This summer, Kim Jong Il and the government of North Korea opened a Twitter feed, officially marking the dawn of a media era characterized by satire and surrealism. The North Korean account, uriminzok, ("Our Nation,") has more than 10,000 followers. You can also watch North Korean propaganda films on its YouTube channel, and follow its official page on Facebook.
If we can be forgiven for transforming mass death, starvation, liquidations, political imprisonment, and more into our own personal dialectic of amusement, the rationale would be that laughter is the only solvent that dissolves despotic power, and the only one dictators fear.
"You have to distinguish between inside the country and outside," says Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen. "Outside the country, we laugh at these dictators, these systems, at the peril that we trivialize them. The use of Twitter by Kim Jong Il is just a crude PR stunt that is only going to solidify his status as the laughing stock of the world. This, in turn, obscures the fact that he is probably the greatest monster in power on the planet today.
"Twitter is very much a double-edged sword," Halvorssen continues. "On the one hand, unequivocally, it is the greatest thing that has happened to the liberation of information, so long as it remains open and transparent."
On the other hand, Halvorssen goes on, "North Korea, in terms of the Internet, is black. Solid black. North Koreans have zero access to Twitter or anything else. So who is Kim Jong Il talking to? It's no longer inward-focused propaganda."
I put about 100 uriminzok tweets through Google Translate, and the results were dizzying, crazy, poetic, bizarre. Take this post for example, from Sept 19 (I have no idea what it's about:) "Apple sea laughter, Wonheung land stretching to the sweet scent of apples and apple ocean/see the beautiful smile of Korea won bitgaleun intact, happy smiles of the people is great, we laugh, sir."
I sent Gi-Hong, an old friend from North Korea, all the links to Jong Il's lunacy, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, and asked him to survey it and give me his feedback. Gi-Hong is a man of few, well-chosen words.
"Celia, propaganda," he said. "Propaganda. You think Cuba is bad. North Korea 100 time worse. Anybody against him he just shoot them. People starving. So many people dying. No food. "
After a brief silence, Gi-Hong said, "Interesting reading what kind of mindset they have. They are really bad. You cannot imagine how bad they are. This guy is so primitive. His thinking is like a little grade-school kid. That's the kind of person running the country. He thinks the West will believe what he says, how great North Korea is, how great he is."
Then, Gi-Hong laughed. We both did.
On October 10, 20,000 of Pyongyang's military erupted in official rapture to mark the passing of power from Kim Jong Il to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, 27, who wore civilian clothes.
Was CNN trying to be humorous when it reported on its Web site that Un appeared in civilian clothes "instead of his military uniform and medals... even though he had been named a four-star general last month"?
"They all became four-star generals overnight," Gi-Hong, himself once a soldier in the North Korean army, says wryly. "No military background."
Gi-Hong sees this as Il's undoing. "When he dies, military takes over," he says simply. "His family legacy will end. North Korean military will not listen to that kid." He pauses. "I think."