So many fashion ads feature celebrities now that it isn't even faintly jarring to flip through the August issue of Vogue and see Scarlett Johansson lying on her belly with a Louis Vuitton bag over her shoulder and 10 pages later find her flat on her back, her cascading blond hair spread to promote L'Oréal Superior Preference shade No. 10NB. That said, what is a reader to make of a Vuitton ad, coming in the big September books, that stars Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union? A decade ago, Mr. Gorbachev's appearance in a Pizza Hut commercial was generally greeted as a low point in his career.
Unelected leader of a totalitarian country for six years and pizza pitchman is considered a career "low point"? Nothing worse than selling out, I suppose.
While Gorbachev surely deserves credit for the twin reforms of perestroika and glasnost (though he is often greatly overpraised), he, of course, never lost his fondness for that particularly Russian brand of authoritarianism. When asked what he thought of Putin's Soviet nostalgia, Gorby wasn't prepared to criticize the former KGB man: "Sure thing, there are some shortcomings and negative trends. Democracy is a good thing, no doubt about. But the government should satisfy the basic needs of the citizens—that's a top priority. If authoritarianism is required to do the job, I'm ready to give my full support to this kind of authoritarianism."
Things at lunch were amicable until I asked the former Pizza Hut pitchman whether he thought there was anything factual behind the persistent reporting in the west that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been backsliding away from democracy. Gorbachev's smile disappeared, his eyes narrowed to lumps of burning coal, and for the next 10 minutes or so he barked out an angry lecture defending Putin and savaging the United States for working actively to humiliate Russia and make her experiments with democracy and capitalism fail. (For an illustrative list of Gorbachev's nationalist paranoia and Putin apologia, click here.)
All terrible, sure. But that corporate shill stuff…