Great villains, as matter of course, do not smile cherubically while hinting at disarmament. During the Cold War, they were usually — like Sauron’s great eye in the Lord Of The Rings — distant, monochromatic and lacking in the gaiety that defenders of late capitalism’s dharma often embody. The last of the “big bads”, one of the greatest threats to “the rules-based order” put in place since World War II, seems to be losing his mystique.
Kim Jong un’s claim that North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons’ programme if the US promises not to attack, his bonhomie with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and the general possibility of the thaw in one of the most armed and dangerous regions of the world, is indeed welcome. But Kim grinning in high-definition, his back-brush now more a charming anachronism than a symbol of a state trapped in time, presents a narrative hiccup. Now that the last of the Bond-esque villains of world politics is opening up and making friends, who will take his place?
North Korea, under its Great Leader, has been painted as a fortress of atheist illiberalisms, where the only divinities in a perverted Marxist pantheon are Kim and his father, Kim Jong-il. But with every chance at peace, a caricature becomes all too human, and if North Korea does indeed open up, the realisation may dawn that its people are not so different after all. But what of the Great Bad — the state and leader opposed to the West’s idea of all that is good and holy? For a while, it seemed that with the far right on the rise, the West’s villain may come from within — even that twist in the tale seems to be unravelling. Moon Jae-in has said that Donald Trump deserves the Nobel Prize for peace for his role in bringing the Koreas together. Peace makes for a good life, perhaps, but conflict is at the heart of a good story. The search for a new Kim has only just begun.