Kim Jong Un's Disneyification of North Korea Is More Creepy Than Cuddly

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The young new leader broadcasts Disney to the Hermit Kingdom, exposing his appreciation of Mickey Mouse -- and his mission to control the country's culture.

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Disney characters dance on stage for a North Korean TV show. (AP)

Kim Jong Un, the new leader of North Korea, turns out to be bringing some unexpected innovations to the Hermit Kingdom. His latest move isn't saber rattling. Rather, he is staging Walt Disney productions such as "Sleeping Beauty" on state-run television with a group that the Wall Street Journal says is called Moranbong.

Somehow, it makes sense the Magic Kingdom would be picked up by the Hermit Kingdom. Mickey Mouse may be as American as apple pie, but the fantasy element of the Disney World should comport well with the sheer weirdness of North Korea. The word is that Kim turns out to be something of a literary buff who wants to introduce a "grandiose"--how could it be otherwise?--"plan," says the Korean Central News Agency, to upend the country's culture, as though it hasn't already experienced enough upending. Apparently it includes co-opting Disney.

As the New York Times reports,

North Korean state-run television on Monday showed footage of costumed versions of Tigger, Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters prancing in front of the leader, Kim Jong-un, and an entourage of clapping generals.

The footage also showed Mr. Kim in a black Mao suit watching as Mickey Mouse conducted a group of young women playing violins in skimpy black dresses. At times, scenes from the animated Disney movies "Dumbo" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" were projected on a multipanel screen behind the entertainers; an article in the state-run press said unnamed foreign songs were on the bill.

Might Kim's move, his new role as cultural commissar, also be aimed at securing his succession? His older brother Kim Kong Nam got into hot water with his old man after he snuck into Japan and tried to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It spelled the end of any hopes he might have to succeeding to the communist throne. Now Kim Jong Un may be signaling that he feels confident enough to put on a Disney show and broadcast it to the masses. (Stalin liked to watch Hollywood movies with his chums in the Kremlin but did not allow them to be broadcast. An avid reader, he, like Hitler, fancied himself something of an authority on the arts, though Hitler would have recoiled at Disney as a sign of the cultural pollution of America.) In addition, Kim had a young woman seated next to him--girlfriend, relative?--whose presence is inspiring much head-scratching about their relationship, if any. Is she actually his adviser on cultural affairs?

Throughout, much speculation has also centered on Kim's education in Switzerland, which is said to suggest that he might be more open to Western mores. But this is probably a misreading. Switzerland, a dour and thrifty nation, prides itself on its self-reliance, precisely the qualities that North Korea's leaders have sought to inculcate in its population in a much, much more extreme version. Nevertheless, North Korea's foray into Disney should not be interpreted as a sign of a suddenly mellowing regime but, rather, the mercurial proclivities of a tyrannical leader who presides over a gulag. Like the Soviet Union, North Korea is a country where yesterday's weather can be altered by decree. North Korea, in other words, is not Mickey Mouse.

This article originally appeared at The National Interest, an Atlantic partner site. Follow @TheNatlInterest on Twitter.

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