Pyongyang’s new leading man, Kim Jong Un, is all about the lulz. But there’s nothing funny about life in the world’s most repressive state.
With each news cycle, North Korea’s young dictator appears a bit more huggable. In late July, we learned that Kim Jong Un had married Comrade Ri Sol Ju, playing a poised Kate Middleton to his porcine Prince William. Together on television, we can watch the chosen couple smile, interact with happy children, and perform a lengthy inspection of an Oz-like kindergarten.
Thanks to North Korean state media, we know, too, that Kim is flirting with something that might possibly be construed as reform. He seems to have sacked a hard-line general. He could be rolling back the privileges of the army. When a missile launched fizzled, he didn’t lie about it. In April, four months after his father died, he delivered a speech that suggested economic change could solve food shortages. He didn’t dwell on details, but his government seems to have dispatched 200 officials to study Chinese-style capitalism. He has reportedly sent about 40,000 technicians, seamstresses, and mechanics to work in China on industrial training visas.
For a 20-something supreme leader, Kim’s feel for small-ball symbolism seems unusually shrewd — and seductive to Westerners. He allowed women to wear pants at public events. In the company of the smartly dressed woman we now know to be his wife, he enjoyed a live Mickey Mouse performance and gave a thumbs-up to a concert rendition of the theme from “Rocky.”
This clearly calculated narrative has performed public relations magic.