We understand that celebrities meet a lot of people, some of whom may turn out to be full-blown psychopaths. Maybe it's too much to ask that famous actors and musicians know the personal histories of every yahoo they shake hands with, but if you find yourself getting booked to hang out with someone who's in between hearings at The Hague, it's time to fire your agent and/or hire an ethics tutor.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is known by the blockbuster-worthy nickname "Europe's Last Dictator," and by gosh is he committed to living up to that title. Aside from a habit of making his political opponents disappear like a fascist magician, Lukashenko's Belarus is rife with censorship, rigged elections, and general human rights skullfuckery. He's the kind of guy Steven Seagal would hunt down in a bad action movie. However, in real life, Steven Seagal hunted Lukashenko down to eat carrots at his house.
"They're usually in cake form."
What force on Earth, barring some common enemy living in a supervolcano, could bring these two together? Apparently, Seagal has family ties to Belarus -- family he presumably doesn't speak to very often, or else he'd be too busy rescuing them to hang out with their oppressor. On the contrary, Lukashenko is someone he's "long dreamed of meeting," and not to karate chop him in the face. During their get-together, Lukashenko greeted him with gifts of melons and carrots, which is either a traditional Belarusian party favor or a mad dictator seeing how much crazy bullshit he can get a movie star to eat.
"Feed the Seagal" is a popular game in Belarus.
When gently confronted with Lukashenko's long record of human rights abuses, Seagal brushed off the accusations as rumors, commenting that "Every single president I know, and I know many, there are rumors about all of them." Sure, we all know there are wingnuts who still think Bush did 9/11, but when your carrot-slinging friend has been subjected to actual EU sanctions, it might be time for some quiet reflection. But hey, we all have soft spots -- Seagal's happens to be for vicious autocrats. The formal martial artist has a history of being entirely too forgiving of Eastern European baddies. He's also chummy with Russian "President" Vladimir Putin, recalling that "the first time I went to his home, I walked in and saw a life-sized statue of Kano Jigoro, who is the founder of judo, so I was immediately taken and impressed and really wanting to get to know this man deeper and deeper." Evidently, there's not a lot Seagal isn't willing to overlook to have someone take him seriously.
You'd have to dig deep into a book on etiquette to find the proper way to respond to accidentally collaborating with a known tyrant. A mere "sorry" obviously won't do. Do you send a giant Hallmark card to the oppressed nation in question, or maybe run a heartfelt message on the Goodyear Blimp? Well, if you're Nicki Minaj, you simply tell everyone in the world to go fuck themselves.
At least she was nice enough to flip us off on the other side of her face.
When word got around that Minaj was being paid to perform a concert in Angola by a company owned by the daughter of despotic President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, people wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she didn't realize dos Santos was a documented monster. The Human Rights Foundation personally wrote her a letter to make sure she knew the money was coming directly out of the pocket of "government corruption and human rights violations." Specifically, it would come from the country's vast oil fortune, which mysteriously benefits only a tiny portion of the population (most of whom are on the presidential Christmas card list), while the rest live under the yoke of extreme poverty and rampant corruption. Angola is the richest country in Africa (that's why they can pay up to $1 million to performers like Minaj and Mariah Carey), yet 70 percent of its population has to live on $2 a day. But when informed that she was more or less accepting blood money to perform, Minaj had this to say:
For those of us who don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of international flags, that's the Angolan flag she's draped in, which you could've probably guessed from her caption "Reppin the flag on my back." Not only did she ignore the humanitarian foundation's concerns and pleas to reconsider, but she also gave them a big, coyly posed "Fuck you," and then she went to party in Angola anyway. Minaj later posted a picture with President dos Santo's daughter, praising her for being the "eighth richest woman in the world" and calling her profiteering off the back of her countryfolk "GIRL POWER!!!!!!" Saying that the family economically screwing over an entire country so much that it has the highest child mortality in the world "motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!" might be a sign that you either don't know what the hell you're talking about or that you can't be bothered to care -- which in the case of international relations is essentially the same thing.
Luckily, the commenters were able to identify what was truly important.
Deceased Uzbekistan ruler Islam Karimov had a delightfully unique rap sheet. Among the usual charges of political imprisonment, child slavery, and torture, he's also accused of boiling at least one person alive and reducing the volume of what was once the world's fourth-biggest lake by 80 percent to water his own personal crops. Y'know, not enough real-life dictators put in the effort to truly become a Bond villain, but Karimov jumped into that fifth of a lake with both feet. And Sting, for one, is completely disgusted by it. Look at him, being disgusted.
Yves Forestier/Getty Images For Style.UZ
His hair is trying to flee the scene.
Sting's so disgusted by the Karimov regime in that picture that he doesn't even realize that he's sitting next to Karimov's daughter, Gulnara Karimova, the tyrant's personal pick to be his successor. He's even so disgusted that he doesn't' realize she's the one who has hired him to disgustedly perform at her disgusting arts festival for between one and two million disgusting pounds (which used to be much more in disgusting dollars).
Obviously, had Sting but realized he was being paid by the child of a horrific dictator, he never would have accepted ... except that he totally did know and accepted anyway. "I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment," he later said. "He is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset." Then Sting's eyes went completely white and he performed the most amazing mental gymnastics ever witnessed by man: "I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular."
Which might explain why he has also palled around with Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
Admit it, it took all of us a second too long to realize what complete and utter horseshit that statement truly is. The whole "open commerce of ideas and art" thing seems a little shaky, especially since -- as The Guardian pointed out -- tickets to Sting's show cost 45 times the average local monthly salary. But it sure was fun letting Sting pretend that the keys to the Uzbek revolution lie in the stirring strains of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." He also claimed the event was sponsored by UNICEF, who responded that they were "quite surprised" to hear it, which is humanitarian for "We wouldn't touch this event even with your tantric pole."
Say what you will about dictators (unless you're in earshot of their secret police), but they throw the best parties. When you ruthlessly control an entire nation, it's not hard to provide the best food, ambiance, and entertainment for yourself and your most sycophantic underlings. And with such good times hanging in the air, it's hard to be reminded of all the misery and exploitation that paid for it. Which is exactly what happened to Jennifer Lopez.
If you didn't know about the atrocities that led Human Rights Watch to declare Turkmenistan "one of the world's most repressive countries" (state-run media, civil rights violations, child labor, torture, and political kidnappings are on that list), then you finally have something in common with JLo. In 2013, she performed at a birthday bash for Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his closest accomplices. From the get-go, JLo's natural showmanship kicked in, with her sauntering on stage to a booming "Turkmenistan!" which is kind of like opening your act by screaming "Third Reeeeeeeich!" She then proceeded to dazzle the oppressive regime with her greatest hits, closing the show by serenading the despotic president with a loving rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," like Marilyn Monroe popping out of a cake for Mao Zedong.
Bjorn Christian Torrissen
And if Mao was the dressed like the lead of a Turkmen Purple Rain rip-off.
But JLo isn't the only person on this list -- and there will be many -- to claim she didn't know about her patron's violent history. She is the easiest to believe, though, mostly due to her entourage's social media activity. During the trip, Lopez's choreographer, confused about why he wasn't being greeted with a barrage of e-hugs, tweeted, "I wonder where all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!" Unbeknownst to him, social media is banned in Turkmenistan, meaning all his Turkmenistan followers were otherwise (and rather painfully) occupied. That said, this wasn't the first time Lopez has entertained a bunch of villains. According to the Human Rights Foundation, Lopez has made over $10 million performing for Russian oligarchs, corrupt oil tycoons, and even a wedding attended by Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. She did cancel a birthday performance for a corrupt Russian bureaucrat once, but only because he got arrested for wide-scale embezzlement and couldn't make it.
The Human Rights Foundation must have to devote an entire department to warning clueless celebrities about buddying up with despots, because Hilary Swank received a letter from them following news that she would be appearing at an event in honor of Chechen enemy-disappearer Ramzan Kadyrov. The good news is that the Human Rights Foundation's emails were definitely read. The bad news is that they weren't read by Swank, but by her manager Jason Weinberg, who assured the HRF that she would not be attending the event. This became awkward when videos of Swank totally attending the event appeared online.
Swank later insisted that she didn't know about about Kadyrov's questionable activities when she agreed to appear, which is strange, because in the video, when asked how she knew it was Kadryov's birthday, she clearly says, "Oh, I read. I do my research." Even Bridget Jones knew Chechnya was in bad shape, and all she did was read a pamphlet, so you'd think that information would've come up when Swank did a Google search to discover Kadryov's birth date.
But what Swank lacked in quality of intel she made up for in quantity of rolling heads -- Weinberg was immediately fired once someone pulled Swank aside and politely informed her of the humanitarian faux pas. She then went on a veritable firing spree, axing two talent managers, the entire agency they worked for, and anyone else who was supposedly responsible for making sure she knows about any human rights violations the person she is about to entertain may have committed. Finally, to show her contrition, the actress announced that she would be donating her entire fee to charities. However, when separatist Chechen leaders asked to see the donation, Swank's spiffy new PR rep did the verbal equivalent of pretending to rummage through some papers before making a Looney-Tunes-esque hole in the nearby wall.
The Asahi Shimbun
Jean-Claude Van Damme's agent just received a splits uppercut to the junk.
But to Swank's credit, at least she had the decency to be embarrassed about the whole situation -- unlike Seal, who bizarrely doubled down on Twitter, clarifying that he's "a MUSICIAN," and that you should leave him "out of your politics."
That's right, stop thinking of Seal like he's a person with thoughts and ideas. Would you scold a jukebox for standing in a bingo hall during a Klan rally?
In case you need a refresher, the Gaddafis have carved a trail of violent terror so horrific that it has left almost a third of the Libyan population with mental health issues. The villainous acts of their regime were known for many years before the Arab Spring purged them from Libya. For all of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's qualities, being low-key wasn't one of them, which makes you wonder how so many pop stars were able to remain completely ignorant of his numerous atrocities. It couldn't be that he paid them all enough money to abandon any sense of decency, right?
Noam Galai/Getty Images
"Go Muammar, it's your birthday-"
In 2011, Wikileaks obtained detailed documentation that the Gaddafi family had been quietly collecting musicians the way normal people collect those musicians' albums, including Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Usher, all of whom had performed in separate private events for several of Gaddafi's sons. For their troubles, they were rewarded royally -- the average payout was a million dollars per performance. Generally speaking, if someone is willing to pay you a million dollars for a private concert, that guy got his trust fund in blood diamonds.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
And has to walk around like this all the time to block the punches.
When news of the shamefully lucrative performances came out, each star eventually offered the time-honored mea culpa of a rich celebrity by pretending they didn't realize who they were performing for and promising to make the money disappear charitably. And those are only the performers who have admitted it, mind you. Lionel Richie, Timbaland, and Enrique Iglesias are among other purported Gaddifi entertainers, with Jay-Z, Lindsay Lohan, and Jon Bon Jovi allegedly in the audience. Say what you will about the Gaddafis, but they know a whole lot of Hollywood phone numbers.
Manna will hopefully apologize someday for accepting millions of dollars in blood money on Twitter.
For more dictator stories, check out 5 Ruthless Dictators Hiding In Plain Sight As Normal People and 7 Modern Dictators Way Crazier Than You Thought Possible.
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