A Different Kind of Playwright-President Is Dead: Welcome to Hell, Kim Jong-Il!


One of modern history's greatest monsters, the grand crab of the Hermit Kingdom, is dead of heart failure at 69 after a 17-year reign of terror. This is how North Koreans with a television heard the news:

And here is some ritualized public weeping in the streets:

Johan Norberg is right -- this was the greatest Economist cover ever

As in most totalitarian monarchies, the death leaves a potential succession crisis in its wake. Son Kim Jong Un, the foreign-educated, maybe-in-his-late-20s annointed successor and known Michael Jordan fan, is said to lack a certain gravitas, and, more importantly, the full confidence of the military. Whatever happens next to the pulverized North Korean populace, it could hardly be worse.

Reason on Kim Jong-Il here. Of special note is John Gorenfeld's great 2005 look into the dictator's work as a drama critic and librettist, one of many bizarre cult-of-personality traits that made Jong-Il the unlikely breakout star of Team America World Police. As Nick Gillespie wrote in 2004, "North Korea remains a site of cosmically black humor, too real to be funny, a human nightmare incapable of being fully processed." Take it away, Matt & Trey:

Twitter is predictably full of mirth (Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro: "Guess he's not wonewy any more"), and though radio hero Phil Hendrie frets that "North Korea [has] its pants bunched around its ankles & we're making Twitter jokes," I would argue that the one thing totalitarians truly cannot tolerate, and therefore can never receive enough of, is mockery. Which is a concept that the polar opposite of Kim Jong-Il, the late Václav Havel, articulated better than maybe anyone else. Granted, that's a luxury imprisoned North Koreans almost certainly cannot afford, but it's somehow comforting to know that a ridiculous puppet movie drove Kim Jong-Il so mad that he put what passes for North Korea's diplomatic corps into censorious overdrive. It's good to laugh at the king.

UPDATE: Speaking of Havel, Pavol Hardos shows us the contrast of what mourning in democracy looks like: