What is it about dictators, totalitarianism and brutality that so enthralls some celebrities?
Dennis Rodman and his new chum, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is only the latest example of an American celebrity turning a blind eye to a foreign leader’s legacy of human rights abuses in pursuit of friendship.
We’re not sure what it was about the 31-year-old dictator that let him hit it off with the 52-year-old former NBA star during his first visit to the country last year, but we’re pretty sure it had nothing to do with the country’s political prison camps, widespread famine or the recently ordered execution of Kim Jong Un’s once-powerful uncle.
And it probably had nothing to do with Kenneth Bae, the American citizen imprisoned there since 2012. Rodman became incensed after CNN asked questions about Bae during his latest visit to the country earlier this week. He even defended Kim Jong Un, a person he has referred to as a “friend.”
“He has to do his job, but he’s a very good guy,” Rodman said from the North Korean capital.
Good guy? In what world do good guys run one of the most repressive regimes mankind has ever seen?
Kim Jong Un, obviously, is a basketball fan. How else would the flashiest player in NBA history score an invite to a prison-nation that few Westerners get to see, a place where the citizens are not allowed to leave? It’s an invite that any person with the slightest respect for human rights and dignity should have never accepted.
Sadly, many American celebrities have become enamored with the cults of personality that lead such regimes. Well-known Hollywood liberals such as Sean Penn, Oliver Stone and Michael Moore openly mourned the death of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez when he died last year. Some of them, joined by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Kevin Costner, Harry Belafonte and more, have worshipped at Fidel Castro’s feet.
And those old enough to remember Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi in 1972 can recall her denouncing American leaders as war criminals and denying that POWs were being tortured.
At least Wayne Coyne, singer for the rock band Flaming Lips, knew enough to backpedal when his bandmate wore a red hammer-and-sickle T-shirt to the Oklahoma state capital in 2009 to be honored for writing the “official rock song” of the state of Oklahoma.
“Honestly, it’s just a dumb shirt,” he told the media after the controversial appearance. “We’re not communists.”
Rodman insists his North Korean visits have no political or diplomatic overtones. That’s obvious. He’s simply being lavished with attention for indulging a megalomaniacal despot’s affinity for slam dunks and fast breaks. But most adults have learned that the people whom they choose to associate with usually say something about their own character.
Moreover, we would simply observe that Rodman’s disinterest in the blazing inhumanity of his North Korean friend’s regime is reminiscent of the blind eye that was once turned to slavery, segregation, apartheid and the Holocaust. As Jacob Marley famously intoned, mankind is our business.
Rodman, if he spends more quality time with his new friend, will perhaps learn that lesson himself.