Discuss as:

Kim Jong Il: Making the myth

Though we have been bombarded with officially-approved photographs of Kim Jong Il in the last few days, we don't often see how they are used in the North Korean media. I was intrigued to see how the historical images of Kim below were published in today's edition of Rodong Shimmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party.

Rodong Shinmun via Yonhap - AFP - Getty Images

Images of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il published in the Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Shinmun on Dec. 22, 2011.

We know so little about North Korean society that images have perhaps taken on a greater role in our understanding of the country than they merit. For those of us observing from afar, photographs of Kim Jong Il have often been a prompt for idle speculation, mirth and guesswork.

Jean Lee of The Associated Press has written a fascinating analysis of the myths surrounding Kim Jong Il, from his "heaven-sent" birth on the sacred Mount Paektu to the red-glowing skies and stormy seas that are said to have foretold his death.

Lee's article sets out the building blocks used in the mythmaking - the bloodline, the legends, the iconography, the propaganda, the look, the nicknames, the arts and the song.

KCNA via Reuters

Wreaths sent by Chinese officials to offer condolences for the death of Kim Jong Il are seen in Pyongyang in this combination picture released by North Korea's offical KCNA news agency on Dec. 22, 2011.

Over at BagNews, Michael Shaw has an interesting analysis of Western reactions to the widely-distributed photos of public mourning over Kim's death. "The reactions to these photos are mirrors into our own cultural psyche," Shaw suggests.  

KRT via Reuters

Actors and actresses cry as they mourn for the death of Kim Jong Il at Pyongyang National Theatre in Pyongyang in this Dec. 19, 2011 still image taken from video.

Related content: