Should we laugh at Kim Jong Un?

Disclaimer: Yeonmi Park is a friend of mine.

Yeonmi Park recently said this in an interview:

"Please don’t see Kim Jong Un as a joke ... He is killing millions of people.”

This made me reflect on the relationship between satire and power. Men like Kim Jong Un (narcissistic dictators) aren't bothered by killing thousands or allowing millions to starve or be tortured. But they cannot stand being the butt of ridicule.

I'd be willing to bet that we'll find out in years to come that Kim Jong Un was more bothered by trivial things like how his haircut was portrayed than the fact they spoiler alert blow him up at the end of the movie. Authority and comedy have an antagonistic relationship with each other.

Making fun of someone can be the first step to planting the seed of the idea that that person isn't as strong, powerful or as tough as you think. This is what Charlie Chaplin tried to achieve in his filmThe Great Dictator (1940) which was a parody of Hitler at the time.

The world of fiction gives us another example in this clip from V for Vendetta:

I understand that Yeonmi is saying is that the entire situation is not a joke that should be reduced to one-liners about Kim's waistline (I think it's worth noting though that commentary on Kim's weight probably frustrates him as much as it does Yeonmi). With that I wholeheartedly agree!

The key distinction is that satire should be created for the consumption of those who live in the dictator's society if the goal is to undermine authority. It should be used as part of a broader approach that includes political pressure, human rights protests and so on.

When it's created for our consumption in the West it's a callous response to a serious situation.

I'm glad Yeonmi is having the impact she's having and ideally it can move us past the "Oh hey, look at the fat dictator" phase to engaging with the underlying issues. I add my voice to hers.

Gandi famously said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

This may also apply to how the west deals with humanitarian crises that aren't on our immediate doorstep. First we ignored the North Korean regime, now we laugh at it. Hopefully next we'll fight it and then we'll win.