Subtitled Lifestyles of the World’s Most Colorful Despots, this work attempts, in a rather breezy manner, to show us the habitats of some of the most evil people to walk the earth. Hitler, Idi Amin, Stalin- an entire cast of morally vacant tyrants is assembled and to a man (alongside a few women, such as Evita Peron and the shoequeen Imelda Marcos), the structures they hid themselves in and the furnishings they “decorated” with depict a group of people with neither taste nor limits. From Hitler’s vast castles with massive dining rooms in which he ate his vegetarian meals alone, to the palaces of Saddam, these homes are grotesque monuments to the fragile, obsessive and paranoid minds of their owners. These people ruled by a combination of propaganda and fear, convinced that they were larger than life, or at least, larger than the people over whom they ruled. Mobutu built a 500-million dollar palace and village in the middle of Zaire and filled it with exotic animals, Chinese courtyards, and an airstrip able to land a Concorde, while his country had one of the lowest standards of living on the planet.
The line that separates us from them is a simple one. They accept no boundaries. Their homes are crammed full of junk- expensive junk, to be sure, but trash none the less. When you have gutted your nation’s treasury for fun, you have to spend it on something. Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu left behind rack upon rack of fur coats, a zoo’s worth of stuffed lions, and room after room of antiques in the world’s second largest building, the “People’s Palace” in Bucharest, the construction of which meant the demolition of over 7000 buildings before it was completed. These people are of course barking mad. You don’t become a dictator by thinking small, but once you’ve reached the top of the heap, once you’ve pillaged your people and left them to starve, you can’t leave the house without an army, so your world actually becomes only that little space that can be made secure (and these people are naturally obsessed with security), in which you create your own version of the world. Witness the science fiction pornography of Saddam, massive murals depicting blonde-haired studs ready to wield their power upon buxom lasses, or Mussolini’s foreboding portrait staring down upon a feverish Benito, who had a different woman nearly every day of his reign from 1929 until he swung from a lamppost in 1945. These people indulged whatever fantasy that sprang into their diseased minds, and the pictures here are a sad testament to just how low, abhorrent and frankly, tacky, insanity can be.
The scale of obsession that York depicts here is nearly inconceivable, but for all its tut-tutting about style and digs at the poor taste of those profiled here, Dictator Style actually shows us, in chilling fashion, just how different some people are from the rest of humanity. Different to the point of not really being human at all, leopard skin rugs notwithstanding.