For a few years now, one of my more random interests has been North Korea. The DPRK is, of course, one of the most isolated nations on earth. The state has almost absolute control of the media; radio and TV sets in North Korea are supplied pre-tuned to government stations and radios must be checked and registered with the police. The average North Korean, I’d guess, has a view of things about as different from ours as it’s possible to be and still, in some sense, live in the industrialized world (unlike, say, the Sentinelese).
So hovering over the gargantuan ruined ziggurat of the Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang, looking through the satellite eye of the web, to me there’s a sense of being a kind of strange space-invader, a voyeur from another world. Which leads me (sort of), in a roundabout way, to the man with the moustache.
The recently-deceased dictator of the DPRK, Kim Jong-Il, was a man of few words. In fact, it is believed the people he ruled only heard his voice once, in 1992, when he spoke a single sentence into a microphone at a military parade. By comparison, his recently-installed son and heir, Kim Jong-un, is a man of the people. (At 28 years old, he’s also the world’s youngest head of state.) During the recent centenary celebrations for Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung (the founding father of the DPRK), KJU gave a public twenty-minute speech. You can watch it here:
I’ve seen it a few times and there’s something compelling, disturbing and dreamlike about it. The sky hung with huge, motionless balloons, the architecturally-planned squadrons of watchers. Most of all though, I’ve become fascinated by the man with the moustache. You can see him at 1:24, on the left side of the screen.
He stands in the front row of some VIP section, his hands clasped in front of him. He’s wearing sunglasses, a dapper suit (possibly with a cravat) and very white gloves. There’s something proprietorial about his stance. He’s a man at ease in his surroundings (in the viewing stand for the great dictator’s speech, in the most secretive nation in the world). One gets the sense this is the kind of thing he might do every weekend. And watching him (a space-invader through the eye of the web) I get a sense of vertigo and a thrill at how the technology of our global age has changed distance — the ways we’re brought near to unexpected points, without explanation, which in turn throws into stark relief all the ways we’re still not close at all. Who is the man with the moustache?