Each presidential election year, a slew of celebrities come out in support of their candidate of choice, drawing attention to their political causes from some, and harsh criticism from others. Without exception, each celebrity political endorsement eventually leads to a single argument, however: why should we care what some actor thinks?
Despite the inherent logic to that argument, it’s clear that, in the modern world, lots of people care what celebrities think. Reality television, ironic as the name might be, exists almost entirely as a means for Americans to get a peek behind the curtain, and learn more about some of the faces we’ve been watching on TV and in movies: “Celebrity Rehab,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Apprentice”… all just a thin veneer over an age-old product: celebrity.
The problem with how much influence we allow our stars to exercise over the public, of course, is that celebrities are fallible human beings just like the rest of us. In fact, the bubble of constant approval most famous people find themselves living inside may even make them more susceptible to the influence of powerful foreign leaders (or religious ones, for that matter). Men like Vladimir Putin, for instance, with an extensive career in Russia’s FSB (successor to the KGB), are well suited to manipulating the air of importance an audience with him can provide, in order to sell a celebrity on what an association with him could offer in terms of legitimacy.
Dennis Rodman, as a great example, saw his memory as the weirdest NBA player of all time and occasional Van Dam sidekick dwindling… but has enjoyed a resurgence in name recognition and apparent moral superiority since becoming BFF’s with North Korean despot, Kim Jong Un. For many celebrities, these relationships with foreign leaders offer them the opportunity to step back into the spotlight, to be taken seriously for once… but most of all, these relationships come with money, either directly, or through endorsements.
We all know about Dennis Rodman’s repeated trips to North Korea. Rodman claims Kim Jong Un seems like a generally great guy, while refusing to address or acknowledge the human rights abuses that take place within North Korea’s closed borders, claiming torture and starvation falls just outside his purview as basketball ambassador. Of course, he simultaneously claims that international diplomacy somehow falls within that same scope… not unlike Jane Fonda, who famously shucks responsibility for her own actions during the Vietnam War, while taking credit for opposing the war effort itself.
But what about other, lesser known celebrity endorsers of tyrants, dictators, and enemies of the United States? You may be surprised to learn that the list doesn’t only include washed-up has beens… but there are certainly a fair share of them on the list.
- Fred Durst.
As SOFREP has reported before, Fred Durst made his way into the Russian misinformation machine rather organically: by chasing a pay check. When the rap-metal pioneer who rose to fame by spouting lyrics like, “I did it all for the nookie, so you can take that cookie, and stick it up you’re a**,” managed to get his band back together in 2009, he was disappointed to learn that no one in the United States could care less. This left Durst in a tough spot: if he was hoping to go on tour to solve his money woes, but no one in America was interested in seeing them perform… where else could they go on tour?
It turns out, one of the few places left on the planet that might be excited to see Fred Durst get out of breath while rapping George Michael lyrics was, you guessed it, Russia. During Durst’s multiple Russian tours in recent years, Russia annexed Crimea (2014) and began efforts to shape the narrative around their violations of international law. Part of that campaign included finding celebrity spokespeople for their newly acquired territory:
Durst promptly moved to Russian-controlled Crimea, with his new Russian wife, and set about producing Russian-funded films that demonstrate the “great future of Crimea and Russia.”
- Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan rose to prominence in American cinema thanks to his brutal action sequences that often involved Chan himself accomplishing (or sometimes failing to accomplish) incredible feats of strength and coordination. Chan reinvigorated the martial arts genre with films like “Rumble in the Bronx,” and then demonstrated his physical comedy chops in flicks like “Drunken Master.” Jackie Chan represented a bridge between Chinese and American film culture that could be credited with helping to grow the now-massive Chinese film market.
He’s also a Communist propagandist who produces Chinese films aimed at exercising influence over foreign markets… and that’s not a slanderous observation made up in the SOFREP editorial offices, it’s a direct quote from accusations levied at Chan from within his own nation. When not marketing films to U.S. audiences, he’s talking about how China’s woes are not only the fault of the United States… but also, because he thinks the Chinese populous has “too much freedom.”
I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not,” Chan said to a crowd of people during his tour for the movie, “Warcraft.”
“I’m really confused now. If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic. I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”
For his efforts to further the causes of the Chinese Government, they made him a national-level delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2013, one of the country’s most prominent political advisory bodies.
- Steven Seagal
Like Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal earned his place in VHS collections all over the United States in martial arts films, though his movies often depicted Seagal in roles like Navy SEAL, secret ninja policeman, or Secret Ninja Navy SEAL. Despite the man’s affinity for Asian culture sometimes resulting in what may be among the earliest known public displays of what would one day be called “cultural appropriation,” there seemed little question that Seagal was an American and a patriot. Hell, in 1998, he made a movie simply called, “The Patriot.”
But in the years since, even Seagal’s attempts at retaining his fame by way of going into real (fake) televised law enforcement began to fail, and the man needed to find a new way to remain relevant. Fortunately for him, the same military annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the same Russian-led effort to find celebrity endorsers for war crimes that gave Durst’s career a resurgence, came through for Seagal as well.
Seagal even went so far as to call the military annexation of Crimea, which has led to a formidable standoff in the region between Russian and NATO forces, “very reasonable.”
Recently, Seagal became a full-fledged Russian citizen, though he has taken the time to chime in on American politics nonetheless, publicly calling the NFL protests “disgusting,” despite doing so with a Russian passport, via Russian television, in a segment filmed in Russia… where he lives. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of NFL protests, you have to appreciate the irony there.
- Everybody partied with Gaddafi
It isn’t at all uncommon for celebrities, especially singers, to accept huge paydays to perform at private functions for powerful people. Often, these celebrities claim ignorance when confronted with questions about why they’d feel it was appropriate for them to sing and dance for foreign leaders that have been accused of crimes against humanity, and in some cases, those claims seem founded. When footage of Jennifer Lopez singing “Happy Birthday” to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a man frequently accused of heading one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, she admitted that she was paid to perform at a private show that she didn’t even know was sponsored by the Turkmenistan government. Admittedly, most people would have to google Turkmenistan to find out where it is on a map, so one could almost excuse Miss Lopez of being ignorant of the nation’s politics.
But what about when celebrities accept huge cash payouts to perform for men internationally recognized as despots and tyrants? In that category, few men were more internationally renowned than Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before his death. Beyoncé, Usher, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent and Mariah Carey are just some of the singers that were paid up to a million dollars apiece to perform at parties for the Gaddafi family.
When their massive payouts from the dictator were made public, Beyoncé and Furtado both publicly donated their paychecks to charity and the American media promptly forgot all about it – because Gaddafi may have been a dictator, but Beyoncé is a queen.
Feature images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons