The Pudgy Prince of North Korea
Trust me, you wouldn’t want to be Kim Jong Un.
Let's face it: North Korean dictators are just not what they used to be. As Kim Jong Un's ascension to power has shown, the Hermit Kingdom's myth-making machine just can't get the crowds worked up quite the same anymore.
Let’s face it: North Korean dictators are just not what they used to be. As Kim Jong Un’s ascension to power has shown, the Hermit Kingdom’s myth-making machine just can’t get the crowds worked up quite the same anymore.
To be fair, North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung gave them legends: The "Great Leader" who singlehandedly ran the Japanese off the Korean Peninsula, and built a paradise for workers, intellectuals, peasants — and especially for his family. In fairness, we should have known how this would turn out: He was born on the day the Titanic sunk.
His son, Kim Jong Il, was bathed in legend from day one — born on Korea’s holy mountain of Baekdu, with a double rainbow as a backdrop, a new star appearing in the heavens, and an iceberg cracking. If nothing else, the myth management department in Pyongyang certainly knew how to put on a Hollywood production. All Kim Jong Il’s birth needed was a high-stepping chorus line of Broadway girls to appear and Busby Berkeley would have defected to the Democratic People’s Republic. But the new guy, Kim Jong Un — or as I like to call him, Kim 3 — seems to have none of the innate Kim clan show-business pizzazz. Even his trademark suits — made from North Korea’s own revolutionary textile creation Vinylon, which has sadly not caught on anywhere else — are a somber Navy blue. They compare poorly to his father’s off puce, and are positively drab when set against his granddad’s snazzy white suits, in which he bestrode the exciting centers of the Non-Aligned Nations Movement, dispensing Juche theory nuggets.
Kim 3 doesn’t even have weird hair — for so long a leitmotif of the North Korean leadership. His G.I. Joe flat top is a sad comedown from the bouffants of his dad and granddad. International policymakers – to say nothing of the North Korean people — may be forced to ask themselves the big question: If this new guy can’t crack glaciers, summon up double rainbows, and create new stars, how in the name of Juche is he going to ward off famine, economic collapse, and nuclear Armageddon?And it gets worse. North Korean dictators don’t even appear able to muster up a bit of playboy status any more. At least Kim 3’s older brother, Kim Jong Nam, knew how to live the good life — flying down to Macau for a little time at the louche former Portuguese enclave’s seedier casinos, before trying to slip into Tokyo Disneyland with two strange women on a dodgy Dominican Republic passport. You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll.
But Kim Jong Un? Not much to report, I’m afraid. He did change his name, but just from Kim Jong Chul — it’s not that cool, even in translation. His mum is known officially as "The Respected Mother," and it’s cool to have a parent with a nickname, but he’s so far shown none of the excesses of the father — that notorious love of slasher flicks and late-night Rambo movie sessions, the deep affection for Hennessey Paradis Cognac and the packs of imported Rothmans cigarettes (though even the Dear Leader, perhaps as a little interpreted nod to Western norms, quit smoking in public).
Sadly, Kim 3 looks positively nerdy — more home-delivery pizza and liter bottles of Dr. Pepper than brandy, cigarettes and Swedish blondes. Is North Korea about to become the playground of a dictatorial nerd — a pudgy geek with all the wild traits those who attend elite Swiss private schools are known for? What a massive come down. His grandfather mixed it up with vodka fuelled Soviet generals and the militant core of the Korean liberation movement; his dad was plotting to assassinate the entire South Korean cabinet (and nearly did) when they visited Rangoon, and reputedly masterminded the bombing of KAL858 in 1987, brought down over the Andaman Sea with all 115 passengers aboard killed.
Kim Jong Un is undoubtedly a rich kid — the Kim clan has apparently done very well for themselves over the years … surprise, surprise. But in the world of poisoned chalices being passed from father to son, this is officially just about the most poisoned of all.
You may envy the rich; you may be jealous of those who wake up one Christmas morning, just back from some sort of Alpine Hogwarts education, to find a whole country in their Christmas stocking, but don’t. Believe me, you don’t want to be Kim Jong Un — not even for all the Vinalon suits in his wardrobe, the free badges with your dad’s face on them, and your own nuclear tipped missiles. You’re better off where you are. Never did struggling to pay the mortgage, worrying about losing your job, and putting up with your parents expectations of you ruling the world from a secret bunker seem so attractive when you consider stepping into Kim Jong Un’s shoes. That geeky, chubby air to Kim 3 may not last. There are chilly and lean times ahead for the not-so-mighty Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Still, those weighty questions are for the future. The most immediate question for Kim 3? When your granddad was called "Great," and your dad was called "Dear," what kind of adjective do you want on your leader badge? Decisions, decisions.
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