Beauty, the Beast and a Dash of Mickey

Last weekend and again during this week, Chosun Central TV broadcast images of Kim Jong Eun viewing a concert by the newly formed Moran Hill Orchestra on the 6th.

To the surprise of much of the outside world, the concert featured groups of female performers playing electric instruments, wearing short mini dresses and sporting high heels. One performer played the theme song to the classic Hollywood film ‘Rocky’ on the electric violin; at another point, some pretty unexpected images appeared on the digital screen in the backdrop, including Mickey Mouse and a range of other popular Disney productions.

North Koreans now based in South Korea mostly agree with the consensus that the concert was supposed to indicate that Kim is a leader who is willing to change things.

Such a propaganda showcase was necessary for two reasons; first, because it fits in with the image of a young, dynamic and above all compassionate leader that Kim is trying to portray; and second, because even in the event that the Party is actually proposing to reform the state, practical changes to the people’s everyday lives will not come for a long time. This is dangerous for regime security; it is considered quick and effective to counter this by manipulating public opinion through art.

Park Hyung Jung, a senior researcher with the Korea Institute of National Unification pointed out more, saying, “The effect of the official propaganda narrative has fallen hard since USBs and DVDs started entering from abroad. The Moran Hill Orchestra performance was a way to improve the effectiveness of state propaganda in the face of this challenge.”

The concert came with another interesting element; both there and on a trip to Geumsusan Memorial Palace at midnight on the 8th, Kim was joined by a woman dressed in black; she acted like his wife, but was not introduced or alluded to in the voiceover at any point.

A number of analysts both at home and abroad immediately declared that the woman was Kim’s wife and that she had been introduced in a carefully calibrated attempt to show he is more of an ‘open’ leader than his father.

Certainly, it is all a far cry from Kim Jong Il’s desire for absolute secrecy. While Kim Jong Eun watched the concert while very visibly accompanied by a lady who had the appearance of a wife, a North Korean propaganda documentary about Kim Jong Eun’s mother Koh Young Hee released by Daily NK today shows that Koh actually attended political events with Kim Jong Il for years and years, but the fact never appeared in the media.

However, perhaps it should not be a surprise that this would happen. For Kim Jong Eun’s image makers, placing his wife in the public eye, even before announcing her existence or who she actually is, seems to be a calculated decision; Kim is young, so not only is it perhaps unnecessary to hide facts of this ilk from the public, being accompanied by a wife can actually make him look more statesmanlike.

Park Hyung Jung agreed with this view as well, pointing out, “Kim Jong Eun’s young age had always been a weakness, so to bring his wife along implies that he is a stable leader. ’Stability’ is important for a solid leader’ image in North Korea.”