Steven Seagal’s pro-Putin babble couldn’t be easier to ignore – so why don’t we?

IIgnoring Steven Seagal has never been easier. The martial arts star isn’t exactly a ubiquitous presence on late-night talk shows. The action hits of its heyday don’t adorn the banners at the top of Netflix. Whole generations of children will now have reached adulthood without once hearing the words, “Hey, how about we see that new Steven Segal movie?”

Seagal has continued to make films, mostly direct-to-video, although he enjoys the glitz of early ’90s thrillers Hard to kill and Under siege long faded to nothing. Over the past three decades, Seagal has faced multiple charges of sexual harassment and sexual assault (all of which he has denied). This probably contributed to his drastic fall from the Hollywood mainstream, but it’s not the only factor. Even during his pomp, Seagal was widely known as a peddler of high-octane schlock – an all-action martial artist whose ability to convincingly deliver any type of dialogue was somewhat beside the point. In recent years, Seagal’s film work has shifted to obscure streaming productions (and the 2017 Chinese film). China seller, which also starred Mike Tyson). But he’s found a new way to get people’s attention: as one of Hollywood’s few vocal cheerleaders for Russia.

Back in 2018, Vladimir Putin appointed Seagal special envoy to Russia to improve relations with the United States. Seagal, who has been a Russian citizen since 2016, has made headlines in recent months with his brazen comments about the war in Ukraine (a country he was banned from entering in 2017 after being labeled a “national security threat”). On Sunday (April 10), the actor spoke at a 70th birthday dinner held in his honor at a Moscow restaurant, which was also attended by a number of prominent Putin allies (including Russian state TV host Vladimir Soleviev, described by The guard as “one of the country’s most notorious propagandists” and Russian journalist Margarita Simonyan, both on an EU sanctions list). To the crowd he said, “I love you all and we stand together through thick and thin.”

That Seagal would harbor such feelings shouldn’t come as a surprise: he has previously described Putin as “one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today.” In 2014 he called Russia’s annexation of Crimea “very reasonable”. It’s perhaps no wonder that people – including popular US podcaster Joe Rogan – were tricked into sharing a fake CNN earlier this year Report on the actor who falsely claimed that Seagal had joined Russian special forces stationed near Kyiv. For most celebrities, such a story would be made up as transparently as it comes. With Seagal everything seems plausible, obviously.

What makes Seagal such a cheap tabloid? At some level, the appeal is superficial. By Hollywood standards, he’s an odd-looking man: with his tinted glasses, imposing frame and shoebrush-thick goatee, he has an aesthetic that catches the eye and doesn’t let go. His career has been peppered with tales of behind-the-scenes dysfunction, be it his murky hosting days Saturday night live or alleged confrontations with co-stars and stunt coordinators. But Seagal’s love affair with Russia has only one dark appeal.

At a time when celebrities are tripping over themselves to make it clear how passionately they oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Seagal is a pathetic outlier. Even Gerard Depardieu, a Russian national who previously praised the Putin regime, has condemned the war and prompted a Kremlin response. On the other hand, Seagal is a Hollywood runaway in every sense of the word – an outcast whose only cultural relevance comes in the form of a handful of banging thrillers from some 30 years ago. His words really don’t affect anyone, offensive as they may be. If a henchman is felled by an aikido throw in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Well, before anyone mentions it, there’s obviously a degree of irony in devoting a 750-word column to a man who I suggest should get the global silent treatment. But that’s the problem with Seagal. Once it’s in your peripheral vision, it’s hard not to look. However, when the dust settles and Putin is judged in the cold light of history, Seagal will be little more than an odd, sad footnote. Steven Seagal’s pro-Putin babble couldn’t be easier to ignore – so why don’t we?


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