It has been months now since the Official Media of the United States has last put out mocking missives about this menacing, but laughable, leader. Our media alternately mocks and alarms; Kim is either a pervert or a claymation Hitler. So what ends up in the popular mind is a schizophrenic picture. “He’s crazy,” said a friend of mind some months back, in all seriousness. But did he decree the speaking of Swedish on Tuesdays? I asked. “He threatens us,” my friend insisted.
But does an ant threaten an elephant? I suppose it does if the elephant thinks it does, from watching its official media, which uses super-telephoto lenses in all shots of the ant, magnifying its puny pincers to giant size.
Kim Jong-Il is only crazy and dangerous because our official media has been doing its patriotic duty to the state, a duty done well ever since the end of the Cold War: turning poor, weak countries into conveniently identifiable threats, personified in their leaders. With a little slander and innuendo and quotes from official North Korean propaganda, voila! Kim becomes a frightening, if laughable, Mini Me, and every news report on him adds the same obligatory bits of innuendo: “The reclusive leader, said to have a taste for expensive cars, fine alcohols such as Cognac, and Hollywood movies, rarely makes public appearances.” Funny, but his “bizarre” tastes sound like those of every second person on the planet.
It is of course easy to caricature people when there are no powerful business interests involved, and when any news of the United States’ imperial acts are suppressed or sugar coated. Film a man in an argument, and edit out the person he is arguing with, and what do you have? A bona fide wacko! Such is the case with America’s Photo Shop-happy Official Media, editing out the American side of the picture.
For example, when North Korea pulled out of the 6 party talks in the Fall of 2005, it was spun in the official corporate media as yet another show of erratic untrustworthiness of the bizarre Kim. Words like “unpredictable” and “unstable” and “secretive” were liberally sprinkled over news stories. Scarcely anywhere was there mention of actual news, such as a reason for North Korea’s anger: only days after the original agreement, which North Korea had long wanted, the US had (unpredictably) frozen North Korean funds in a Macau bank. Knowing this tiny little fact, the spat between the governments looks less and less like the mysterious, capricious acts of an insane leader and more and more like a small country protecting itself against a behemoth that cannot be trusted. (I only knew about the US move from talking to a professor; once I knew what had happened, I could make out the vague outlines of the truth in some news stories, confirming what I had been told, though always in ambiguous language making it seem that somehow Pyongyang was responsible).
North Korea’s government has wanted a peace agreement with the US and normalized relations for a long time – very rational goals, these – and it says it often, but you would be hard pressed to ever find such normal, rational statements printed in our Official Media, which works to find the most bizarre quotes imaginable, such as the foam-flecked sound bites of the official North Korean media. As they say, half truths are like half bricks, always easier to throw. If the media actually did its job, our August Leaders would have a hard time playing their own bullying games.
Under such propagandistic “coverage,” in which people are turned into caricatures of Hitler, real world “developments” in “negotiations” appear out of nowhere. What? Christopher Hill, our envoy, is going to Pyongyang? Won’t he be afraid of the lunatic child molester with funny hair?
So when, earlier in the year, the “crazy” nation made a deal with the UN to give up nuclear arms, the Official Media was strangely lacking in any kind of background information, or even reaction. Suddenly the madman smears did not quite fit. Wait – he wanted to destroy us, right? The media counts on the fact that most people have no idea what is actually going on, so when a bit of truth bubbles up through the viscous surface of the media pond, the editors just shut their mouths and pretend nothing happened.
There was a reprieve for the media, however, and a restoration of the favored adjectives, when the deadline for the full implementation came and went. One had to look hard to find out, in veiled language, that far from it being a “here we go again” situation with the recluse, it was the (untrustworthy) US which had not unfrozen the funds whose freezing had scuttled the agreement two years before!
But finally, months after the original deadline, the supposedly already released funds were really released, and returned to North Korea. We, the normal, non-crazy, trustworthy, straight-talkin’, Fred Thompson-like nation, the nation just as down-home and as aw-shucks as any nuclear power can be, sittin’ on the porch after a dinner of corn on the cob, had somehow, unpredictably, yet again, failed to live up to an agreement. And the subhuman, racially caricatured Hitler claymation doll, Kim Jong-Il, had waited until the US decided it actually wanted a deal, and as soon as it lived up to its (rather flexible) word, the cognac-soaked recluse lived up to his word (this is all just a replay of the Indian Wars – er, ethnic cleansing).
So: is Kim Jong-Il crazy? Could he possibly be a real person? Don’t count on the Official Media smear machine to tell you anytime soon. That is, not until Kim appears in a Paris Hilton video on the internet.
The better question is: do we have a real media?