The real reason why Kim Jong Un won’t visit flood-affected areas
Hell, even if he wanted to he couldn’t. So what’s stopping him?
Whilst floods have ravaged northeastern regions of North Korea, leaving many homeless or missing, Kim Jong Un seems largely ignorant of the plight of his own people. Perhaps he does wish to extend his hand to the flood victims, only if it weren’t for the limitations placed by the personality cult that surrounds him. In saying that, it is Kim Jong Un that is central to his own dictatorship, not the people brainwashed by it. It is an essential element to North Korea’s Suryeongism, that is, the cult of leader worship.
Kim Jong Un has managed to inherit his grandfather and father’s porkiness, which is a shallow albeit necessary part of reviving the Kim personality cult. The Leader is the face of the nation in North Korea – whether an entire province is suffering from disaster or not, the leader must never be photographed or pictured with so much as a shadow overcasting it. The effect of Kim’s role is so that North Korea continues to be the socialist paradise it purports to be through the smiling faces of the Kim family, whilst ordinary North Koreans suffer in silence.
There is a propagnda slogan in North Korea that reads, ‘Let’s smile, even though the road is rough!’ Even in times of nationwide starvation or raging floods, the people have always been told to grin and bear with it. A blanket command on smiling is the reality of North Korean society and politics; Kim Jong Un has to smile along, brighter than anybody else, at that.
To that end, the Great Leader cannot go to flood-affected sites. An unnecessary visit to the northeastern provinces may well be misunderstood, as he would be of no material help to the people. Instead, what he cannot do to ease the pain on the people, the people make up for tenfold, ironically through even more devotion and love towards the leader. They worship the leaders to ease their suffering, by lauding their ‘sacrifices’ and ‘hard work’. Kim Jong Il, for example, was famously rumoured among North Koreans during the 90’s Arduous March to be so hard-working that he only slept in small intervals. Further, the state promoted a propaganda song, “The Rice-balls of the General”, to describe poor Kim Jong-il travelling around the country with only one rice-ball to eat. Using this as a basis for logic, North Koreans were taught to feel guilty, too guilty to complain about their meagre lives.
Fashion choices are also an essential part of Suryeongism. Kim Jong Il was a short man, whose body was not built for suits and ties. But the North Korean people never expected this of him. Instead, a humble khaki number was all he wore, unflattering enough to show that he was not a superficial man of luxury. In the freezing winter, the simple addition of a woollen hat and gloves gave this image even greater effect. It was highly unlikely that the Great Leader would freeze to death, but in any case, those simple gloves showed that Kim Jong Il, while a great man, was a man who could feel cold, and was suffering more than anybody else.
We could go around all day pointing at every single image-making strategy of the Kim family. But what is important here is that North Korean society was not built merely on a cult that worshipped its leaders – it was a cult that worshipped gods. And that cult still exists. South Korean media pundits have been asking why Kim Jong Un hasn’t visited the sites affected by the 2016 floods. They should be asking why an inexperienced man-boy is leading North Korea in the first place.
Written by Jang, Jinsung.
Read in Korean.