Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kim Jong Eun, Back with a Fresh Disney Move

Webster’s Third New English Dictionary 

Public Relations” 

Definition: The business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution.

… 

Dictionary of Chosun Urban Slang 
[Kim Jong Eun-era edition] 

“Disney Move” 

Definition: An extremely simplistic and practically meaningless PR activity done in order to change the prevailing opinion of one or more sections of the international community in the hope of being able to enjoy the public relations benefit engendered by the activity while at the same time avoiding having to do something much harder and more sincere later on.


As even the vast majority of those who do not follow North Korea must now be aware, Kim Jong Eun attended a performance of the Moran Hill Orchestra in Pyongyang on July 6th. There, he bore witness to a range of things: women wearing short skirts and what the South Korean media subsequently described as “kill heels”, electric classical instruments picking out the theme song to macho Hollywood epic ‘Rambo’, and a raft of animated characters including Mickey Mouse dancing around on stage while clips from Disney films rolled by in the background.

This display of idiosyncratic modernity caused a virtual tidal wave of media interest, with much of it concluding that it portends broader social and possibly economic change.

At the very least, as veteran North Korea watcher Prof. Hazel Smith of the Cranfield Institute in the UK mused in this Foreign Policy piece some days later, "It looks like the way they're presenting themselves is based on some professional [international] advice… Plenty of other countries have done this, but I never thought North Korea would."

Or, to put it in the Destination Pyongyang lexicon of the new era, this was a Kim “Disney Move”.

Admittedly, we cannot entirely rule out the idea that a much more profound message was being conveyed to Washington and the wider world by the on-stage antics of Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger et al. However, the key element of the definition of a Disney Move holds true: Kim Jong Eun’s image-makers employed a fundamentally meaningless PR stunt to intimate the idea of change, without having to actually change anything.

That this particular Disney Move was so successful is evidenced by the response it got.

“If we take into account the fact that Kim Jong Eun was said to have personally organized the creation of the Moran Hill Orchestra, this tolerance of a contemporary and revealing image in the public domain might represent a more pragmatic and liberalized view towards the arts under Kim's new leadership,” Cambridge University student James Pearson mused in this piece, one of the more rational of the crop. “Keen to show that North Korea is a ‘strong and prosperous nation’, perhaps the youthful face of the new regime is more in touch with how it is perceived from the outside.”

And since this Disney Move was so successful, it will come as no surprise that it is not the only one. The regime has also clearly been looking across the Sea of Japan, for it emerged this week that Fujimoto Kenji, the Kim family’s private chef for a number of years and for a long time one of the only semi-reliable sources of information on Kim Jong Eun available anywhere, has returned to North Korea, where his wife and children remain, at the invitation of Kim himself.

This news was met with a degree of incredulity from some quarters. In one article here, author Gianluca Spezza was moved to wonder what possessed Fujimoto to agree to it.

“Fujimoto has since 2001 been living in hiding and had often claimed to fear for his life,” Spezza noted, adding that “it is safe to say that during the last ten years, part of the myth of Kim Jong Il being an eccentric, alcohol-loving dictator frolicking amidst millions of starving citizens was accentuated by books like the ones written by Fujimoto,” before concluding that “The reality is that most people in his shoes would probably chose not to go back.”

However, Spezza is barking up the wrong tree, and not just because Fujimoto’s safety is not in question (his return is very public, and since Japan is the home of the pro-North Korea ‘Chongryon’, I am confident that if North Korea had ever truly wanted to kill him since his departure more than ten years ago, they could have done so. Just look at what happened to Yi Han Yong).

As noted in the definition at the start of this article, a Disney Move is "An extremely simplistic and practically meaningless PR activity done in order to change the prevailing opinion of one or more sections of the international community in the hope of being able to enjoy the public relations benefit engendered by the act while at the same time avoiding having to do something much harder and more sincere later on.”

Ergo, the Fujimoto return is a Disney Move because it attempts to improve the Kim regime's reputation while avoiding confronting the issue that really consumes Japanese interest, the abduction of multiple Japanese citizens from sites on the country’s west coast in the 1970s and 80s by North Korean agents. In this it is similar to the July 6th Disney Move, which employed Mickey Mouse to divert the fickle U.S. public’s attention away from what commonly consumes their interest in North Korea, such as it is; the nuclear issue.

The calculation in Pyongyang seems to be that what Mickey Mouse and Rambo can do for Kim in the United States, so Fujimoto’s return to Pyongyang can do for him in Japan. In other words, as the ever-erudite Joshua Stanton of blog One Free Korea put it here, “North Korea Increases Public Executions and Collective Punish…. Hey, Look! It’s Snoopy!”

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