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Of Tyrants & Terminators
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s good messaging and Bono’s bad poetry
Vladimir Putin is a strongman who is drawn to strongmen: not just other autocrats but literal bodybuilders and muscle-flexing martial artists. In 2013, Putin tried to appoint the washed up action star Steven Seagal as Russia’s special emissary to the United States. Although the bid failed, it did lead the Obama administration to briefly consider responding in kind by making Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California and noted action movie star, into America’s ambassador to Russia. This idea was based on Putin’s known love of action stars. Of the 22 people and institutions Putin follows on his twitter account, one is Schwarzenegger.
This history, and the fact of Schwarzenegger’s wider popularity in Russia, explains why the star of the Terminator franchise decided to make a video addressing the Russian people.
Schwarzenegger’s nine-minute video is the best example of public diplomacy I’ve seen in the current conflict. It threads the difficult needle of being respectful of the national pride of Russians while also clearly condemning Putin’s aggression. Schwarzenegger boldly makes use of the story of his father, a Nazi wounded in the siege of Leningrad, to make clear he’s aware of Russia’s history and also as an example of someone misled into an unjust war.
It’s difficult to know whether this video will be able to circulate widely in Russia, but it is an exceptional use of personal testimony to cross a wartime divide. If any Western messaging can reach the Russian people, it’ll be this video.
Schwarzenegger’s video can be contrasted with the plague of cringe-inducing poetry that has come from other celebrities. AnnaLynne McCord, of 90210 fame, posted a masterclass in shamelessly awful poesy, with a video of her reading a poem she composed titled, “Dear Putin, If I Was Your Mother…”
The poem opens:
Dear President Vladimir Putin
I'm so sorry that I was not your mother
If I was your mother, you would have been so loved
Held in the arms of joyous light
Never would this story's plight
The world unfurled before our eyes
A pure demise
Of nation sitting peaceful under a night sky
If I was your mother
The world would have been warm
So much laughter and joy
And nothing would harm
I can't imagine the stain
The soul-stealing pain
That the little boy, you,
Must have seen and believed
McCord recited the poem with a baffling confidence, as if the absurdity of her words and ideas didn’t occur to her.
Not to be outdone, Bono, lead singer of U2, sent a poem to Nancy Peolosi that was read on Thursday as part of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Bono’s poem reads
Oh, Saint Patrick he drove out the snakes
With his prayers but that’s not all it takes
For the snake symbolizes
An evil that rises
And hides in your heart
As it breaks
And the evil has risen, my friends
From the darkness that lives in some men
But in sorrow and fear
That’s when saints can appear
To drive out those old snakes once again
And they struggle for us to be free
From the psycho in this human family
Ireland’s sorrow and pain
Is now the Ukraine
And Saint Patrick’s name now Zelenksy
It’s hard to known where to begin with this doggerel. The best that can be said about it is that it reads like three half-finished limericks hastily jammed together. I will note that saying “the snake symbolizes” indicates a certain lack of faith in readers. “The psycho in this human family” is just awkward diction. And “the Ukraine” is insulting since the country defiantly rejects the definitive article, which makes it sound like a province rather than a sovereign state. The rhyme of “Ukraine” with “pain” also leaves a sour aftertaste.
Arnold Schwarzenegger proves that celebrities can contribute to public discourse, if they take the time to craft a thoughtful message. McCord and Bono show all the can go wrong if good intentions take the place of craft and intelligence.
(Edited by Emily M. Keeler)
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