Kim Jong Il's Birthday: The Serious and the Silly

The North Korean leader turns 69 today. Here's why that's (kind of) funny

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Is Kim Jong II funny? It's a question bloggers and late night comedians struggle with whenever the North Korean leader does something comical and/or terrifying. On the one hand, he's a brutal dictator with nuclear capabilities. On the other hand, he frequently does ridiculous, patently absurd things like claiming to have registered eleven holes-in-one the first time he ever golfed or trying to get Eric Clapton to play in Pyongyang.

This dichotomy is particularly troubling today, Kim's 69th birthday. (Or is it his 70th?) With Kim reportedly in poor health and a succession plan that looks murky at best, purely laughing at the over-the-top theatrics of his birthday celebrations seems out of place. 

Update: The New York Times, via a report in the South Korea's Chosun Ilbo, notes Kim did not let the lead-up to birthday go by without making one major announcement: he's naming his youngest son Kim Jong-un vice chairman of the country's defense commission. The appointment to the number two post in the country's government is another sign yet that Kim Jong-un is being groomed to replace his father. Back in September, Kim--described in his New York Times profile as a "political naif who is believed to be about 27 or 28"--was named a four-star military general in the People's Army. The elder Kim made the announcement on February 10 just as his birthday festivities were kicking off, including the annual flower show "featuring bright red tuberous begonias called kimjongilia."

At the same time, how can you not comment on celebrations that involve synchronized swimming? Here, we bring you both the earnest analysis and the comical highlights.

The serious
In past years, Kim has handed out Rolexes, Mercedes, and houses to his favorite birthday party attendees. This year, reports the Telegraph's Peter Foster, food shortages have prevented Kim from handing out his annual gift of ten days worth of rice and corn to party leaders. "The handouts," Foster explains, "are designed to inspire loyalty and confidence in the ability of the regime to provide for its people who are reported by the UN's World Food Programe to be facing shortfalls of more than 500,000 tons of grain this year, leaving five million people short of food." A lack of cash of hand meant "North's cash-strapped buyers in China [were] reduced to purchasing fake goods for the first time" for senior party officials. "Gift baskets may be lighter and knockoff Gucci could replace the real thing," observe the AP's Foster Klug and Kim Kwang-Tae. They write that the scrimping comes at the worst possible time. "Kim needs to maintain loyalty while maneuvering his inexperienced youngest son, Kim Jong Un, into position to eventually succeed him. The annual gifts, especially those given to the elite, have been a way for Kim to do just that, no matter how tough times get."

The silly
Synchronized swimmers spell out the date of Kim's birth. North Korea posts the video via the state's official YouTube account. This is indeed very silly.

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