Seven Ways of Looking at Dennis Rodman

1. My first thought, after watching George Stephanopoulos interview Dennis Rodman on ABC’s This Week last Sunday, was this: Has anyone ever been more of a walking indictment of contemporary educational standards, and of the contemporary obsession with celebrities, than this guy? (I mean Rodman, not Stephanopoulos.) I don’t know much about Rodman’s career, but I gather that he was once a college basketball player, which I assume means that at some point in his youth he actually sat in college classrooms and was taught stuff by actual teachers. I found out online that he’s “written” four books – but his genial inarticulateness on This Week, his seemingly blithe indifference to the nightmarish truth about life in North Korea, and the general impression he gave of utter foolishness and ignorance makes one wonder what book, if any, he has ever read. My preoccupation here, please note, isn’t with the big dumb jock himself but with the values of a culture in which somebody who can dunk a ball into a hoop becomes an international demigod and, long after his athletic career is over, is able, thanks to such vehicles as Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Rehab, to remain a household name while, say, any number of brilliant researchers toil in obscurity making medical breakthroughs.

2. Then again, the fact that Rodman appears to have been the first American to meet the new North Korean dictator is a striking indication that modern celebrity culture, which is overwhelmingly an American creation, has taken root even in the presidential palace in Pyongyang – which makes Rodman’s state visit to North Korea, in an admittedly twisted way, a kind of victory for the good old U.S.A.

3. And here’s a question: Is Rodman’s “diplomacy” really that much more absurd or misguided or disgraceful or disastrous than that of the alleged professionals whom we’re paying to carry it out? At least Rodman is more honest than the folks at Foggy Bottom. (Benghazi, anyone?) And at least he’s conceivably capable of learning and admitting the error of his ways, whereas most of the State Department types who have crossed my path – the sort who, whether they really believe it or not, slickly insist that, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood is “moderate” – will never, ever change their tune.

4. And let’s not lose sight of this: Rodman is part of a long and ignoble tradition. As John Avlon noted the other day in an article for CNN, Charles Lindbergh befriended Hitler, Paul Robeson palled around with Stalin, and Gabriel García Márquez was chummy with Castro. Avlon also lists a number of celebs who, out of sheer cluelessness, have accepted huge sums of money to perform for the likes of Qaddafi – but that’s not quite the same topic. Surprisingly, there’s a bunch of big names Avlon left out. Since I live in Norway, I immediately thought of explorer-hero Thor Heyerdahl (also a buddy of Castro’s), and novelist Knut Hamsun (who met Hitler, wrote a eulogy for him, and sent Goebbels his Nobel Prize). But why didn’t Avlon mention Hugo Chávez’s many Hollywood comrades, most notably Sean Penn (who campaigned with him last fall and called him “inspiring”), but also Danny Glover, Naomi Campbell, Tim Robbins, Benecio del Toro (star of the Che Guevara films), and Kevin Spacey? Even dopey showbiz-gossip magazines, websites, and TV shows have raised eyebrows over these famous folks’ fascination with the Venezuelan strongman. Why no mention by Avlon of Oliver Stone, who in addition to schmoozing Chávez also made a hagiographic film about Fidel, telling reporters thatthe American attitude to Castro is so caricatured. He’s the guy with the beard, he’s a commie, he’s the guy you have to attack right away with ‘How many people are in prison? When will you hold elections?’ These very negative and hostile questions that set the wrong tonality. The wrong questions are being asked.”

5. One significant difference between Rodman and many of these other celebrity amigos of dictators, past and present, is that they had better educations than he did. Oliver Stone went to Yale. He, Penn, and a bunch of the other tyrant-huggers plainly consider themselves intellectuals, which Rodman certainly doesn’t. Which, of course, is why he’s the one who went to North Korea: Penn, Stone, and company might not have found it morally problematic to spend a few days basking in the admiration of a Kim Jung Un, but they’re sharp enough to realize that for most of their left-wing fans and friends who have no problem with their Chávez and Castro connections, the sight of them cozying up to Kim would be a bridge too far.

6. It’s more or less clear, I guess, what attracts a celebrity with intellectual pretensions to a left-wing dictator. But what about Dennis Rodman? Well, obviously, he’s received massive amounts of publicity (he just didn’t realize, or, perhaps, didn’t care, that it might not end up being good publicity). But it’s more than that. Celebrity seeks out celebrity. It’s almost a matter of chemical attraction. Hanging with the super-famous reassures you that you’re famous, which is all that really matters. Smart or dumb, many celebrities at Rodman’s level are so self-absorbed, so lost in their own fame, and so detached from real life that they’re incapable of perceiving the difference – for ordinary people – between living in a totalitarian state and a free country. Their only means of judging another individual is to ask themselves: (a) how big a celebrity is this person and (b) how much does he adore me?  Kim loves basketball, and loves Rodman, and so what’s for Rodman not to like? All else – namely, the starving and imprisoned millions – is mere “politics” and moral equivalence.

7.  Don’t laugh, but it’s just possible that Rodman, more than Oliver Stone or your typical State Department attaché, may be educable. Presumably operating on this assumption, Stephanopoulos, at the end of their colloquy, handed him a copy of a Human Rights Watch report on North Korea. I’ve read my share of Human Rights Watch reports, and I can’t easily imagine Rodman getting through one of them or, if he did, grasping the dimensions of the problem through all that dry, technocratic prose. If he’s genuinely able and willing to do some reading about the subject before he returns to Pyongyang (as he’s said he will) to visit his new bro, I’d urge him to crack open Melanie Kirkpatrick’s recent Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad or Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom, both of which put human faces on the statistics about life (and death) under the Kim dynasty. If, deep down, Rodman has any moral sense at all, a few pages chosen at random out of either of these books should be enough to make him ashamed of pretty much everything he’s done and said in recent days. He might, I suspect, be interested in a passage, from pages 93-4 of Kirkpatrick’s book, about institutional racism in North Korea, where theirs is considered “the ‘cleanest race,’ possessing a unique moral purity.” So virulent is this racism that women who are imprisoned for having escaped to China, and who carry “Chinese seed,” are routinely subjected by jailers to beatings or hard labor until they abort spontaneously. “In cases where the repatriated woman gives birth,” writes Kirkpatrick, “her newborn is taken away from her. The infant is drowned, smothered, left outside in the elements, or clubbed to death.”

Have a nice trip back, Dennis! Say hi to your new friend.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.  

  • Mary Sue

    Who's more likely to tell the truth about Benghazi:

    Dennis Rodman, John Kerry, Hilary Rodham Clinton, or Barack Obama?

    • Toni_Pereira

      I really don't know, but Kerry was correct all along in that "right to be stupid" thing.

    • hyedenny

      That's not fair – I doubt Rodman even knows what Benghazi is.

      "Huh? Ben-Gay? Homey don't play dat"

  • BS77

    I think Rodman was pretty cool going to N Korea….inadvertently as an ambassador for sports, peace, being sociable and all….It is surrealistic, true, but there is something positive about it.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "It is surrealistic, true, but there is something positive about it."

      If he just made an offhand suggestion, that's fine. But he went through with it without evaluating the consequences, or he had some bad advisers. That's clearly on the negative side all tolled.

      I saw the pic and assumed they were chatting about Gangnam style.

    • STEVEN CHAVEZ

      I don't get it. WHY DIDN'T HE STAY? All these celebrity types and university dupes go to countries like NK, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, and Russia, and gloat about their system and heroic leaders and yet they come back here to "a terrorist nation." Why do they continue to live a lie instead of following their true ideals?

      • Drakken

        Because they want their cake and eat it too, hypocracy at it's finest.

    • Mary Sue

      He's a duped moron. He's like the Hanoi Jane of our time.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "He's a duped moron. He's like the Hanoi Jane of our time."

        Or Hanoi John, our Secretary of State.

  • truebearing

    "Seven ways of looking at Dennis Rodman?"

    He's a fool, a moron, an imbecile, a dolt, a stooge, an idiot, and a Democrat (courtesy of the Department of Redundancy Department).

    • Mary Sue

      And somehow he makes a better Secretary of State than Kerry, Alldim, or Clinton put together.
      (and as you can tell, that ain't saying a whole lot).

      • JacksonPearson

        The big difference between the two are, Kerry has wheelbarrows full of cash to globe trot the world to play Santa Claus with. Denny twirls a basketball.

        • Walt

          That's taxpayer cash he is using! How dim can you be?

    • Cassandra

      I heard him speak yesterday and that was enough for me to see what an idiot he is.

    • BS77

      Let's chill out….true, North Korea is an Orwellian slave colony…but this Rodman event ranks as a NOTHING given what else is going on in the world…..have you read about the terror bombings in Pakistan? That is a catastrophe….scores killed, scores maimed……and little reported…I guess we are jaded by now. Terrorist bombings are so commonplace they are barely mentioned anymore.

      • Drakken

        So please tell us the downside of muslims whacking muslims? The more the merrier and the better for us infidels.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "Let's chill out….true, North Korea is an Orwellian slave colony…but this Rodman event ranks as a NOTHING given what else is going on in the world…..have you read about the terror bombings in Pakistan? That is a catastrophe….scores killed, scores maimed……and little reported…I guess we are jaded by now."

        It's all part of the same struggle over ideology. Nobody is chasing Rodman with any pitchforks. We're chill dude.

        "Terrorist bombings are so commonplace they are barely mentioned anymore."

        Correct. They're not the most salient thing to discuss on a daily basis when the battle of ideas goes much deeper than bemoaning tactics. Terror bombings should be telling Westerners that we are engaged in total war with a totalitarian enemy. But leftists re-imagine them as "freedom fighters" fighting tyranny. In their red-green narratives we're the tyrants and we're the problem.

        The biggest most important battle is over ideology.

  • Cora

    a pun – Rodman is American dip-low-messy at its "best"

  • Richard

    Rodman is a goofy lunatic
    His personal life and professional life is hilariously chaotic.
    Don't read too much into this.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Rodman is a goofy lunatic
      His personal life and professional life is hilariously chaotic.
      Don't read too much into this."

      It is what it is. Just another sign on the road. It's worth discussing.

  • jacob

    I guess the concept of the word "celebrity" has degenerated loudly…
    I would call Dr.SABIN, inventor of the polio vaccine a celebrity…
    I would call EINSTEIN a celebrity
    I would call EDISON a celebrity…and so on and so forth

    But like hell I would call "celebrity" someone like the subject of this article because he either was
    born with it or polished it up, the ability to throw a ball through a ring or who dressed like a
    locomotive in that cripples factory call American football, runs the length of a stadium carrying a ball….
    And by the way, I've found most of these "celebrities" to be pretty stupid outside the spheres of
    their specialties….
    Definitely, it has been a perversion of the meaning of the world….

    • Ray Olson

      Dear jacob–A note of friendly correction: Dr. Jonas Salk developed the (trivalent, "killed"-virus) polio vaccine. Dr. Sabin developed the orally administered (live-virus) variant of Salk's "invention".

    • Russ P.

      Not that it matters, but I don't think Rodman was much of a scorer. He "talent," if you can call it that, was rebounding.

      • Russ P.

        make that "his talent". This thing needs editing capability.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "I guess the concept of the word "celebrity" has degenerated loudly…
      I would call Dr.SABIN, inventor of the polio vaccine a celebrity…
      I would call EINSTEIN a celebrity
      I would call EDISON a celebrity…and so on and so forth "

      You are making judgments about who deserves celebrity. You can make judgments about who you celebrate but not who is celebrated at large.

      celebrity (n.)
      late 14c., "solemn rite or ceremony," from Old French celebrité "celebration" or directly from Latin celibritatem (nominative celebritas) "multitude, fame," from celeber "frequented, populous" (see celebrate). Meaning "condition of being famous" is from c.1600; that of "famous person" is from 1849.

      Nobody said that all celebrities deserve it. One can be a notorious celebrity. I'd say Rodman is leaning in that direction just slightly. Oliver Stone is a celebrity, quite notorious among many.

      It's a matter of perspective because the key fight is over ideology.

  • STEVEN CHAVEZ

    Another CHICAGO BULLShi++er who loves COMMIES, who also played hoops with MJ, and who loves a man who also said, "I'm not a dictator."

  • 11bravo

    Rodman is harmless!!
    His going over only shows the rest of the world what a crazy flake the kid dictator is. What a joke this shiite stain of a country matters at all. If there were ever a case for dropping a nuke again…this is the place. Just aim for the head of state with one, and the head of the military with the second.
    If I were Rodman, broke! and craving to be relevent again, I would go too!

    No big deal really.

  • Sky Soldier

    As a child I'd laugh my head off a the "Three Stooges" comic movies. Today, I can't even bring a smile up for this STOOGE, Dennis Rodman. What a pathetic dumg a#$ he is… too many drugs fried his brain or is he really that stupid?

  • BLJ

    Rodman went there at Obama's behest. He is a moron and so is Obama. Both of them should spend a week or so in one of the gulags in that beautiful place.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Rodman went there at Obama's behest."

      That is entirely plausible. Someone had to make the arrangements. State Department would almost certainly be involved with most of the arrangements.

  • Questions

    Bawer believes Dennis Rodman once upona time may have been a college hoops player — he's not sure, mind you. Does this guy have access to Wikipedia or some other general info site? Rodman long has been a public ass, but during the late Eighties and much of the Nineties he was a star player with NBA's Detroit Pistons. He ranks as one of the greatest rebounders in the history of basketball.

    • Knucklehead

      So that qualifies him to be an ambassador to the U.S.A.? The guy's a total ass, and a traitor.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "So that qualifies him to be an ambassador to the U.S.A.? The guy's a total ass, and a traitor."

        No, but he's not as bad as Jimmy Carter.

    • Mary Sue

      That don't take a whole lotta brains. As evidenced by he uncritically bought everything Kim Jong Unf told him as if it was from On High™.

    • Bruce Bawer

      Ahem, I didn't say "believe," I said "gather."

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "He ranks as one of the greatest rebounders in the history of basketball."

      Therefore everyone must care, and memorize all sports stats of star players in the US. At least the stats of those who might wander off the reservation to visit dictators of enemy states.

    • Mary Sue

      I guess you entirely missed the sarcasm of that particular point.

  • http://shugartpoliticalaction.shugartmedia.com/uncommonsense/ Chris_Shugart

    We may be on to something here. The U.S. should consider from here on out to staff the U.N. exclusively with clueless celebrities. What better way to show the world how naive and ignorant most Americans are on world affairs? It couldn't possibly make our international standing any worse than it already is. And at the very least it could add some much needed comedy relief to a dreary cast of statists, socialists, and dictators that now infest the U.N. Cynical? Yes. But painfully true nonetheless.

  • Jocko

    "Bawer believes Dennis Rodman once upon a time may have been a college hoops player "

    Maybe he researched the article well. Maybe it was a put down.

    I still hate jocks from my days at college.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Maybe it was a put down."

      Um, yeah.

  • Drakken

    With the way our state dept is run today, I say we should send more of these useless idiots to the 3rd world and then let the fun begin! As far as I am concerned we should fire every state dept employee and replace them with retired military, then we would be respected again. Until then, let the circus that this is run its course.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "As far as I am concerned we should fire every state dept employee and replace them with retired military"

      That's a great top-level filter to start the cull. The cry would be of course that it would reinforce past prejudiced hiring practices, precluding qualified women and gays and so forth. We just must recreate society according to our Utopian dreams and wipe out anything perceived as imperfect. We can't let today's realities impede the creation of tomorrow's Utopian society.

      • Drakken

        I think my friend that we are at the tipping point of no return, the utopian nightmare that the left wants is going to turn into a backlash of bibical proportions.

        • objectivefactsmatter

          "I think my friend that we are at the tipping point of no return, the utopian nightmare that the left wants is going to turn into a backlash of bibical proportions."

          Without doubt. They might as well work on bringing hell to earth.

  • VLParker

    Rodman is a useful idiot. The people at the State Department are useless idiots.

  • irateiconoclast

    Rotten Rod"Man" epitomizes the vacuous nature of our intellectually bankrupt society and its incessant proclivity to hand out fame and fortune to the sub-worthless.

  • ariel2900

    Might want to change a few thins in this article now that Dennis has returned. N. Korea just announced the peace trearty with the US will no longer be honored. Great job Dennis—way to get them fired up!

  • Ghostwriter

    Dennis Rodman may be a good basketball player but he's a total idiot when it comes to the friends he makes. Kim Jong-Un is a creep who'll use him to get what he wants,respectability abroad. And old Dennis walked right into that one.