I’m not usually political. I can take a joke. And this isn’t personal, not really.
But I have a problem with this.
I’m talking about CollegeHumor’s “Adventures of Kim Jong Un” series. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the digital shorts parody dictator Kim Jong Un using the very exaggeration and propaganda that has made North Korea so infamous to the rest of the world.
I get it. It’s CollegeHumor. It’s meant to be funny, but I’m telling you that it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be.
Kim Jong Un isn’t the first dictator to be ridiculed or parodied. Many of you may be familiar with Hipster Hitler, the online comic that, as its namesake suggests, casts Hitler as a modern-day hipster. The webcomic’s Facebook page currently has over 118,000 likes and the creators have even released a book. The website states on every page: “HipsterHitler.com is strictly a parody, satire and humor site, all content herein should be treated as such. […] Everything on this site is intended to spoof, parody and satirize.”
I think it’s worth understanding what the comic is really spoofing, though. It’s making fun of hipsterdom more than it is Hitler or the Holocaust, and that is clear in the comics. The setting is controversial and potentially upsetting, but causing a bit of a scandal has always been humor’s M.O. It’s so obvious, but it’s also worth mentioning that Hitler is dead, and the Holocaust is over.
So what is CollegeHumor spoofing? North Korean propaganda? The nation’s history of glorifying the Kim clan? Its leaders’ human rights violations?
This isn’t just CollegeHumor’s problem (though they do seem particularly obsessed with North Korean humor). This is a global problem. North Korea is not a joke. The situation there is not a joke. The people living and dying there as the world treats torture, exploitation, and oppression as comical tropes—are not a joke.
The stories about North Korea are often so crazy that we can’t take them seriously. They’re too ridiculous, too crazy. But none of this is fantasy. After almost two years of videos and over 12 million views, nothing in North Korea has changed.
In over eight videos, Kim Jong Un never says a word. His minister is a diminutive robot. To most, the North Korean people are no different—mechanical, brainwashed, silent. This needs to change. But first, we need to change. We laugh, but we do not listen. We sneer, but we do not see. We condemn, but we are not compassionate.
The call to action is unclear, I know. What can we do? We cannot invade North Korea tomorrow and depose Kim Jong Un. We can pay attention. We can spread the word. We can be brave enough to get angry and get passionate. We can help the people of North Korea by supporting humanitarian and rescue missions through a number of human rights and non-profit organizations. We need to do more than laugh.