North Korea is the funniest country in the world. The New York Times is the funniest newspaper in the world, but only in the way that your grandfather’s jokes are so out-of-character as to be invariably hilarious. Example: North Koreans Learn They Have First Lady. The woman seen with Kim Jong-un at various state functions has been identified on Central TV* as his wife. It explains why she was hanging around talking to generals and stuff. Boyfriends take note: if you have to wait for state-run television to introduce her, and you are not supreme dictator, you are going to hear about it later.
Kim Jong-un, you will remember, is the recently-advanced son of hilarious dead person Kim Jong-il. Specifically, he is not the one who disappeared after failing to secretly visit Japanese Disneyland or the big one. Kim Jong-un is husky and in-charge and he exists, as we learned in 2010 when he was formally named successor to the leadership of North Korea. Not that he is merely a redux of his father:
He has recently begun projecting himself as self-confident enough to attempt a different ruling style from that of the dour and reclusive Kim Jong-il. North Korean television showed him raising a thumb at a girl group singing the theme song of the iconic American movie “Rocky” during the concert that featured Mickey Mouse.
Those girls lived. Also, am I to understand that North Korea acknowledges Mickey Mouse?
It is not a frivolous question. The party line, if you will, in North Korea is that America is fake and gay. State media and official statements present the United States as both a world-grasping Satan and a failed hoax, claiming that our people starve in the streets and our foreign policy is an imperialist plot. We don’t know how much the North Korean people are buying it. It’s difficult to get basic information out of North Korea—the Times, for example, describes Kim Jong-un as “still believed to be in his late 20s”—so broader cultural questions like how many people realize they live in 1984, allusively and chronologically, are unanswerable.
Except we know they like Mickey Mouse. Probably because North Korea gets a lot of stuff from China, “rucksacks, pencil cases and pajamas” featuring Disney characters have been popular there for years. Two weeks ago, the Kims attended a concert where footage from Disney films played on a backdrop. And there’s this:
All these cultural developments seem to relate to Kim Jong-un’s self-professed “grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year.” I think we’re all glad that North Korean literature will soon ascend to the sophistication of Lady and the Tramp, but the question of how Kim’s love of Disney could possibly jibe with his position re: America remains. Maybe except the shocker, Disney is the most American thing. We are forced to consider two possibilities:
- The good people of North Korea are not aware that Disney is American.
- American culture is just that great.
It could easily be number one. Disney movies are animated, so it’s not like the characters appear to be speaking English. Besides, your typical North Korean—your Park John Q—has probably never seen an undubbed piece of video in his life. The news seal between North Korea and the outside world appears to be complete. There is no reason the North Korean public should know that Kim Il Sung didn’t draw Snow White while he was fencing Nixon with his other hand.
Somebody knows, though. If not the guys who rip the Chinese DVDs, there is at least some level of the North Korean government above which everyone knows that Disney movies come from America. As members of a political entity in which the appearance of loyalty is presumably important—everyone in the North Korean government has to pretend to love communism and the Kims and hate America—they conduct themselves with this truth tacitly acknowledged. We oppose the evil capitalism and its thrall America, but man, can they tell the story of a socially awkward elephant.
As little as we know about North Korea, in other words, we know the lie is not complete. Somewhere, somebody is sufficiently committed to realism to get Aladdin on the scrim. I find that hopeful. North Korea is a country whose leader marries someone, takes her to some official functions, goes a few weeks without killing her—okay, let’s introduce her to the people. But they know a good movie when they see one. We can reason with them.