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America's Has-Been Stars Are Russia's A-List Pride

Russia's two "strong men." Image circulated anonymously online.

Russia's two “strong men.” Image circulated anonymously online.

Some of Hollywood’s biggest has-beens have been making major headlines in Russia lately, thrilling a nation happy to receive approval from America’s formerly famous entertainers.

In the past month, three U.S. actors have made a splash in Russia: David Duchovny, who starred in a patriotic Russian beer commercial, Steven Seagal, who performed at a music concert in the annexed city of Sevastopol, and Mickey Rourke, who donned a t-shirt with Putin’s face printed on it and later praised Putin on Russian television.

Rourke’s stunt, which took place earlier today in a Moscow shopping mall, is the most recent. He half-undressed for paparazzi after buying a Putin tee, and posed with passersby for photographs that instantly went viral on the RuNet. Afterwards, Rourke appeared on the Kremlin-friendly TV station Lifenews, where he applauded Putin for “not hiding like a secret agenda [sic]” and being “direct,” “like a man should.”

Rourke got a warm welcome from many Russians online. Blogger Anton Korobkov tried (unsuccessfully, it seems) to launch the hashtag #RourkeNash (“RourkeIsOurs”):

Actor Mickey Rourke was one of the first to get a t-shirt bearing Putin’s image, which he then wore to lunch. #RourkeNash

No sooner than Rourke donned a shirt painted with Putin’s face did Internet users immortalize in Photoshop the union of these two strong men.

Mickey Rourke: “If I didn't like Putin, I wouldn't wear a shirt with his image on it for any amount of money.”

Lifenews television’s chief editor, Anatoly Suleymanov, joked that Rourke promised to gift one of the t-shirts to U.S. President Barack Obama.

We agreed that Mickey Rourke would gift some Putin t-shirts to Obama.

One of the most popular tweets about Rourke’s Moscow visit belongs to Russian actor and noted homophobe Ivan Okhlobystin, who in the past has advocated burning gays and their sympathizers in ovens. Okhlobystin calls Rourke “Harley,” referring to Rourke’s leading role in the 1991 action film “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” a movie that Okhlobystin inexplicably remembers.

Harley cannot lie. :) RT @Patsan64: Mickey Rourke: I will wear this Putin shirt and walk down the street in America.

Last month, David Duchovny was the toast of Russia, after the former X-Files star filmed an advertisement for Siberian Crown beer (see below). Though Duchovny subsequently denied being “pro-Putin,” Russian state-TV has continued to tweet about his personal life, noting, for instance, his 54th birthday last week. On YouTube, the beer commercial has more than 5.7 million views and over 36,000 “up votes.”

Steven Seagal, on the other hand, is unreservedly close to the Kremlin. In 2013, he also befriended Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, whom Seagal treated to his own rendition of the local ethnic dance (see below). Last weekend, Seagal traveled to Russia’s newest territory, Crimea, where his blues band performed in a motorcyclists’ concert. Before Russian television cameras, the actor accepted a Putin t-shirt like the one Rourke bought today, and declared himself Russian, citing his grandparents’ Slavic roots.

Seagal, who does not speak Russian, has impressed many with his eagerness to embrace a government many now consider an enemy of peace in Eastern Europe. When he accepted the Putin shirt and announced his Russian identity, the crowd drowned Seagal in cheers. Had the audience tested the actor’s knowledge of his new homeland, however, Russians might have been disappointed, one Twitter user implied:

In Crimea, Steven Seagal declared, “I am Russian!” From the crowd, people answered, “You’re gandon [scum].” “Gandon,” Seagal added loudly, smiling and bowing.

Of course, there is a long history of Hollywood stars—even the celebrities who aren't yet washed up—traveling far from California's shores, in order to earn some extra money by selling products abroad or entertaining bored dictators. Jennifer Lopez has performed for corrupt Russian business tycoons. Years before Seagal ever danced the lezginka, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank flew to Chechnya for Kadyrov's birthday party.

What's curious about the recent explosion of B-list American actors popping up in Russia is how publicly they've appeared. This is no longer about private parties in remote locations. Moreover, thanks to its stranglehold on the mass media, the Russian government is able to take one concert, or one TV interview, and replicate it into a thousand memes and sound bites. Eventually, it becomes impossible to tell where the propaganda ends and the public's response begins.

And this is what actors like Mickey Rourke and Steven Seagal are feeding.

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