So, did you hear about the time Dennis Rodman went to North Korea? Yeah, that happened. He’s been dealing with it like a pro too, declaring Kim Jong Un an “awesome” guy and ignoring the flagrant human rights violations the Kim regime has instigated. Rodman tweeted at Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame and mused whether he’d run into him on the streets of Pyongyang. I am crossing my fingers that this was a joke; no matter your opinion of Psy, it’s insulting and it does nothing to improve the image of Americans knowing next to nothing about the goings-on of countries other than their own. It’s basically the equivalent of asking Le Clown if he is a member of the WBC since they are from the same continent. The US State Department is obviously distancing itself from Rodman and his trip to the Hermit Kingdom.
But wait, it gets better. Now Rodman has accepted a position to train the national North Korean basketball team so that they have a shot at competing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This requires him to live (at least part-time) in the DPRK until the Games. To be sure, it’s somewhat admirable that he’s taking this on. Good for him for wanting to share the love of an exciting sport with people who are ostracized not through any action of their own but because their leadership is more oppressive and isolationist than we can pretend to understand. However, when pressed on whether he condones the human rights offenses of the Kim regime, Rodman claimed ignorance and inferred that his love for “fine ass Asian honeys” was enough to get him to look the other way if indeed they have occurred. Deep stuff.
Rodman panders to the worst type of media that circulates around North Korea. In order to work with the team on a national level, he must put up a respectful demeanor towards the country’s leadership, but to outright condone and praise it makes a mockery of the dire situation in North Korea. Instead of celebrating the innocent people of North Korea, it baits the media to focus its attention on Kim Jong Un’s bizarre, ridiculously secretive behavior. A recent op-ed for CNN by Ellen Kim and Carolyn Dumond summed up Rodman’s trip nicely: “Such sideshows are not in the interest of the North Korean people.”
I am a longtime reader or the blog American In North Korea, which features the photography of Joseph Ferris. Joe has taken multiple trips to North Korea and has been allowed unprecedented liberty to photograph the people and country because he does so respectfully. The purpose of his blog and his trips is not to disseminate more information that would further ostracize the people of North Korea and make the country a veritable freak show. Instead, his photos highlight the small moments that take place there. In those small moments is humanity. The tone of his work has always appealed to me because it has absolutely nothing to do with North Korea’s politics nor its leaders. It is difficult to find media about North Korea that do not place the country’s government front and center, so as I look through Joe’s photography and commentary, I am refreshed to see editorial work of people living their lives rather than staged pictures of military parades and waving dictators. As of yet, his trips and photography are largely limited to the areas in and around Pyongyang where the elite class of party officials live, so his photography does not include images of intense poverty and disease that is rampant throughout the rest of the country. He simply has no access to that, and it is my opinion that more long term harm than good could come out of him pressing his minders to take him to those areas. If he did, his access could be cut off completely and the good work that he’s doing to show the media that North Korea is more than its leadership could be cut short.
The same loosening of Internet restrictions that allowed Dennis Rodman to tweet from North Korea is now going to enable Joe to blog live from North Korea during his upcoming trips there this spring. Unfortunately, the monetary cost of doing this is a lot higher than the ~$30 we pay per month for Internet access here in the United States. If you would like to help Joe reach his goal to blog from North Korea, click here for more information. He is offering some really awesome incentives (other than the resultant photos and blog posts) for helping him out.
The entire Korean peninsula means a lot to me because I made my home in a town outside of Seoul for two years. Only about sixty years have separated the citizens of South and North Korea. They speak the exact same language and have the same traditional diet and dress. The people of North Korea are good. They are not their leaders.