Well...That Didn't Take Long: Rumors Rampant That Latest North Korean Leader Assassinated
February 10th, 2012
Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff
In the past few hours, Twitter has exploded with unsubstantiated rumors that the new North Korean dictator died in Beijing today and that a coup is underway in North Korea. So far there is no indication at all that these rumors are true. The rumors originated on China’s twitter-like platform Weibo (fyi: here’s the fascinating Google translated page of original Weibo posts), and quickly got picked up by Gawker.com and retweeted in the U.S.
As the story goes, a couple assassins barged into Kim’s room in Beijing and shot him, before being shot and killed themselves by bodyguards. Twitter user @ChristianJMay posted that the rumor is “based on news that a host of blacked out cars have descended upon embassy in Beijing, where he was visiting.” Nevermind that as far as anyone can tell, Kim wasn’t even in Beijing.
What’s interesting is how in this era of social media, the rumors have taken on a life of their own. A post this afternoon on the fake twitter account @BBCLiveNews got retweeted broadly. It stated: “Confirmed breaking news. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un assassinated. Updates to follow.”
I think it has something to do with the flamboyant, self-caricaturizing craziness of Kim’s father Kim Jong-il (see “Team America: World Police,” by the makers of South Park), but the denizens of the Interwebs take glee in joking about the possible death of the new young dictator.
Twitter user @Rocco_Castoro is as good a source of information as anybody else out there with his tweet: “This just in: Kim Jong-un’s cause of death was being force-fed hotdogs and having a basketball bounced off his head repeatedly for 20 hours.”
Kim Jong-Un’s name is fertile fodder, as@AngryMnkyFight demonstrates: “Kim Jong Un dead or Kim Jong Undead. Remember kids, spacing is the difference between assassinations and zombies.” So’s the leader’s weight, as comedian Chris Jenkins shows us: “Due to mistranslation, there are rumors that Kim Jong Un was assassinated in China. What it actually said was that he assassinated a buffet.”
We’ll find out soon enough if Little Kim has followed his father Kim Jong-Il into the hereafter. If he is alive and well, this day of rumors will mark the real beginning of his rule. Kim was expected, after his father’s death on Dec. 17, to abide by a 100-day mourning period, like his father did upon the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Yet an article in the Korea JoongAng Daily this week (from before the rumors) notes that Kim has already come out of mourning, and has been seen traveling North Korea, visiting tourist traps like “the Seoul Ryu Kyong-su 105 Guards Tank Division of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang.”
The article includes this heart-melting passage:
Kim Jong-un is already showing a different public personality than that of his father. While Kim Jong-il maintained a distance from the public, wearing sunglasses and rarely having physical contact with the public, the young successor doesn’t hesitate to act friendly and intimately with the people. That is the kind of behavior associated with his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. In a documentary aired recently by the North’s Korean Central Television, Kim Jong-un’s broad smiles and bold gestures were shown. He whispered in the ears of other soldiers and held the hand of a wife of a military leader. During a visit to an Air Force unit on Jan. 20, he hugged soldiers. When he visited Mangyongdae Revolutionary School on Jan. 25, Kim touched the faces of students and tasted soy sauce.
Soy sauce! Who doesn’t like soy sauce? Still, I would have advised him to tuck into a big bowl of kim-chi, the spicy pickled cabbage that is Korea’s equivalent of apple pie with ice cream.
(Note in response to sensitive commenters below: my point is that soy sauce is … meh. Whereas kim-chi is awesome. If I’m the dictator of North Korea and I get to choose my photo-ops, I’m going to go to the kim-chi factory instead of the soy sauce factory. Furthermore, to anyone who takes issue with the comparison, if you really believe that “as Korean as kim-chi” is not a viable analog to “as American as apple pie” then please let me know what food is more central to Korean cuisine.)
He’s friendly; he hugs soldiers; maybe this Kim is not so bad after all. He’s even said to love the iPad 2 and is set to allow Egyptian mobile operator Orascom Telecom to set up internet connections in North Korea.