By Kyle Van Pelt
News for May so far has been dominated by one topic besides coronavirus: what is up with Kim Jong Un? Is he dead, dying, healing, or has he been perfectly fine this whole time? Current consensus suggests that not only is he alive and well, but his false death was either the center point of a plot to ensure his power, or a long train of miscommunications and overly sensationalist news agencies vying for attention.
After North Korea released a film of Un at a factory in his home country, most of the world became confident that the dictator is alive and at least somewhat well. One prevailing theory about the situation is the idea that Un intentionally faked his own death. Upon the dictator’s supposed death, the few officials involved in the theoretical facade would monitor all attempts to take Un’s position. This would in turn help uncover any plots to take over the North Korean regime that existed before Un’s fake death. Considering the actions of and against past dictators, this is far from an unwarranted fantasy. From a bomb going off at Hitler’s dinner table to Stalin hiring an assassin to successfully kill Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in Mexico, extreme actions to take or ensure power are commonplace in totalitarian regimes.
For another plausible occurrence, there very well may have been no action by or against Un. The Washington Post reported that a South Korean news article claiming Un had a relatively safe cardiovascular surgery was mistranslated to say he had major heart surgery. This coupled with Un making no appearance for the celebration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, the most important day of the year for North Koreans, led American and European news agencies to begin speculating that the dictator either died in surgery or was rendered comatose. Furthermore, appearances by Kim Yo Jong, Un’s sister, added to speculations that she was preparing to take power.
Even after the mistranslation was corrected, the idea that Un was dead continued to spread. This news was a great attention-getting opportunity for news agencies and journalists alike; Kim’s death has been a common topic even after his appearance on the weekend of May 2. It is quite possible that the North Korean regime was, for once, not involved in any totalitarian power plays and news agencies are simply no longer getting the attention–and thus the income–they would like from covering the coronavirus pandemic.