We all know that Kim Jong-il died the other day, and being something of a Korea-phile (I lived in the Republic of Korea from 2003 until 2004) I spent some time in the arms of Google, hoping she might whisper me some sweet nothing. As it happens, she gave me this, a two-minute, anti-American propaganda film.
Turns out Virginia weighs heavily on the North Korean imagination. Watch the first thirty seconds and you’ll see two images of slavery in Virginia, one by the English artist Eyre Crowe, the other by G. H. Andrews, a correspondent for the Illustrated London News. Which got me to thinking: if our friends in Pyongyang look at the United States and see the haunting specter of slavery (and why shouldn’t they?), then what do we see when we look at the late Mr. Kim? Someone kind of ridiculous, as the New York Times reminds us in its obituary:
Short and round, he wore elevator shoes, oversize sunglasses and a bouffant hairdo — a Hollywood stereotype of the wacky post-cold-war dictator. Mr. Kim himself was fascinated by film. He orchestrated the kidnapping of an actress and a director, both of them South Koreans, in an effort to build a domestic movie industry. He was said to keep a personal library of 20,000 foreign films, including the complete James Bond series, his favorite. But he rarely saw the outside world, save from the windows of his luxury train, which occasionally took him to China.
So the images above are about seeing and being seen. And while I don’t wish Dear Leader a peaceful rest, I will miss the pop-cultural luxury of living in the same world as such an epically odd creature.
IMAGES: Row 1: After the Sale: Slaves Going South by Eyre Crowe (1853); Row 2: An undated photograph released by the Korean Central News Agency on September 16, 2009, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-il making a visit to the Rakwon Machine Complex in North Pyongan Province, North Korea; Row 3: A Slave Auction in Virginia.—From a Sketch by Our Special Artist by G. H. Andrews (The Illustrated London News, February 16, 1861); Row 4: Kim Jong Il (2011) by Rich Orr; Surprise! It’s Kim Jong-il!; a North Korean propaganda poster (the Korean reads: “American imperialists, do not rave recklessly!”); Row 5: The Slave Deck of the Bark ‘Wildfire,’ Brought into Key West on April 30, 1860 (Harper’s Weekly, June 2, 1860)