Column: ‘The Reason We Laugh:’ North Korea Edition

Robert Downen, Opinions Editor

Over the last few days, the media has been utterly consumed with North Korea, and all it took was one rumor: that dictator Kim Jong Un had been deposed, marking an end to an almost 70-year reign of the Kim Dynasty.

Since coming to power in 1948, the Kim lineage has installed an absolutely merciless dictatorship, committing unspeakable crimes against their own citizens — crimes the United Nations described as being of being on a scale that “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

So that rumor, if true, would be one of the most significant and groundbreaking political events of the century, marking an end to five decades of North Korea’s complete isolation from the world, the end to a half-century of terror.

According to a February U.N. report, the regime has killed hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in work camps across North Korea’s lush countryside; has intentionally and systematically denied basic rights to food to millions of starving citizens; has carried out summary political executions by the thousands, and is likely responsible for the disappearance of over 200,000 persons, including children, kidnapped from other countries and taken over the North Korean border.

“Crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,” the report continues.

Of course, we’d prefer not to think about those things.

No, we much prefer the fun version of the Kims — the caricatures; the tiny overlords barking insane orders and glaring menacingly as the rest of us laugh on. To sit down and truly think about the atrocities committed by the regime every day, without impunity, would be to ruin the fun.

Never has a society so easily brushed-off the systematic murder of millions of innocent civilians by a ruthless and bloodthirsty regime.

And we don’t just brush it off — we go out of our way — actually pay money — to mock it. Just ask Seth Rogen and James Franco, whose slapstick Korea-comedy “The Interview” hits big screens this December.

It’s understandable, though. Really —much churned by the North Korean propaganda machine is too ridiculous to do much else but laugh.

Stories of Kim Ill Sung’s double rainbow birth, of Kim Jong Ill’s record 12 hole-in-ones in a round of golf, of Kim Jong Un’s inventing the hamburger —there’s not much else to do but chuckle and move on.

And that’s fine. It’s natural. It’s human. To tie ourselves to every tragedy in this world would be to consume only darkness and hate, to live forever under the weight of brutes.

Really — it’s understandable.

But every so often, we should take a moment and really examine not only what we’re laughing at, but why.

Because one day, whether five years, twenty years, or one-hundred years from now, North Korea will unravel. The current make-up is too unsustainable.

And on that day, as millions of North Koreans flood into the modern world, their bellies swollen and cheekbones hollowed, they’ll find a world that not only knew of their plight, but laughed all the same.

Robert Downen is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at 581-7912 or [email protected]