News reaches me from my friend Sandy in Italy that the national media have suddenly discovered an unhealthy interest in Kim Jong-un’s wristwatch.
Every time the North Korean leader is not seen for a few months or does not appear at an important Party event, there are rumours about his death and/or health. He has just reappeared after an absence of a month and the niche group of North Korea watchers in the West are split over whether he was:
a) dangerously ill
b) having an internal Party fight with someone or
c) just having a rest
Apparently one school of thought in Italy is that his most recent non-appearances were because he was either terribly ill or on a strict diet.
Sandy tells me:
“He has obviously lost a lot of weight. His clothes hang baggy and his round face is less round… The name ‘Slim Jong-un’ comes to mind.
“There were photos in an Italian newspaper on Friday with three close-ups of his wristwatch strap from 2019 and 2021… showing which hole he had it on to measure how much weight he has lost.
“He must,” she added, “think the Western press is totally barmy.”
And who is to gainsay him?
“Another theory being published,” Sandy tells me, “is that he only put on weight in the first place to resemble his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung… and, now his authority is consolidated, he can go back to what he really looks like. A bit like method acting. Do you think he plays air guitar to Bohemian Rhapsody?”
This seems unlikely as, last Thursday, the New York Times quoted Kim saying that South Korean K-Pop music was “a vicious cancer corrupting young North Koreans’ attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” North Korean state media warned that, if left unchecked, it would make North Korea “crumble like a damp wall.”
The New York Times explains: “North Korean state propaganda has long described South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars. (But) through the K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs, young North Koreans learned that, while they struggled to find enough food to eat during a famine, people in the South were going on diets to lose weight. South Korean entertainment is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows.”
As well they might. Last December, North Korea enacted a new law with increased sentences to 5-15 years in labour camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment. The previous maximum sentence was 5 years hard labour.
Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il was a great movie fan and appeared in the movie Team America.
(If any North Koreans should be reading this, can I point out I live in North Carolina in the USA and my real name is Margaret Smith.)