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Editor’s Note: This entry is dedicated to tracking various online events and conversations surrounding the recent news of Kim Jong-Il’s death.
On December 19th, 2011 (December 18th in the US), North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, reported that the country’s leader Kim Jong-Il had died 2 days prior on December 17th at 8:30 AM of a massive heart attack.
Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong Il (also known as “Dear Leader,” “Our Father,” and “The General”) became the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPK), commonly known as North Korea, in 1997 following the death of his father Kim Il-Sung, who had ruled North Korea since its founding in 1948. In the 90s, Kim Jong Il’s economic mismanagement, combined with embargoes against North Korea due to its disregard for nuclear nonproliferation treaties, lead to a harsh and deadly famine. The starvation was only worsened by Kim Jong Il’s so-called “military first” policy, which dictated that the North Korean military would receive priority in all matters of resource allocation.
Outside of North Korea, Kim Jong Il’s is often considered a dangerous yet highly amusing psychotic. This dual image was summed up nicely in Cracked’s 2009 article “6 Reasons Why North Korea is the Funniest Evil Dictatorship Ever”:
North Korea is kind of like a 12-year-old. It can’t support itself because it spends a lot of its allowance on toys and various love letters to Kim Jong-il. And keep in mind “toys” means “weapons.” They are always threatening to build a nuclear arsenal, but the world realizes this would be the point the whole North Korea thing would stop being funny.
Kim Jong Un
The North Korean government has released very little information about Kim Jong Un, who was the presumptive heir at the time of his father’s death. He was Kim Jong Il’s third child, born sometime between 1983 and 1984, and was educated in Switzerland – which has remained neutral in the conflict between North and South Korea. Reports from those who met him have said that he is “exactly like his father” and was chosen for these personal qualities.
Western commentators have been almost universally pessimistic about the prospects for North Korea’s future. A New York Times editorial published on December 19, 2011 – for example – speculated that Kim Jong Un might authorize additional nuclear tests, or may even antagonize South Korea directly. Similarly dour, an op-ed published on the same day by columnist Victor Cha opined:
Mr. Kim’s death could not have come at a worse time for North Korea. Economically broken, starving and politically isolated, this dark kingdom was in the midst of preparations to hand power over to his not-yet-30-year-old son, the untested Kim Jong-un. The “great successor,” […] is surrounded by elders who are no less sick than his father and a military that chafed at his promotion to four-star general last year without having served a day in the army. Such a system simply cannot hold.
As almost nothing is known about Kim Jong Un, the opportunities for satire and caricature have been limited. His online presence has increased following his father’s death, however, and will likely rise further as he becomes a more public figure. As this increased publicity has not yet occurred, Kim Jong Un jokes have tended to focus on his excessive weight and obesity. A Quickmeme page for “Hungry Kim Jong Un” was created December 19th, 2011.
Following the announcement, International news outlets including CNN, BBC, and the Associated Press broke the story to the rest of the world. On December 19th, the news and opinion blog Mediaite posted an article questioning how the American television comedy series 30 Rock would fix a plot line involving Kim Jong Il.
Anyway, for those of you that don’t know, the NBC series ended its last season with the news that Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) wife, Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), had been kidnapped by the North Korean dictator and it the story was supposed to be a major plotline for this year. With the new season’s premiere only weeks away and much of it already filmed, we can imagine that yesterday’s news is throwing a mighty big wrench in the works.
According to Trendistic, tweets related to “Kim Jong” peaked at 10pmET on December 18th, 2011 and became a worldwide trending topic. An article on Media Bistro claimed that the news of the leader’s death first broke on Twitter at 10pmET prior to being reported on the Fox News show “Geraldo at Large” at 10:11pmET.
On December 18th, the Internet culture blog Slacktory published an article titled “The Best Tweets About Kim Jong-Il’s Death”, showcasing various tweets about the event, many of them using Asian stereotypes involving engrish and mistaking the dead dictator for Kim Kardashian. BuzzFeed posted a round-up of tweets titled “25 People Who Thought Lil Kim Died.”
On December 19th, a thread titled “North Korea Leader Kim-Jong Il has died” was posted by Redditor Merytz to the /r/worldnews subreddit that received over 44,000 up votes in 17 hours. At nearly the same time, a thread titled “North Korea’s Kim Jong-il has died” was posted to the /r/news subreddit that accumulated over 5,500 up votes in 17 hours.
The Tumblr blog “Kim Jong-Un Looking at Things” was created shortly after the story broke as a follow up to the Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things blog, and featured various photos of the Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un.
On December 20, 2011, another single-topic blog paying tribute to the man called “Kim Jong-Il Dropping the Bass” was created, featuring pictures of Kim photoshopped into pictures with famous DJs and turntables.
Also created was “The Final Words of Dear Leader”, which features the same picture of Kim with a different caption for each post.
A thread was stickied on December 18th with the original post featuring a photo of Kim Jong Il accompanied by the text “Good night, sweet prince.” The thread received over 3,700 posts and 1500 image replies in less than 15 hours.
The image macros that were created about the North Korean leader’s death have often used puns regarding the name “Il”, jokes involving his son Kim Jong-un and photographs of various Asian celebrities with the caption “RIP Kim Jong Il.”
The Il/ill puns have become so prevalent so quickly, that a backlash has sprung up against them. To make fun of or parody the joke’s overuse has now become a minor trend in-and-of itself.
The New York Times – Op-ed: ‘Will North Korea Become China’s Newest Province?’