Peter York did a book called Dictator Style in 2006 [amazn], including pictures of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, Noriega’s christmas tree, Caesescu’s bathroom, and other disturbing oddities.
It’s hard, when you look at the pictures, to sort out whether you’re being a classist, or the dictators are – because the imagery is all about projection of wealth and power, therefore class. But the dictators that have the worst taste (as we contemporaneously might understand it) don’t seem to be the ones that started off lower class and clawed their way up – they just as often started off rich and powerful and became immensely rich and powerful.
Louis XIV, under whose reign Versailles became the pinnacle of what it is, was born at the top of the class hierarchy of France. The great Molière wrote Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme [wik] – a ballet/comedy about a class-climbing son of a wealthy cloth-merchant who wishes to ascend into the aristocracy. We laugh at both the airs of the rich aristocrats, and the desire for for them by the tasteless bourgeois. Ha, ha, ha, it’s all very funny.
It can be funny, anyway, when we see someone who is powerful yet emotionally insecure – too insecure to simply let someone with good aesthetics decorate for them. I suspect that’s what drives dictator style; after all, if you’re rich and step back and let Worth or Chanel dress you (as Jackie Onassis did) then you’re “elegant and sophisticated.” Though, I cannot even write that without a tingle at the back of my neck that warns me that racism also, always, lurks with the class consciousness that made Americans revere Jackie O while splitting over Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian. Bey, as Quentin Crisp said, knows that what separates us from the lower orders is our ability to accessorize. (she is shown accessorized with an $800 millionaire)
What is attractive, to me, is the self-confidence of power, the de-fetishization of one’s appearance that comes with being so powerful or elegant that one simply does not have to give a shit how one looks. That’s a very attractive look.
Dictator style, then, is the aesthetic of the powerful person who is insecure in their power – they’re the person who’ll have you hauled off to a torture chamber if you laugh at their hair. That’s why all this stuff projects warning signals to me: cowardly, insecure, powerful people are really scary.
I am, of course, thinking about Donald Trump.
Trump, supposedly, asked the Guggenheim to lend him a masterpiece by Van Gough, to decorate a room in the White House – and the Guggenheim responded by offering him a statement about class and taste: they offered him a priceless artwork by Maurizio Cattelan instead of the Van Gough.
If Trump is true to form, the Guggenheim’s taxes will go up tremendously, or something. Like his emotional forebear, Marcus Crassus, he probably wishes to say he leaves no debt or slight unpaid. Well, maybe not the debts – just the slights.
Saddam Hussein was no stranger to insecurity and – unlike Trump – was not born with a gold spoon in his mouth. His mother was a sheep-herder and he grew up without the trappings and social signals of wealth and power. One can only assume that a dictator who came to power by literally shooting some of his opposition in the head, understands that the head that wears a crown does not rest lightly. I don’t attribute Hussein’s palaces and gold guns to a lack of taste, so much as to a lack of security – if you can’t really trust the people around you: get something golden.
Jesse James (fake news “reality” motorcycle-builder) has branched out into gun manufacture, and produced that homage to “his good friend” Trump.
It’d go great with the toilet.
I know the gun says more about Jesse James’ taste than Trump’s. Or, perhaps it says something about Jesse James’ assessment of Trump’s taste. In that case, James is spot on.
James was a hack even when he was making motorcycles; he just buys components of other peoples’ designs and gussies them up and puts them together. For one thing, the design of a 1911 .45 is crap (it’s solid and dependable and easy to make but there are much better designs for semi-automatic handguns) – like the V-twin design, coincidentally. If you want to impress me, make a samurai sword or design something new. (Each sword, if made properly, is “something new” since the lines are unique. If Jesse James made samurai swords he’d buy completed blades and mountings, disassemble them and remount them with new stuff, paint the saya, and declare victory)