Is the Era of the Scary Glam Dictator Over?

Perhaps it was a late arrival of American-style materialism that inspired dictators to cozy up with luxury and largess. So where have all the glam dictators gone?

Hussein, Qadaffi, Mugabe and Kim plundered their national resources while each cultivating their own brand of expensive--and freakish--tastes. In a previous era, fascinated with wealth and conspicuous consumption, Americans were spellbound. But what does the next generation of post-recession glam dictators look like?


Recently, dapper Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori, who ordered military death squads in the 1990s while allegedly using millions of dollars in state funds, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The same week, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il made a rare public appearance looking gaunt and sickly. Zimbabwe’s bespoke-suited Mugabe, who single-handedly ran Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground, has seen an election defeat and mounting civil unrest. Even Libya's Qadaffi, one of the 1980s most iconic potentates has mellowed with age, acknowledging that his country should start adopting less isolationist rhetoric and anticipate a post-Qadaffi future.

With high-profile rulers on their way out, a quick scan of the global political landscape doesn’t find many heirs to the once-coveted glam dictator throne. With America now choosing to ignore such leaders, B.R. Myers, a researcher of North Korean propaganda underscored the policy shift in a recent Times op-ed, To Beat a Dictator, Ignore Him. Myers states “The message to the North Korean people is clear: their Dear Leader is not as feared and respected as they have been led to believe. This challenge has thrown the Kim regime into a crisis of which the outside world remains largely unaware.”

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