“”♫I'm the smiling face on your TV
♫I'm the cult of personality
|—Living Colour, "Cult of Personality"|
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
A personality cult or cult of personality is a system in which the political legitimacy of an organization is the function of the leader. Often such leaders are able to control a group of people through the sheer force of their personality. In extreme cases the leader can be portrayed as a god-like figure.
Where the personality cult forms around a head of state, criticising that person is generally prohibited and/or dangerous - with threats made against the critics by supporters of the head of state. Where the head of state has attained strong or complete control of state-sponsored media they have often used this to spread propaganda to ensure that the masses receive a consistent positive picture of the head of state. Propaganda will typically depict the leader as being a great leader, a genius prophet or a god-like figure, able to relate to ordinary people and upholding their interests, always in command - shown in propaganda with commanding appearance and never shown in submission to anyone. Frequently personality-cult leaders claim to be devoted to a mission as the embodiment of the will of the people or of the nation. Leaders promoting personality cults will frequently tie their own image to various national heroes as a means of legitimating themselves and their policies (think of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar making his great-uncle the Roman Dictator Julius Caesar a deity and dedicating monuments to him, or of Soviet posters showing the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao).
Various monarchies claimed some form of divine sanction, but that doesn't necessarily make them personality cults in the modern sense, as the phenomenon is most commonly associated with post-19th-century mass-media.
New surfaces may be produced for no other reason than to present that image, as satirized with the balloon bearing Joseph Stalin's image in an empty field in the 1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun.
Personality cults are often found in strongly authoritarian societies like absolute monarchies with no democracy in them, but they can also develop in authoritarian semi-democratic societies like those of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, or in totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler or like the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Although it is very rare to see them in strongly democratic countries, they do occur from time to time.
- Donald Trump (USA): "I alone can fix it" 
- Li Hongzhi (China): self-proclaimed "Main Buddha of the Universe"
- Mao Zedong (China): Literally worshipped. Had loyalty dances and inspired a cultural revolution because his relative power in the Communist Party was shrinking.
- "Big Daddy Xi" Jinping (China)
- Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Eva "Evita" Perón, with her fans Peronists or Peronistas (Argentina)
- Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)
- Alberto Fujimori and Keiko Fujimori of Peru, along with several Fujimorist political parties
- Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (Dominican Republic)
- Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hosni Mubarak, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt following in the well trodden footsteps of their Pharaonic predecessors)
- Augustus Caesar (Roman Empire - though his worship as a god after his death takes the cake)
- Emperor Caligula
- Napoleon Bonaparte (France)
- Saddam Hussein (Iraq)
- Ayatollah Khomeini (and by extension, Ayatollah Khamenei) (Iran)
- Benito Mussolini (Italy)
- Emperor Hirohito (Japan, Until 1945 the Japanese imperial clan claimed to be descendants from the Sun goddess Amaterasu; this claim was especially emphasized starting with the Meiji emperor. The American occupation put an end to it).
- Francisco Franco (Spain)
- Getúlio Vargas (Brazil)
- Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya)
- Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Zaïre) — his concept of authenticité
- Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
- Kim Il Sung (eternal president even after his death), his son, and then his grandson (North Korea) — Hitch loved to make fun of this
- Vladimir Putin (Russia Rehabilitating the images of both Stalin and the Czars!)
- Atheism-is-Unstoppable 'Devon Tracey'
- Vladimir Lenin (Soviet Union)
- Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union)
- Fidel Castro, even though he disliked the concept and his last wish was that no statues would be erected in his honor and no streets or cities be named after him (Cuba)
- Jean-Bédel Bokassa, later Emperor Bokassa I (Central African Republic)
- Park Chung-Hee (South Korea)
- Andrew Schlafly (mostly USA): Beloved by non-troll Conservapedians, a lot of which is likely due to his sheer amount of power on the shite scaring them
- Phyllis Schlafly (USA): Practically a god to many antifeminists and homophobes
- Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir (Sudan)
- Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar al-Assad (Syria)
- Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia)
- Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan, aka Türkmenbaşy lit. Father of all Turkman. Read his book three times get into heaven free!), and his successer Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
- Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Turkey)
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey)
- Nicolae Ceauşescu (Romania)
- Augusto Pinochet (Chile)
- Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)
- Nicholas Maduro (Venezuela; frequently depicts himself along with pictures of Hugo and founding father Simon Bolivar).
- Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen)
- Ayn Rand and her Randroids (USA)
- Charles Manson and his "Family" (USA)
- G Edward Griffin (USA)
- Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)
- David Koresh and the disaster we know as Waco (USA)
- Jim Jones and his equally disastrous "Kool-Aid drinkers" (USA)
- Ronald Reagan for Republicans and John F. Kennedy for Democrats, and the Founding Fathers in general (USA)
- Steve Jobs - co-founder of Apple Computers known for his showmanship and obnoxiously perfectionist behavior.
- Elon Musk - (in)famous US businessman and engineer known for his batshit insane approach to new technologies. Hyperloop anyone?
In pop culture
For various reasons, the idea of a personality cult is entering pop culture spheres, sometimes as just another set piece (such as in "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour in 1988), but sometimes it's a major element of a movie. An example is the German film The Wave (originally made in 1981 and remade in 2008). The movie was based on the social experiment called "Third Wave" created by Ron Jones, and is about a German teacher who attempts to show his high school students what fascism is. As a result, he accidentally creates a personality cult that leads to large amounts of vandalism, an attempted murder, and a suicide when the instructor (Wenger) tells his students that the experiment is over. The 2001 German thriller film Das Experiment is somewhat similar. The Emperor of Mankind is also a fine example.
- Living Colour Lyrics "Cult Of Personality"
- Burnt by the Sun, IMDB
- Personality vs. Party, National Review
- "Xi Jinping: the growing cult of China's 'Big Daddy Xi'". Daily Telegraph. 8 December 2014. Retrieved on 5 October 2015.
- Muriel Mirak-Weissbach (1 May 2012). Madmen at the Helm: Pathology and Politics in the Arab Spring. Garnet Publishing Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-86372-457-2. https://books.google.com/books?id=RHYCBzgt0sQC&pg=RA2-PA1.
- Neville Teller (28 September 2014). The Search for Détente:: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014. Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-78306-592-9. https://books.google.com/books?id=IAwdBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA315.
- Is Castro’s battle to avoid a personality cult destined to fail? (2016-12-05) France 24.
- A portion of people reading this article will be probably thinking "Why not Obama?" Simple: looking back from today, it was a very short one. The most important element of a personality cult is the usage of authority to perpetuate artificial 'apotheosis'; you don't want videos [Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org such] as these lying around. American society has an unusual tendency to mythologize Presidents (ironically, even worse than today's constitutional monarchies), and over time ignore the very things which make them human. But who knows what will happen in 50 years to the legacy of the first POTUS who transcended the barriers of race. (We'd like an objective account, thanks.)