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Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Sept. 1, 2010; Nelly Furtado at the Grammys in Las Vegas, Nov. 11, 2010. (Ismail Zitouny / Reuters; Julie Jacobson / AP)
Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Sept. 1, 2010; Nelly Furtado at the Grammys in Las Vegas, Nov. 11, 2010. (Ismail Zitouny / Reuters; Julie Jacobson / AP)

Leah McLaren

When pop stars in bubbles sing for dictators in bubbles Add to ...

Earlier this week, Canadian pop star Nelly Furtado proudly tweeted to her fans that she intended to give away the $1-million she had received in 2007 for performing a 45-minute set in an Italian hotel for the Gadhafi family and their friends.

It's a well-intentioned gesture, to be sure, but one that raises the question: Who exactly does she intend to give the cash to? The Libyan People's Army? The innocent civilians of Tripoli? Furtado mentioned something about "charity" in her tweet, but it's unclear how far a donation to her local animal shelter or even Human Rights Watch will go to make up for the fact that Furtado, like so many of her already-rich celebrity peers, was apparently only too happy to throw principles to the wind when it came to easy money.

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It's like the old joke about the woman who concedes she'll sleep with a stranger for $50,000 but not for five. We've already established what Nelly does for a living - now we're just haggling over the price.

To be fair, the pop star is at least trying to make amends, and she is hardly alone in shaking her booty for nasty people.

Among the many colourful revelations about Moammar Gadhafi and his family uncovered in WikiLeaks cables - that the embattled dictator is afraid to sleep above the ground floor, or fly over water; that he never travels without the company of a certain voluptuous blond nurse; and that he takes all meetings in a tent - the news that Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Usher had performed at the colonel's annual New Year's bashes in St. Barthélemy was by far the most sickening, if not entirely surprising.

Hollywood celebrities and Third World dictators have long enjoyed a quiet kinship, one based on a shared revulsion of the always-critical media, a love of leopard print, and the kind of boundless self-regard that leads to crazed rants on state television and TMZ, respectively.

The list of pop stars who have accepted dirty money to entertain despots and tyrants is a long and historied one. Years before Mariah and Beyoncé belted out their ballads, Lionel Richie performed at Gadhafi's so-called peace concert in 2006, an event that marked the 20th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Libya (made in retaliation for a 1986 Berlin nightclub bombing that killed two U.S. servicemen).

Nor is Gadhafi the only dictator who likes being serenaded by stars: James Brown and B.B. King performed for Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974. Bob Marley got down for Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, at his swearing-in in 1980, apparently after Cliff Richards turned him down. Michael Jackson chummed with Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the king of Bahrain.

Oliver Stone and the Manic Street Preachers rocked out with Castro. Sting got jiggy for the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov. (He later claimed he believed the concert was sponsored by Unicef, which turned out not to be true.) The list of entertainment atrocities committed by celebrities for money is a long and rich one.

Such revelations are, of course, particularly revolting in an era when social causes are such a fashionable image-tweaking tool. One wonders how Beyoncé and Jay-Z reconcile partying with Gadhafi's spawn on Saint Barthélemy, for a payout, within a few months of joining in the MTV Hope for Haiti telethon. Do they figure one karmically cancels the other out - that one song and dance can be performed greedily and on the sly, and another openly and to elicit public veneration, all without any moral conflict?

Do they even understand the difference between singing for charity and singing for a man who slaughters his own people? Or is it just another jet, another Jacuzzi, and another gig?

My suspicion is the latter - not that ignorance is any excuse. But as anyone well knows who has spent much time interviewing or working with celebrities (as I have over the years), a terrifying number of superfamous people are just as insulated from reality as the dictators who love to employ them.

Consider, if you will, Gadhafi's recent interview with ABC News in which he insisted no one is against him except al-Qaeda, who are drugging Libyan youth, causing them to protest against their will. "They love me, all. They will die to protect me, my people," he insisted.

He went on to add: "I am on a drug, it's called Colonel Gadhafi. It's not available, because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body."

Okay, that last part was actually Charlie Sheen, talking to the same network on the same day Gadhafi gave his interview. And okay, he called the drug "Charlie Sheen" not "Colonel Gadhafi." But surely you can see why these people get along.

Follow on Twitter: @leahmclaren

 

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