|Photos were not allowed!|
Let's talk about those gifts, however. The NK analysis/commentary site One Free Korea has provided, through a reliable source, detailed rundown of the gifts and their worth. They include an Italian suit for Jong Eun, a Mulberry handbag for Ri Sol Ju, “several hundred dollars’ worth of Irish Jameson whiskey,” and many other niceties. All of which, of course, are prohibited as luxury items (remember the ski lift?) under U.N. sanctions—admittedly, a toothless and arthritic tiger if ever there was.
|Italian men's suit|
Simply owning these capitalist excesses should be odious to any loyal son of the DPRK, but the Kim dynasty has pardoned themselves many luxuries in their stint as tyrannical overlords, such as Kim Jong-Il's $700,000 a year cognac habit (while people starved in the countryside, of course). This should render Rodman eligible for a punishment of 20 years in prison or US$1M fine, but I'm betting he will see no repercussions upon his return to the States. Such as he is, he's still a celebrity and laws are made for little people.
Anyway. The game was a present from Rodman to Supreme Leader, and so he sang "Happy Birthday" to his "friend for life". To iterate: Dennis Rodman, all by himself and with none of his team, sang "Happy Birthday" to Jong Eun. And Charles Smith, former Knicks star and de facto spokesman for the team (at least as a foil to Rodman's dementia) has indicated Rodman is completely tone-deaf. What, more than politically?
Charles Smith, the sober voice of regret and grim determination, is my new hero.
As you know, there were two games: the first was U.S. players vs. North Korea, and the second was a mixed match. As a matter of fact, I think that was a good idea (so it probably wasn't Rodman's), just to take the pressure off of one nation against another. The 14,000 in attendance looked on as Rodman improvised a speech praising the braveness of his fellow players in this "engagement mission", according to Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, one of the five prominent tour companies that lead the unknowing into North Korea. I was initially concerned about former NBA players trouncing all over an untried "hermit kingdom" team, but the U.S. players were aged 42 to 53, so that probably evened things up a bit. Plus, as western media has beaten into our heads, many of them are retired alcoholics in abusive relationships. North Korea actually won the first match 47 points to 39, so good for them! Rodman even played in the first game, and certain pundits have pointed out this was the first time he bothered to take his hat and glasses off in the presence of Supreme Leader. Normally such a display of disrespect around the 31y.o. dictator would be an unpardonable offense, but... well, even Jong Eun allows certain liberties for celebrities.
|Rodman relaxes at the luxurious Koryo Hotel, post-game.|
Image: David Guttenfelder
One Free Korea compiled their misnamed Long List of People Who Think Dennis Rodman is a Tool. It's actually a relatively short list, as it just covers the highlights. I could add to it, as could you, Astute Reader, but no names anyone might recognize.
Now, this game was for Jong Eun's birthday. How did the rest of the country celebrate the day of Supreme Leader's birth? Treats were handed out to children, but otherwise, starving and impoverished families have seen no relief, much less cause for joy. Reportedly, they hoped for a little kickback since the most recent harvest was pretty good, but the elderly comment that the good ol' days of the '70s and '80s will never be seen again.
So if the people are less than impressed with the failure to recognize their work, how do they feel about Supreme Leader entertaining his trained monkey for the benefit of their Olympic basketball team? Again, not impressed:
“A really vital part of the Kim Jong Il myth” was “that he was so busy defending the country that he really had no time for himself...”...said B.R. Meyers, assoc. professor of int'l studies at Dongseo University. This visit may actually injure Jong Eun's image by convoluted means. The thinking is that this display of indulgence clarifies in certain people's minds that Jong Eun is actually the one in charge, as no responsible handler or puppet-master would have permitted this display to occur twice. (My thinking is that a puppet-master interested in toppling the Kim dynasty might have allowed this to pass.) At least Jong Il had the decency to keep his archival DVD collection private from the people, you know?
|Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours wears a medal from the|
"historic" NK vs. US basketball game in tribute to the dictator.
Image: Simon Cockerell
|Hail the conquering tribe; blessed be western privilege.|
Image: How to Go to North Korea
How does presenting a positive image to the elite in Pyongyang, far from the suffering of the rural majority of the nation, balance against tacit approval of a regime among the world's worst in human rights violations?