Ave Evita


Credit: David Appleby

The release of the operatic film Evita, starring mono-named cultural phenomenon Madonna, raises an interesting question: What does Eva Peron have over Imelda Marcos? Both women, after all, hitched their wagons (and did some of the driving) to strongman dictators with little taste for civil and economic liberties and huge appetites for state planning and repression. So why aren't we witnessing the premier of Imelda? "An elusive beauty," wrote Newsweek, Eva dressed in couture and appeared "ever stylish." By contrast, Imelda's one widely publicized fashion fetish–shoes, shoes, and more shoes–seems the stuff of, well, a petty dictator's wife.

More important, Eva had the good grace to die young (at age 33 in 1952), leave a good-looking corpse (once stolen for its talismanic powers and now residing in a triple-locked steel vault), and to do so before the mob overran the palace gates (Juan got the boot in 1955 but came back a few years later). Imelda, alas, lingers on in life and as a sitcom punchline. Fashion sense and timing go a long way in smoothing over Realpolitik.