North Korean political leaders have a tradition of inspiring media trends.
Kim Jong-Il spawned the infamous “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things” blog, and his father, Kim Il-Sun, forced a trend of sorts by requiring North Koreans to hang his picture in their houses. For a while, it seemed that the new North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, would fall short of his forefathers in terms of viral media movements, but fear not: the littlest Dear Leader now has a fake Twitter account, @KimJongNumberUn.
As satirized on @KimJongNumberUn, Kim is a Jennifer Love-Hewitt groupie, a diehard Creed fan and an avid follower of the Republican presidential debates. He frequently writes haikus about bands he wants to see live, overuses the hash tag #BOOM and makes surprisingly agreeable foreign policy suggestions. (Jan. 11: “My final offer to the US: we will stop making nukes if you stop making Chipmunks sequels. #itsallgood”).
Of course, there is the side of his fictional character that starkly reflects the situation in North Korea, perhaps best epitomized by a tweet from Jan. 8: “Does my population make me look fat?” It is here that @KimJongNumberUn turns from mockery to social commentary with a razor-sharp edge, reminding the reader that North Korea is really no laughing matter.
I addressed a similar online parody of the life of a dictator last year in a review of the online comic Hipster Hitler, in which I argued that such “dictator diatribes” serve as a way of taking the incomprehensible actions of history’s worst figures and making them manageable via humor.
This is not to say that the solution to widespread poverty and starvation in North Korea is to laugh at it. Providing a solution of any sort is not really these parodies’ intention. Instead, @KimJongNumberUn and parodies like it address the psychological component of atrocity: how do we explain such horrible things? How can human beings inflict such suffering on one another?
There are two ways to answer these questions. The first is to delve into the brain, turning to evolution and neuroscience for an explanation as to what genes and chemical imbalances may cause some leaders to oppress their people. The second is acceptance: that evil exists, that it is difficult to explain rationally and that we must find alternatives to seeking clarity in order to deal with the cognitive dissonance.
It is the latter goal that @KimJongNumberUn attempts to accomplish through reminding us of the dire situation in North Korea (“Feb. 9: There’s no porn in North Korea. Just cooking shows”) while demonstrating the inanity that such a situation could be acceptable to anyone by blowing up what is surely an illogical mess of a personality. (Jan. 14: IF SOUTH KOREA POKES ME ON FACEBOOK I WILL CONSIDER THAT AN ACT OF WAR.)
Some are already predicting the demise of Kim Jong-Un; a rumor circulated briefly last week that he had been assassinated. (@KimJongNumberUn’s response: “To answer the rumors: I am NOT dead. I just switched to AT&T. #BOOM #LOL”)
But if the lasting popularity of “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things” is any indication, the death or downfall of a dictator does not kill his legacy, nor does it erase the need for a way to address what he did. Dead or alive, dictators will continue to befuddle us, and we’ll continue to need a lens through which to view their ridiculous logic and perverse visions. Whatever happens to Kim Jong-Un, I predict a long life for his Nickelback-loving, weapon-touting, completely nonsensical Internet-parody persona. #BOOM