Above the Law

What Is the Fascist Fascination With America’s D-Listers?

Putin’s reviving a Stalin-era fitness program to toughen up Russians—with help from Steven Seagal. Why do today’s strongmen have such a weakness for our washed-up celebrities?


Say what you will about Vladimir Putin. For a guy in his sixties—at least based on the shirtless horseback photos we’ve all seen—he’s in better shape than most of us.

So it’s not surprising to see Russia’s president—who has dominated the world stage thanks to a bloodless takeover of Crimea—stress the importance of physical fitness to his 143 million-plus population. It’s all part of his latest initiative to revive a Stalin-era conditioning program appropriately titled “Ready for Labor and Defense.” Funding for the project is courtesy of all the revenue generated from the recent Sochi Olympics Games, estimated to be in the billions.

Details around the program itself are still fuzzy at this point, but the old USSR version consisted of citizens entering athletic contests such as swimming, skiing, jumping, running, and (of course) grenade tossing (seriously, that’s not a joke). Putin says the program will teach his citizens how “to stand up for themselves, their family, and, in the final run, the Fatherland.” Anyone else feel like watching Rocky IV right about now?

But while Putin is a rock star in Russia (his approval rating is about 40 points higher than President Obama at 80 percent, which is still 20 percent lower than Kim Jong-un of North Korea), he still needs a celebrity pitchman to spread the word on TV and the ‘Net. And what better way to thumb his nose at the U.S. (for the 19th time this month) than calling on Hollywood badass megastar Steven Seagal to push a fitness agenda?

Seagal—like Putin, is 61 years old. But unlike the former KGBer, the actor’s belly appears to be, well… Under Siege. No exact number is available, but at 6’4, Seagal has to be pushing 300 pounds, which is about 100 pounds heavier than he was in his ‘90s prime. No matter. Putin is simply following the playbook of the aforementioned Kim, who began a bromance with former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman last year. Is Seagal being compensated by Putin re-gifting Bob Kraft's Super Bowl ring to him? Pravda cannot confirm at this time.

Whether it’s Seagal or Rodman, there’s one thing the Russians and North Koreans have likely noted whenever either leader appears with them publicly: Boatloads of attention from the American media. Seagal praises Putin as the “world’s greatest leader” and the press comes running. Rodman goes all Marilyn Monroe and sings “Happy Birthday” in Pyongyang, and it gets the kind of coverage one would expect on cable news (See: LOTS). And when that happens, the information ministries of both countries take note and likely conclude that Seagal and Rodman are A-list icons to the American public.

Except, of course, they’re anything but...

Was Seagal once a leading action figure? Of course. His films, from Out for Justice to Half Past Dead (classic title), made $700 million at the box office. As for Rodman, he won five NBA titles and is arguably the greatest rebounder ever (particularly offensive boards) despite never being the tallest guy on the court (he’s listed at 6’7).

But when it comes to relevancy, we’re talking 15 years since either has warranted attention for doing anything that didn’t involve controversy or personal issues. Having said that, Seagal has been married four times and has seven kids (and appears to be pregnant with an 8th). As for Rodman, since winning his last NBA championship with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1998, the Worm has redefined the term hot mess. The highlight (or lowlight, depending on your perspective) includes his work with an Irish gambling website that was actually taking bets on who the next pope would be back in March 2013.

Rodman at the Vatican: “I’m just promoting this website. It’s a gambling website, and it’s about people who are going to bet on the new pope, and if he's black, you get your money back.”

So Putin gets his pal Steven Seagal—who isn’t going to be starring in any action movies this year unlike his contemporaries Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone—to push a Stalinist fitness program in an effort to show the Americans that one of its own strongly supports Mother Russia.

Seagal (and Rodman) now follow in the dubious shoes of has-beens Sean Penn (former BFF: Hugo Chavez) and Oliver Stone (Ditto: Fidel Castro).

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Which ‘90s star is next to defy his or her nation?

Wesley Snipes?

Emilio Estevez?

Alicia Silverstone?

Whoever it is, one thing is certain:

It will attract attention… for all the wrong reasons.