocate for the release of the four Americans being held in the country, Rodman plainly confessed he just came to “have a good time.” It is important, however, to note that even though U.S. student Otto Warmbier was released (and has recently passed away), the NBA star was not involved in his return to the United States. He has also ignored the 120,000 native citizens in monstrous Soviet and Nazi-like prison camps, not to mention the starving millions of a nation that prioritizes its aggressive nuclear program over the needs of its people. By turning a blind eye to the atrocities of this Communist regime, he is silently accepting their human rights violations and hatred as, in his own words, “not that bad.”
This is not “Basketball Diplomacy.” This is a celebration of murder, oppression, and tyranny – a slap to all who stand for personal Liberty and decency. Rep. Eliot Engel (D, NY) rightfully condemned it as “the equivalent of taking Adolf Hitler to lunch.”
Although Rodman’s inexcusable reverence toward the North Korean dictator is repulsive in and of itself, he is not a complete outlier. Other celebrities have also praised autocrats, but many have not been held as accountable for their support.
For example, despite Sean Penn’s return into the spotlight with his interview with the “Robin Hood-like” drug lord, El Chapo, the actor’s praise of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been less publicized.
Chavez’s aspiration of a socialist utopia quickly spiraled into a country plagued by severe oppression, a neglect for human rights, and hunger. Specifically, Chavez ordered a major court packing scheme, further dismantled Venezuela’s democracy, and intimidated critics (such as the last large non-government television channels, RCTV and Globovision). The country’s National Assembly even denied foreign funds to any organization that seeks to “defend political rights” or just “monitor the performance of public bodies.” Additionally, the regime “detained and…expelled” employees from the Human Rights Watch after the organization published a revealing statement on the nation’s violation of human rights. Moreover, Venezuelan delegates at the United Nations “consistently voted against…resolutions condemning abusive practices in North Korea, Burma, Iran, and Syria,” and this is just a taste of Chavez’s terror. Bloomberg journalist Justin Fox also blames Chavez for Venezuela’s current economic disaster that has left nearly 90% of its citizens without enough money to purchase food as crime continues to surge to new heights.
Yet, despite all of Chavez’s destruction, Penn, joined by screenwriter Oliver Stone and director Michael Moore, called him “a friend” to the United States and “a champion” of “poor people around the world.” Like Rodman, Penn, Stone, and Moore have been swindled into believing a false reality.
The examples could go on forever, but an example that especially struck me was Robin Wright’s call for “a female Che Guevara” in the feminist movement, perpetuating America’s false view of Che Guevara. Multitudes today wear apparel or have posters that honor the “amazing revolutionary,” without knowing how Che murdered thousands of people without a fair trial and longed for a bloody war with the United States. In his own words, he barbarically announced, “If the nuclear missiles had remained [in Cuba during 1962], we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City…We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims…We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm.”
No one can celebrate this (or any) “cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.” But, why then, do many, including ordinary people, celebrate autocrats so often?
The answer is two-fold, and it starts with our education. America’s students first must learn about totalitarians from the past because, as 42%, 40%, 33%, and 18% of Millennials have not heard of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Lenin, and Stalin, respectively, per a 2016 poll. It is because of this ignorance of world, and especially Communist history, that students are not prepared to differentiate idealization and the truth about dictators such as those listed above. Thus, when celebrities or politicians discuss these profiles of history, it can easily influence the beliefs of Millennials and Generation Z-ers. It’s no surprise that over a quarter of all Americans (and 32% of Millennials) believe that George W. Bush killed more people than Joseph Stalin.
It is time to make a stand. We must be willing and prepared to hold people accountable for their ignorance of history, especially those with fame. It is our duty as Americans to remember the atrocities of the past for the defense of our freedoms today. If we forget, we may also neglect the beauty of freedom, for, as Ronald Reagan once stated, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Therefore, we, as Americans, must reclaim history from the falsehoods of celebrities and historical revisionists. If the American Experiment is to continue, it is vital to remember what we stand for and that the United States, not dictators, is “the last best hope of earth.”
Photo Credits: By Laika ac from USA (Air Koryo to Pyongyang) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons