Monday, June 13, 2011
Every Gadhafi Picture Tells A Story
Every Gadhafi picture tells a story
[BK Notes: When I went to Chicago in 1968 for the Democratic National Convention, I found that Mayor Richard J. Daley's name and photo were all over the place, plastered on billboards and posters, and even the pay toilets were engraved: "Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago. And now we see Gadhafi's picture in the news, and on posters during Pro-Gadhafi rallys at Green Square. It is the same in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, where the dicator's faces are posted in your face.]
By Rosie DiManno
TRIPOLI—The faces of Moammar Gadhafi: Smiley, sombre, beatific, pensive, assured, glamorized, imperious.
Elusive in person, The Brother Leader is everywhere in imagery, casting his countenance shadow.
It is a rogue’s gallery of one — the cult of narcissist personality.
From giant billboards to sweeping murals, atop every public building and prominently displayed in all hotel lobbies, Gadhafi’s portrait is omnipresent and out-sized, more ubiquitous than traffic signs.
On horseback and clanging with military medals, crop tucked inside his elbow; turbaned and swaddled in Bedouin robes; khaki-clad and kepi-capped; saluting in Che Guevara beret and John Lennon tea glasses; goose-stepping or fist-raising, sometimes with hands clasped above his head like a champion boxer.
In some depictions, Gadhafi assumes the bro’ position, arms crossed and flexed with in-your-face ‘tude, as if he’s about to rap it like Fifty Cent. Another captures him in Saturday Night Fever white disco suit. One peculiar representation makes him look like a yacht captain from Newport or the Love Boat’s Gavin McLeod in fright wig.
And, most commonly, there’s Gadhafi as semi-divine, rays of light radiating from his head like a saintly halo, with the legend “41’’ written beneath — 41 years of Gadhafi’s Libya regime. Don’t you forget it — and on Saturday was recalled formally in anniversary celebrations for the shuttering of U.S. military bases on Libyan soil.
Clearly, Gadhafi does not subscribe to Muslim proscriptions against graven images. Only North Korea’s Kim Jong-il comes close to challenging the Libyan ruler for vainglorious iconography and self-veneration.
He has eyes on, suggestively, in a paranoid state where an estimated 10 to 20 per cent of the people are government informers. But the intent, as well, is to appear as blessed and blessing, the singular font from which all beneficence springs.
Eyes on, yes, but often — as always in real life — the orbs hidden behind a bewildering assortment of specs: mirrored aviator shades, tinted lenses, Jackie-Os, Robert Mugabe squares.
While the strongman’s face has been gleefully vandalized in rebel-held regions — the demeaning caricatures a particularly offending blow to Gadhafi’s massive ego — his portraiture remains sacrosanct in the capital. In the early days of Arab Spring revolution here, graffiti artists did deface some of the imagery but that dissent has been quelled and Gadhafi’s demagoguery repaired hastily by battalions of work crews. Any anti-regime scribbles are whitewashed overnight.
What is interesting are the multiple personalities Gadhafi advocates for himself in these absurd renderings. It’s a kind of burnished voguing, the old revolutionary cat-walking across building facades, elevated literally and symbolically. More comical is the palpable vanity of an aging eccentric — rumored to have gone under the plastic surgeon’s knife, though still jiggle-jowly — clearly in love with his own exceptionalism.
He is charismatic, it must be conceded, a colossus among the despot set with international name recognition and cachet. Mere months ago, it should be recalled, the temporarily rehabilitated Gadhafi was hosting world leaders for photo ops, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi among the carpet-baggers cozying up to Libyan oil. Now their fighter planes are bombing the bejeezus out of him.
What becomes a legend most? For Gadhafi, clothes obviously make the man. This is a fellow who once merited his own fashion spread in Vanity Fair magazine and purportedly was pushing for a G-wardrobe retrospective at the Costume Institute in New York before returned to pariah status.
Hence the sartorial flamboyance in the portraits, whether tricked out in sheik chic, silk dish-dash and pastel cloaks, buttoned-up in his long-favoured safari suits or tucked into zebra-print lounge pajamas. There really is something of the Hugh Hefner sybarite in Gadhafi, certainly before he went into hiding, with the mobile desert tent accommodation and reclining pillows his version of the traveling round bed.
(Aside: In the ’60s, the pre-Gadhafi era, Hefner brought his Playboy Jet to Tripoli — the one with the bunny on the tail — and, as recounted in The Spectator recently, air traffic control refused permission for the aircraft’s departure until the playmate-of-the-month, on board, signed their copy of the magazine centre spread. Now that’s shuttle diplomacy.)
Gadhafi has his own butt-kicking harem, of course, the all-female Gad-flies of his private security detail, plus a quartet of “voluptuous blonde nurses’’ as described in a WikiLeaks cable. They are his posse, no doubt dimly viewed by Wife No. 2.
Those cables also revealed some curious personal details. Gadhafi is afraid of flying over water and doesn’t do stairs. Still, not in bad shape for someone who marked his 69th birthday this past week.
Unlike, say, Queen Elizabeth II, Gadhafi’s portraits don’t document the aging process. This business of being immortalized has freeze-framed his features in perpetual middle age.
It must be megalomania or a weird inferiority-superiority complex that requires such extensive tributes to self throughout the land, though this is a common conceit of autocrats. No adoration, however contrived, can ever be quite sufficient.
In Tripoli, every Gadhafi picture tells a story, a visual chapter plumping the legacy.
It’s his dictator portfolio of glossies.