QuestionWhat's up with Kim Jong-un's new look and why is the media obsessed with it?
Hopes&Fears answers questions from our readers and friends, with the help of people who know what they're talking about. Today, we're wondering if Kim Jong-un's hair is a big deal.
Kim Jong-un looks different. This week, the supreme leader of the DPRK appeared before the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea with a new hairstyle and somewhat slimmer eyebrows. Apparently, CNN can't stop punning about. What's the big deal?
What's up with Kim Jong-un's new look? Both his grandfather, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, and his father, the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, also had fashion makeovers in their lifetime. General Kim Il Sung transitioned from a center-part haircut to a combed-back look, and changed from "the People's Suit" (AKA a Mao suit, but why credit the Chinese) to Western-style suits later in his life. Kim Jong Il also ended up with a quasi-bouffant, which allegedly earned him the nickname Altitude because of his need to make himself look taller. The north Korean literature discusses how he adopted his parka and traditional clothes as "people's clothes", as opposed, apparently, to the clothes worn by capitalists who aren't people. According to the DPRK, one typical south Korean capitalist lives "at the height of luxury and debauchery. All the members of his family change their clothes 30 times on average every day."
One can imagine the (justified) blowback we would see if CNN ran a piece on Hillary Clinton's new hairdo and What Does It Mean for the Democratic party. The fact that these stories make the rounds shows that the media has no idea how to grapple with the DPRK and insists on perceiving it through a Western American context.
The stories don't even change —the CNN piece describes Kim Jong Un as "reclusive", which was an epithet that applies to his father (who only spoke once in public) but far less to him. What does Jong Un's hair mean? He's a murderer of his own family members, not a Kardashian. It's funny at first to imagine him as an Asian Miley Cyrus, where shaved sides speaks to some sort of adolescent rebellion. But the fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of families in concentration camps right now, and while our buddies spread these stories on FB from their home or office, these people are literally freezing to death at this very moment.
Illustration: Sergii Rodionov