An Instagram worthy of royalty and madmen (with video!)

Following up on last week’s post, some related notes on the dictators of the interwebs. Because once you’re done Photoshopping those propaglamour shots, where else do you turn but to Instagram?

Slate posted a round-up video of Assad & his cohort are getting up to on Instagram a few months ago. Yes, dictators on Instagram is a thing. You can fill up your phone with a choice curation of photos from the British Monarchy, POTUS and FLOTUS, and Assad and his buddies. Like Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov (he’s really into animals) and Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the Uzbek leader and apparently the most hated person in the country. Oh, and was that our favourite useful-idiot-du-jour, Gerrard Depardieu, palling around with Kadyrov and Karimova? Uh-huh. From my Russia files, here he is shilling for the banks.

Fact: The British Monarchy Instagram has 30,199 followers to the Syrians’ 40,104 followers. Who are these people?

There’s some argument to be made that the “you-talk-I’ll-talk-back” nature of the internet, and social media in particular, will act as some kind of equalizing force in these types of situations. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber makes that argument, because, yes, it’s true that no one ever scrawled “baby killer” next to a photo of Stalin. But comments like “Future baby killer” and “He looks like a pig. I can see the resemblance.” – don’t they just sound like just another day in the life of a comment troll? I doubt anyone over there is listening the feedback of the anonymous internet, and meanwhile, they’re still gassing their people (Oh yeah, remember that?).

In other words, even when we think we’ve evolved slightly beyond our armchair takedowns via memes and Photoshops à la Kim Jong-Un, we haven’t accomplished all that much more.

What’s striking about these Instragram feeds is that they’re all doing the exact same thing as the rest of us do on Instagram – upgrading our lives via filter. Look at Karimova’s yoga pose, shown here, screaming “See, I’m just like the rest of you!” Yuh-huh. But alongside the ego-stoking, the feeds also reveal that all these madmen (and women) know they have an image problem, and they just can’t help themselves – they really, really, really want us to like them. The feeds are staged and scripted, but also awkwardly personal. It’s a sharp departure from the grandstanding and political speeches of the past.

On that note, re-upping this piece I wrote for Tablet Magazine on old-school dictators – you know, when propaganda meant speeches, films and songs – and their iPhone apps. At that time, I wrote about how creepy it was to find Stalin piping into my home through my phone. It turns out that far, far more disturbing is real-time shots of Assad and his family while his country bleeds.

I’ve read that North Korea’s state-sponsored TV is auto-blasted into every citizen’s living room. Will people one day be forced to follow Assad or Kim Jong-Un’s Instagrams and Twitters, a permanent scroll of propaganda right in your own pocket?

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