Episode 5: "The Interview" and North Korea in the News

Episode 5: "The Interview" and North Korea in the News


In this episode of East Asia for All, we discuss a pressing topic in the news lately: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un. North Korea-U.S. relations have already been deeply strained since the 1950s, when the U.S. military committed war crimes against civilians during the massive destruction of the still unresolved Korean War (see Minisode 2, North Korea: Memes, China, and Nuclear War for a detailed discussion of the Korean War and its legacy). In the 65 years following the military stalemate, the U.S. has unilaterally imposed sanctions against the North Korean state and insists upon continued military exercises near the North-South Korea demilitarized zone.

Recent controversies have rocked Kim Jong-un's leadership, furthering the portrayal of Kim as a maniacal dictator in the media. In February 2017, Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was mysteriously assassinated in Malaysia. In November 2017, experts confirmed that the North Korean military developed an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) able to reach any part of the mainland United States.

The events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, however, dramatically shifted this narrative. North Korea sent a large delegation of athletes and marched with the South Korean team in the opening ceremony. Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, made history as the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea during the Olympics, and even extended an invitation to South Korean president Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.

During the delegation's visit, media outlets lauded Kim Jong-un for his skilled diplomacy, a marked shift away from portrayals of him as bumbling and incompetent. In this episode, we discuss these shifts in representations of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, and the complex and tense relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. We also discuss at length the role of U.S. president Donald Trump in this relationship, who wrote inflammatory tweets calling Kim "rocket man" and promised to meet North Korea with "fire and fury."

During the recording of this episode, Kim invited U.S. president Trump to talks, which Trump then accepted in March 2018. Their historic summit on June 12, 2018 in Singapore, was met with both skepticism and hope in the Korean peninsula and abroad.

We are very pleased to have Dr. Christine Hong, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, join us on this episode of East Asia for All. Dr. Hong is a scholar and expert on North-South Korea relations, involved in the peace movement, and has written on North Korea-U.S. relations in the era of Trump. Tune in as Dr. Hong helps us unpack the 2014 film The Interview, recent changes in representations of Kim and North Korea in the U.S. media, and how Americans can utilize this moment as a chance for empathetic reflection.

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References and Further Reading:

EAFA in the Classroom - The Everyday in Wartime: Imperial Japan

EAFA in the Classroom - The Everyday in Wartime: Imperial Japan