News item: Between 2006 and 2009, Sir David Frost and others were paid a large consulting fee to try to improve the international image of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Memo: To All the World’s Dictators
From: Feschuk Worldwide Consulting & Backrubs
It’s a tough time to be a ruthless despot. Several of your kind have been hounded into exile or targeted by air strikes. Those who remain face a growing sense of anxiety and, even worse, increased odds of getting stuck beside Kim Jong Il at the next dictators’ brunch.
To ensure you’re not the next to be toppled, you could turn for help to a renowned public figure like David Frost. According to news reports, the famed broadcaster was paid £57,000 to help the Libyan leader become perceived as a “thinker and intellectual.” Alas, it’s tough to argue this was money well spent. Gadhafi is today viewed as a thinker in much the same way that Kim Kardashian is viewed as a petite.
Here’s how Feschuk Worldwide Consulting & Backrubs is different. We too will charge you £57,000—but in return we’ll actually equip you with the only two assets you need to be taken seriously as an intellectual in the diplomatic world: a tobacco pipe and the correct pronunciation of the world “paradigm.” Also, we’ll give you a backrub. (Remember our slogan: we bill extra for backrubs.)
As a dictator, you need to grasp this one important truth: your job comes with a certain amount of cachet. With tyrants like you, the international community is more than willing to indulge most of your flaws, up to and including megalomania, psychopathic tendencies and ’80s hairdos. If your country produces oil, the world is bound by custom to give you a mulligan on your first two genocides.
But what’s most critical to understand is that the international community is only ever interested in the Worst Dictator of the Moment. For a while it was Saddam. More recently it was Mubarak. Now it’s Gadhafi. When the world is truly engaged, it fixes its arch-villain of the hour with a ruthless, unblinking gaze—like Sauron on Frodo’s ring or Kirstie Alley on your last french fry. But once the world has moved on, you’re in the clear no matter how extreme your autocracy or how grave the atrocities you inflict on the defenceless. Just ask Robert Mugabe or Michael Bay.
It is this truth that should inform your goals of image management. Being seen as the world’s most fabulous dictator is an overwhelming goal. But to survive and prosper, all you need to do is to succeed at being the world’s least worst dictator. Easy enough, right? After all, you’re the guy who casually commanded 20,000 forced labourers to construct you a palace made entirely from fudge—and then, upon its completion, claimed you’d said marzipan. You can do this.
Begin with baby steps. Keep the throne constructed from the skulls of your enemies, but hold off on commissioning that ottoman built of orphan bones. If you’re like most dictators, you are probably famous at home for delivering five-hour self-aggrandizing speeches defined by a shamelessly twisted view of your own merits and legacy. Cut it down to three hours and you’re golden. Totally worked for Bill Clinton.
It also couldn’t hurt to occupy a niche that’s all your own. For instance, right now there are very few hilarious dictators in the world. Believe you me: a single one-liner can be worth millions in good PR. Next time Bono shows up at the UN to hector everyone about aid, just sigh heavily and say, “Not THIS guy again.” It’ll kill. Toss in a memorable cameo as a tempestuous lounge singer in The Hangover Part 3 and you’re on your way. No one ever assassinates the comic relief.
Also, try being just a little open to the world. Maybe invite the idiots from Jersey Shore to film in your kingdom. It gives the illusion of accountability. Plus, it’s a classic win-win: MTV gets a couple of episodes worth of amusing misunderstandings and no one will mind when you later use the cast as human shields.
Despite all the uprisings and the protests against oppression, it’s important not to panic and get spooked—unless getting spooked will make you more likely to put Feschuk Worldwide Consulting on an exorbitant retainer, in which case: BOO!