Among the most interesting things I’ve come across this semester has been Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator. These are very short (generally 5 minute) episodes of a show of sorts, currently being produced inside of Syria in an attempt to weaken Bashar al Assad. The story follows a finger puppet Assad, but calls him “Beeshu,” which is diminutive for Bashar, and portrays him as small, scared, controlled by his military generals, and absolutely crazy. Below is episode five, in which his children protesting him in his own home.
The show begins with Beeshu shouting out to himself, “I’m not crazy! I’m not crazy!” Beeshu then comes in while his children are playing, making a big fuss over himself, and asks the children why they did not clap for him, as others do when we walks into a room. The children explain that they are each mad because he has killed or tortured one of their friends. Beeshu cannot accept this, and tries either to justify what happened or to simply shut the children up. The final straw comes when they ask him if he’s heard the newest protest chant, and proceed to both to chant, “Syria, don’t be afraid, Bashar after Ghadaffi!” and tell their father he’d be lucky to last another month. Bashar then calls for his security officers, literally calling out ‘Goons! Goons!” He chases away his children, and crys out that they are “Infiltrators! Salafis! Israelis! Al Qaeda! Al Qaeda! Al Qaeda!”
In the discussion that followed a screening of the show, Nadim Shehadi, a visiting scholar to the Fares Center, mentioned the importance of undermining the idea of authority more than the physical authority in a case like Syria. He pointed out that, as long as people look at Syria and say things like ‘well, things are really bad now, but without Bashar, it might be worse, there might be Islamist extremists in power!’ we are buying into the idea of Assad’s power. He works very hard to posit himself as a keeper of peace on a regional scale, as preventing something even worse from coming, and buying into that idea can actually help uphold his regime. But the show works to undermine the idea of Assad as a stabilizing force, showing him as constantly scared, childish, and making outlandish statements, such as that anyone who opposes his power is a fundamentalist terrorist. This aims to send a very strong message to all those who might think to support Assad, showing him to be a very poor person to count on for anything, let alone their security.