Parade Magazine’s Top Ten Worst Dictator List — Punch In The FaceApril 11, 2009
It’s finally here! The annual Parade Magazine “Top Ten Worst Dictator” List! The fact that Parade undertakes this Herculean effort every year and (presumably) has sources consistently investigating this List, is remarkable in several regards.
First, it is an incredible presumption on behalf of Parade’s editors that — in a single issue — they can: 1) tell you what the former stars from Touched By An Angel are doing now; 2) publish James Brady’s recent love-fest interview with the “fascinating and remarkable” (his words) Kate Hudson; and 3) assess the world’s worst dictators. Wow. Talk about the triple threat of publishing: ownership of meaningless Hollywood drivel; exposure of inside information on Hollywood’s A-List stars (according to Mr. Brady, the lovely Ms. Hudson does not like to wear sandals at the beach . . . can you believe it?); and non-stop patrol over the most vicious and oppressive human beings on the planet. Just think — all of the above AND those exclusive advertisements for the collection of unbreakable decorative Christmas plates.
Second, who are the editors of Parade to think they can completely and accurately assess the world’s dictators? If it was Al Jazeera’s list — I’m paying attention. But Parade? I need them to reveal their journalistic process before I even think about taking the List seriously. For example, if they explain that they use their internship program to perform an in-depth analysis of each of the world’s dictators, I’ll start to give them more credit for their list. I can just imagine the real-time reports from the interns back to HQ:
Spencer the Intern [having just finished his sophomore year at NYU, he’s now huddled in a cave in Myanmar whispering into his cell phone to his contact at Parade]: Oh god. It is awful. General Shwe has been whipping an infidel for the past 4 days. It is absolutely terrible. He’s just been whipping away for the last 90 hours. I’m physically sick . . .
Parade Editor: What hand is he using?
Spencer [confused]: What hand is he using?
Parade Editor: Right. Is the General using his left hand or his right hand to hit the infidel?
Spencer [waiting and checking for the next strike]: Uh . . . left, I think.
Parade Editor: Left? Oh, that’s nothing. He’s right-handed, so we only count his right-handed punches on the evil-meter. Call me back when he starts using his right . . .
Spencer: Uh . . . sure, I guess. Can we talk for a second about my internship assignment? . . .
Parade Editor [interrupting]: Look, Spence, I’m very busy here. I have to edit James Brady’ s latest interview with Kenneth Branaugh. Did you know he’s British? I thought he was from Boston. I tell ya . . . I learn something new every day.
Spencer [pleading]: Can you can call the American Embassy in Thailand? I think General Shwe and his men might be on to me . . .
Parade Editor: Oh, come on. You’re just being paranoid. You’re wearing the military uniform we gave you, right?
Spencer [hesitating]: Uh . . . right . . .
Parade Boss: So what’s the problem?
Spencer [grimacing in pain]: The problem is . . . I’M THE INFIDEL THE GENERAL’S BEEN BEATING FOR THE PAST FOUR DAYS! AND, FOR YOUR INFORMATION — WHILE THE GENERAL MAY NOT BE A NATURAL SOUTHPAW —-HE’S GOT A NASTY LEFT!!
Parade Boss [half-listening]: What? Your connection’s breaking up. Look, call me back next week when you have another update . . .
Third, I wonder what it’s like for those dictators who don’t make Parade’s Top Ten list. I can see them heading into their meeting room the morning after Parade’s List comes out. All of their henchmen are real quiet:
Dictator: Fellas, what’s up?
Second in Command (“SC”): Sir, we all saw Parade’s List and . . . we’re sorry you didn’t make it.
Dictator [interrupting]: Guys, guys — settle down. I don’t even pay attention to that list. It means nothing to me . . .
SC: It’s just that, after you didn’t make last year’s list, you went into a two-week depression . . .
Dictator [laughing incredulously]: Depression? Guys, we’ve been over this. I wasn’t depressed. I had the flu. Now, come on. I’ve told you before and I’m telling you now: the work we do isn’t about any Top Ten List. It’s about the oppression and fear we drive into our people. Right?
SC and the rest of the Oppression Gang [begrudgingly]: Right.
Dictator [clapping his hands]: Exactly. Now let’s get back to work. Where’s the video camera? We’re supposed to film segment 7 of our “Downfall of the West” series today. Can someone hand me a pre-dated New York Times? We’re gonna make this look official, people.
Then, when the Dictator returns to his private chambers that evening, he finally acknowledges to his wife how disappointed he is that he was not chosen for Parade’s list:
Dictator [reviewing the List and pointing to one of the dictators on the list]: He carries out public hangings? So do I! I was hanging people in public 20 years ago. Public hangings are so 1989. How about a little originality, Mr. Top Ten! I’m waayy past public hangings. I poison my people’s food supply from relief organizations. That is how I roll in the ’09!
Wife [rubbing Dictator’s back and speaking in a soft hush]: It’s okay, baby. The people of your country know how awful you are. You are truly a horrific human being. Probably the worst man alive.
Dictator [feeling a little reassured]: You’re not just saying that?
Wife: No! Not at all. You are a terrible, vicious ruler. In fact, I often wonder how I came to befall the fate of being married to such a terrible man.
Dictator [glancing up at his wife lovingly]: Thanks. You always know how to cheer me up.
Finally, isn’t Parade playing with fire just by publishing the List? If I worked at Parade, I’d be concerned that one of the disappointed dictators would spend the next twelve months terrorizing me and the rest of the Parade staff just to prove a point. You know — show them who’s really bad.