By David Michael Newstead.
Dictators often build a cult of personality around themselves to emphasize how “great” they are through government propaganda. Notable examples of this include Stalin, Mao, and Hitler along with people like Francisco Franco, the Kim family in North Korea, Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, and others. In practice, this might consist of songs glorifying the leader or statues and art in their likeness. But typically, the one thing these personality cults have in common is unending praise heaped onto the leader’s supposed exploits no matter how ridiculous. For instance, North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il once claimed to have shot 11 hole-in-ones in a single round of golf.
The most modern incarnation of a cult of personality though has to be the cult of masculinity. This is when propaganda highlights the leader’s “manliness” at every available opportunity, while simultaneously trying to disparage and emasculate his opponents. For some time now, this trend has been epitomized by Russian President Vladimir Putin who plays at being a shirtless action hero and pseudo-father figure to the nation. Over the years, however, cults of masculinity have arguably popped up in Egypt, the Philippines, and maybe even the United States. This then creates a disturbing social dynamic where the leader’s masculinity equals national strength and national strength equals their masculinity often at the expense of anyone else: women, political opposition groups, LGBTQ citizens.
At best, this represents the last gasp of traditional gender norms in a world that is no longer that traditional. The risk, however, is that some men’s resentment will cause this to intensify precisely because things have changed.