Mind the tragedy of North Korea

Past the comedy lies a humanitarian crisis in North Korea.



Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

The controversy this past winter associated with Sony’s hesitancy to release the comedy, “The Interview,” left the media inundated with discussion regarding free press, art and national security. Its plot follows two men involved in a tabloid show who are seeking acknowledgement as real journalists when they land an interview with unexpected fan, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, but are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. This national uproar caused this otherwise goofy comedy to become a statement of freedom and defiance among many Americans.


At the end of April, the Lincoln Center in New York City held the 2015 Women In The World Summit, which recounts the stories of female activists, CEOs, peacemakers and others who impact the globe as a force for good. On the second day of the summit, two women shared their accounts of North Korea, the first one being a defector and activist named Yeonmi Park.

Park describes growing up in North Korea, where the government told her what she could wear, what she could say, what she could watch and even what she could think. Her mother told her to not even whisper as the mice could hear what she said and the government itself could read her mind. After her father’s arrest for sending metal to China, the totalitarian government placed her family into the lowest class possible with no future. She ate grass, dragonflies and whatever else she could find to sustain herself.

However, with the help of a guard, she escaped to China where she and her mother were sold into human trafficking, and although the man who bought them also bought her father from the North Korean labor camp, he died shortly after. Realizing they had no hope in China, she and her mother traversed the Gobi Desert at night, using only a compass and the stars for navigation, to finally find asylum in South Korea.


The second speaker at the Summit discussion, Hannah Song, heads the organization, LiNK — Liberty in North Korea — alongside vice president and Biola alumni, Justin Wheeler. As she spoke, she revealed that 24 million people live in enforced poverty in North Korea because the government values control above anything else, including its own people. During the discussion, the moderator, The Today Show’s co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, noted she believes the media’s emphasis on Kim Jong-un’s “wacky antics” obscures the brutality of his regime.

Her critique radiates truth. While millions of people starve, in fear of their own thoughts and whispers, we more frequently hear ridiculous stories about haircuts and headlines of the “pleasure groups” of Kim Jong-un. Movies like The Interview and the YouTube series, “The Adventures of Kim Jong Un,” highlight the leader’s absurdity. Although satire and humor remain indispensable tools of coping with and exposing injustice, in failing to acknowledge the suffering the content presents, and instead focusing on the humor, we betray satire as a means of revealing corruption. In no way should we abandon wit or whimsy, but we must use them effectively.


As the talk concluded, Yeonmi Park urged the audience to remember we are the same. North Koreans fear what we fear, they fight for freedom, including not only our freedoms like expression or speech, but also for the simple freedoms of wearing our favorite jeans or watching our favorite movies. She reminds us “It’s not only North Korean Rights. It’s all of our rights. It’s human rights.” Simple human dignity is non-negotiable and we must not allow ourselves to overlook those in want of it.


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