Muammar al-Qaddafi and the Shades of Tyranny


| May-June 2009

It used to be that you could tell a despot by the audacity of his eyewear. Think Robert Mugabe with lenses like framed fists or Kim Jong Il with garish wraparound shades recalling a young Elton John. Bidoun (Summer 2008) observes “a wavering on the bridges of tyrants’ noses. Mugabe has moved toward more modest wire frames, and Kim has been photographed without any glasses at all.” Nowadays, notes the Middle East arts and culture journal, “innovations in totalitarian eyewear perch solely on the beak of Muammar al-Qaddafi.” On Tripoli’s billboards he wears “boxy frames with octagonal lenses, rounded frames with teardrop lenses, mirrored metal, or colored plastic.” For Libya’s enigmatic leader, forever alternating between friend and enemy of the West, “his sunglasses conceal nothing. They reveal him. His capricious nature is reflected in the ever-changing fashions of his face.”