Updated: June 30, 2021 7:50:54 am
For a while there, he had everyone worried. North Korea’s Supreme Leader and international man of mystery, Kim Jong-un, was nowhere to be seen. Then, like a princess or nerdy teenager in a Disney movie, he emerged earlier this month with a makeover — his regal rotundity severely pared down. In the rest of the world, obsessed as it is with weight loss, the reaction to a celebrity’s transformation would have been either admiration or jealousy. Not so in North Korea, at least according to the tightly-controlled state media.
Kim, by all accounts, presents himself as more than just a political leader. He is father to his people, as well as son and brother, friend and family. Since the pandemic struck, though, North Koreans have been unhappy due to the severe shortages of essential supplies — including food — because of trade restrictions. Enter, Thin Kim. After people noticed that his watch was more tightly tied, his face more gaunt, speculation was rife. Was the Supreme Leader unwell? According to KRT, the country’s news service, an unnamed citizen — presumably expressing what all North Koreans are supposed to feel — was distraught: “Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people’s heart so much.” The unsubtle messaging is clear: At a time of near-famine, Kim shares the suffering of his people, his own sacrifice symbolised by a diminished waistline.
For satirists around the world, Kim has been a gift that keeps on giving. And while various leaders have tried to escape responsibility from the consequences of Covid-19 — some through denial, others through politicising the disease and still others with public tears of sympathy — it takes a special kind of audacity to try and gain sympathy from a slightly altered body composition. When it comes to propaganda, Thin Kim wins.
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