Saturday, May 8, 2010

Imelda Marcos, a comeback queen?

Eclectic to the very core, few things capture the werewolf's imagination as much as a random comeback story being realized by the octogenarian widow of long dead third-world autocrat ousted from power a quarter of a century ago. According to the NYTimes, the world's most legendary collector of shoes, Imelda Marcos, is staging a small political comeback in the Philippines. The wife of legendary Filipino dictator and American ally, Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda ingrained herself into the pantheon of kleptocratic legend by leaving behind more than dozen mink coats, 508 ball-room gowns, over 1000 handbags, and more than 3000 pairs of shoes, after she and her husband had been ousted from power. If you're going to go overboard, you best do in ridiculous stylistic extreme, and Madam Marcos certainly qualifies by the werewolf's humble standard. Mink coats in Manila, really?

The werewolf is absolutely captivated by tales of third world largess and dictatorial extreme, primarily when it comes to style and nurturing both image and a cult of personality. He reads endlessly about the amusing antics of Mobutu in Zaire (for managing to rip off over $1B in foreign aid and bathing in Chanel), Bokassa in the Central Africa Republican (for reenacting the coronation of Napoleon and casting himself in the lead), the Duvaliers in Haiti (for being weirdo voodoo practitioners and shameless kleptocrats), Tito in Yugoslavia (for communist largess), Suharto in Indonesia (for having his finger in every single economic transaction in the country), Idi Amin in Uganda (for importing and wrecking Alfa Romeo's with reckless abandon), Sani Abacha in Nigeria (for skimming about $1B off the top of Nigeria's oil economy), to name a few of the more eccentric and colorful ones. (This in no way, shape, or form is an endorsement of corruption, political oppression, violence, ethnic cleansing, and all of the other nasty legacies of the aforementioned cast of characters. They are all despicable and offensive examples of humanity who happen to have a slightly endearing flair for managing their projected brands'  in a fashion that makes the werewolf smile) Notice, to, that not all corrupt dictators have the same ability to project ridiculousness the way these aforementioned few have. Brutality and nastiness don't always translate into fiction worthy expressions of character. Nor are all of the aforementioned particularly brutal or murderous when contrasted against history's greatest murderers of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Agathe Habyarimana, and Mengistu Hale Mariam. Idi Amin and Bokassa certainly are nasty, but the others less so. (Again, no excuse or endorsement, just a humble observation of scale.)

The other factor has do to do with the third world ethos and affection often associated with these characters. Part of Madam Marcos' comeback is being engineered by playing to her maternal image within the minds of many Filipinos. The article describes Madam Marcos on the campaign trial in this passage.

“I’m running not only as your representative, but as your mother,” said Mrs. Marcos, still the queen and maybe still the winner, as she passed out juice packets to the children and packs of Winnsboro cigarettes to the men of Nueva Era. “I’ll take care of all of you.”

Fascinating and amusing. Good luck seeking political redemption legitimately, Imelda. This will make for pleasant distraction. The werewolf wonders if she will be seen campaigning in mink coats, or if some keen observer will keep a tally on the handbags and shoes she is seen sporting on the trail. Rarely have phoenixes  risen from stranger ashes.

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