Kim Jong-un’s Limp and Other North Korean Non-News

Western media is shamelessly sensationalist and ill-researched, and especially so regarding North Korea: the DPRK is painted as irrational and exotic through click-bait headlines which exclaim how bizarre it is.

The “news” stories on Kim Jong-un’s hair, gossip about hidden mechanisms of the government, and most recently rumors about KJU’s limp are not only dull and unhelpful but perpetuate an Orientalist, othered misunderstanding of a complex state.

North Korea is not a weird specimen to be ogled under a curious Western gaze (some scholars reluctantly accept the title “North Korea watcher” with hesitation because of this implication). It is an opaque but not-unknowable state within which a myriad of human rights crises are unfolding; it is a source of regional instability that should be treated with seriousness; and above all it is a country of individuals—people—who are neither homogenous nor helpless and in need of a white savior. On this last point the West (although not homogenous either, it is a convenient way to group the Anglo-American-Euro/”global north”) is historically rubbish: apparently a balance between humanitarian intervention and recognition of the victims’ agency is elusive.

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