The ineffable weirdness of Kim Jong-Il

One day there’ll be no more North Korea. Geographically it may still exist (depending how the next round of brinkmanship plays out) but as a state: goodbye, Mr. Bond! Sooner rather than later we shall wake up to a world in which the name “Kim” no longer means “hereditary dictator” in Korean but once again designates pop-stars and celebrities. I for one will be a bit sad.

Aliens ate my republic

Since ‘outer space’, for lack of political will and resources, is no longer available as the ‘final frontier’, North Korea is the place for alien weirdness. Where else can you hear a hymn to the merits of collective farming as improved by superior tractor manufacture, or a ballad praising the great leader for introducing rationing and preventing waste, or a cheerful ditty graphically detailing the myriad ways of killing the imperialist aggressor, or a stirring song of praise for the matchless guidance provided by the unerring hand of the dear leader in helping us fulfil the five-year plan goals for small machine parts a full quarter ahead of schedule? There’s enough there to fuel a whole nostalgia industry for a century at least.

The North has this childlike attitude to each emerging problem, coupled with a very adult line in denial. Presenting a permanent case of the “terrible twos”, the Kims are seemingly stuck in the “no” phase (I blame their mothers). It goes like this: my people are starving. I’ll scream for help and then refuse to cooperate. Indeed, I’ll make it as difficult as possible for anyone to give me food (toddler with mouth clamped obstinately shut turns head aside at last moment, porridge flies to the floor again) but then sink one of their ships if they even think of stopping the food train (temper tantrum: porridge too hot, too cold, or are we teething? It’s not easy to interpret a two-year-old dictator). North Korea currently shares with Israel the dubious distinction of being that other nation whose minute size is wholly disproportionate to the amount of political, diplomatic, military and media time it gets. The Hermit Kingdom could definitely teach T.E. Lawrence a thing or two about “backing into the limelight”.

A world of wonder and whimsy

But when they’re not sinking ships or rattling missiles to grab our attention, the DPRK has a wonderful and whimsical way of going about things. They do cool and unpredictable stuff, like having a stadium full of people dressed in coloured feathers do rhythmic gymnastics between moving tanks and gun carriages, or giving out cell phones to military commanders but making it a crime to use them, or launching a national policy on haircuts: “Let’s trim our hair in accordance with the socialist lifestyle” … yeah, right. And at this point I offer a brief quote from the video manual:  “We cannot help questioning the cultural taste of this comrade, who is incapable of feeling ashamed of his hair style.” YES, THAT’S IT, GO DPRK! A central tenet of Juche (the national philosophy) is that: “The working class embodies in itself at the highest level man’s intrinsic desire to live and develop independently and creatively. It requires that man leads an independent and creative life, free from all manner of enslavement and bondage.  It has the historical mission of emancipating not only itself but all the members of society from every form of enslavement and bondage and bringing complete independence to the popular masses.” I’m truly grateful that independence and creativity are finally halted at the hairline. I suppose we can understand this as meaning that freedom from enslavement and bondage also applies to fashion victims. Good kit, Kim, where’s my visa? And then, of course, there’s the cold fusion thing …

Don’t forget the baking soda

For Kim the elder it was American movies of the fifties: he collected them avidly, he even kidnapped a South Korean film crew to recreate some of his favourites in his own home studio using Korean actors (“Here’s rooking at you, Kim”). And the dictatorial love of all things western has also led Kim & Son to try to gain a little extra height by adding an Elvis quiff, for both the Kims are deeply rock’n’roll, as Andy Kershaw always insisted. And like all truly rock’n’roll people they are heavily into dressing up, histrionics, alternative science, wild colours and all the other trappings of the freaky fringe. And here lies the root of Kim junior’s fascination with cold fusion. Cold fusion is loony tunes science if we listen to the physicists, who ought to know, but within our reach if we listen to the chemists. But by ‘chemists’ here, I do not mean the sober pharmacist in his squeaky-clean lab, I mean the wild-eyed maniac with a ballistic array of ball-point pens and his fingers indelibly stained with nitric acid.

Now cold fusion involves getting atoms to do that clever thing that makes the sun work, but down here and at room temperatures. It’s a bitch to get right.  You have to add just the right amount of baking soda at exactly the right moment, and only Stanley Pons knows exactly how much and when that is. Trouble is, he’s not telling. A few years ago, after the cold fusion fiasco had turned into yesterday’s news, he vanished. I used to think he’d been kidnapped by Yemenis, though rumour has it he lives discretely in the south of France. However, I’m betting he has this really good gig in Pyongyang. I may be wrong, but I reckon the dear leader has set him up with a Grace Kelly lookalike, a cheesy villa in the suburbs with a Jacuzzi that really works (for that magical half hour per day when both the mains water and the electricity are running), plus a serious research budget subsidized by South Korean rice re-sold on the Chinese black market. Go for it Stanley, derision is a small price to pay for successfully reviving the mad scientist B-movie genre with Korean subtitles. And somewhere in the recesses of our childlike hearts, we’re all believers in cold fusion. Anyhow, compared to such a complex piece of deception, the actual science is going to be a doddle.

Edwin Drood

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