Earlier this week another Toronto newspaper (one with national pretensions) ran a little piece that tried to poke fun at North Korea’s new “Supreme Leader” by running a few photos that cast him as a Vladimir Putin wannabe.
The key photo in the bit was a frame grab of Kim Jong-un on horseback taken from a propaganda film about the Great Successor that’s been running on North Korean TV for the past week.
Coupled with that was this photo of the once and future Russian president on horseback in Siberia in 2010.
Then they ran a couple of other combos of Kim Jong-un and Vlad Putin climbing in and out of tanks and looking at automatic weapons to suggest that young Kim (or at least his handlers) was (were) taking PR photo-op tips from the Russian dictator-in-all-but-name.
Granted, Putin does have a penchant for appearing in photos with horseflesh, often half-naked (Putin, I mean, since the horses are pretty much totally naked) and in strangely intimate poses. But none of the Action Man photos of Putin we know so well have even been seen by the North Korean general public.
The only time North Koreans see photos of Putin (or any other non-Korean dignitary for that matter) is shaking hands with one Dear Leader or another, like this.
No, propaganda art about The Leader as Hero was around long before Putin or Kim. They’re just following a dictatorial tradition.
As for the Kim on horseback, that image evokes memories of the Littlest Kim’s father and grandfather for the North Korean masses.
Here’s Kim Jong-un’s father, the late unlamented Dear Leader, in the classic horseback hero pose.
Now look at the frame grab of the Littlest Kim on horseback again. That’s the connection the North Korean propagandists are making.
And here’s a classic example of Prop(aganda) Art with the Littlest Kim’s dad (as a child) and granddad (Kim Il-sung) and grandmum (Kim Jong-suk) all on horseback.
So horses are a big power image for the Kims (and other dictators).
And so are guns. Here’s Granddad and Gradmum again, waging winter warfare with weapons and a babe in arms (little Kim Jong-il, of course).
All dictators like to be seen as handy with firearms.
Above, young(ish) Kim Jong-il in 1979. Below, old(ish) Stalin in the early 1950s.
Even non-dictators find gun-slinging a handy wartime image to cultivate.
Sometimes they’ll even kill living creatures to prove how good they are with guns.
And even if they don’t want to be seen waving a firearm around, they still like to cultivate that military image.
But the one thing a dictator (or anyone else) should never do is get into a tank. That’s the kiss of death, image-wise, because nobody except a real tanker looks good trying to enter or exit a tank. Just ask Mike Dukakis, who had a fair shot at winning the 1988 U.S. presidential election until he ended up looking like Alfred E. Neuman riding around in a goofy tank helmet.
Winston Churchill may have had a tank named after him but he was never dumb enough to actually get inside one. His photo was always taken standing beside or on top of the tank.
Really, nobody looks good in a tank.
(This is actually a submarine, but the concept is the same.)
But somebody obviously forgot to pass on this simple “no tanks” propaganda truth to Kim Jong-un. Witness:
A little help here — the Supreme Leader’s butt appears to be stuck in the hatch.
Kim Jong-un’s recent photo ops seem to be one goof-up after the other.
I’d bite that hand, except it’s the one that feeds me.
So you’re saying that if I fired the missile straight up it will just come straight down to the same place? We’d better move. Now.
But then his dad, Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader himself, had an obvious aptitude for goofy photos.
I guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from tree. And no one can blame Vlad Putin for that.