5 Things We Hope Dennis Rodman Learned About North Korea

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Jason Mojica / VICE Media / AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and former NBA star Dennis Rodman watch North Korean and U.S. players in an exhibition basketball game at an arena in Pyongyang, North Korea, Feb. 28, 2013.

When Dennis Rodman landed in Pyongyang, the isolated capital of the world’s most isolated country, he announced his arrival with a tweet: “I come in peace. I love the people of North Korea!” One wonders whom the 51-year-old former basketball star thought he was reaching. No ordinary North Korean is on the Internet, nor has access to the recently installed 3G network through which Rodman presumably sent his tweet. The eccentric American baller, known as the “Worm,” kept up his awkward commentary throughout a tour of the Hermit Kingdom, where he was accompanied by members of the Harlem Globetrotters and a crew from Vice. On Thursday, it reached its surreal climax when Rodman sat next to a portly, grinning Kim Jong Un, the pariah state’s dynastic ruler, at a staged basketball game. According to reports, he proclaimed Kim to be “a friend for life.”

(MORE: Strange, But True: Dennis Rodman Is Going to North Korea)

One hopes there’s a hidden punchline here, that Rodman’s North Korea trip isn’t just the strange publicity grab of a faded celebrity and an irreverent media enterprise. One hopes that—in between the lavish 10-course meals at Kim’s palace and “paying tribute” to the statues of late despots Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il—Rodman may have actually learned something about North Korea and the people he says he loves. There’s certainly a lot that demands his attention. Five key lessons we hope he brings back to share with his American fans:

1. North Koreans are starving. Chronic food shortages—which followed the fall of the U.S.S.R. and are the result of the avarice and mismanagement of the military-first dictatorship in Pyongyang—are a fact of life, especially in rural areas. Two thirds of the country (some 16 million people) depends on meager government handouts. Refugees who escape have spoken of subsisting on grass and field mice. A U.N. report last year claims millions suffer from malnourishment and inadequate health services: a third of children under the age of five show signs of stunting. Because of poor sanitation, diarrhoea is a leading killer of children. “I’ve seen babies … who should have been sitting up who were not sitting up, and can hardly hold a baby bottle,” said the U.N. rapporteur in a Beijing press conference last year. A pantomime Marie Antoinette, Kim Jong Un reportedly sent out two pounds of candy to each child in his famine-stricken country in January to mark the young dictator’s birthday.

(MORE: Dennis Rodman May Not Know Which Korea He’s In)

2. North Korea keeps its starving people hostage to its belligerent nuclear policies. The international community, including the U.S., has offered hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid to Pyongyang. But the aid has been stymied by bargaining over North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons program—in 2009, for example, shipments were stalled after Pyongyang decided to test a rocket. This month’s recent underground nuclear blast, the country’s third, makes diplomacy even harder.

3. North Korea is a land of prison camps — lots of prison camps. The dominant image of North Korea in the minds of outsiders is that of the eerie spectacle of the Mass Games and other rituals of totalitarian pageantry that its government seems to obsessively enact. But beyond that is a world of abuse and injustice. Tens of thousands languish in prison camps across the country. With the aid of citizen cartographers, Google recently pointed some of these sites on its maps—here is TIME Beijing correspondent Austin Ramzy piece on Google’s grim revelations.

(PHOTOS: A New Look at North Korea)

4. North Korea’s not just a Stalinist dictatorship—it’s a mafia state. The regime the Kims built doesn’t just oppress its people, censor everything and make daily life a never-ending propaganda play. It has also carried out illegal business operations that have a global reach, raking in an estimated $1 billion a year through activities such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting goods and money laundering, according to a 2007 TIME expose which branded the late Kim Jong Il “the Tony Soprano of North Korea.”

5. North Korea’s not just a mafia state—it’s a fascist, racist state. While nominally Communist, North Korea has become something else altogether after decades of force-feeding its population a steady diet of xenophobia and militarist nationalism. In an article in Foreign Policy, B.R. Myers, a South Korea-based academic and author of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, says the state’s ideology “is a race-based worldview utterly at odds with the teachings of Marx and Lenin.” Propaganda celebrates with slavish devotion the glory of the Kim bloodline as well as the general purity of the North Korean race. An understanding of that fascist fervor led the late Christopher Hitchens to dub North Korea a “nation of racist dwarfs”—dwarfs because so many are stunted from malnourishment. In the state’s worldview, everyone else—the Chinese, the Japanese, the hated Americans, and yes, even Dennis Rodman—is suspect.

We hope he learned these things. Then again, maybe Rodman just talked hoops.

MORE: North Korea Confirms ‘Successful’ Nuclear Test

125 comments
MikaelHansson
MikaelHansson

Maybe Rodman is just playing the game very well, he might even be the most successful spy the US ever sent to N.Korea. Of course if he want to go back there again he has to say good words about N.Korea and it's leader. If he would have started bringing up all the negative things about N.Korea he would probably disconnect the only connection US have with socialist state. Kim Jong Un is not stupid, I'm sure his following the outside media very closely.

KaraDemeulle
KaraDemeulle

like Louis answered I am blown away that some one able to make $8739 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you see this site... buzz75.ℂom


Capt.Haddock
Capt.Haddock

Wow, the sort of cold war rhetoric one usually expects from the likes of N.Korea coming from our own TIME magazine.  Good stuff- way to show how we're better than them.  It would be nice if we could applaud people's efforts to bridge the gap with the maligned and misunderstood rather than childishly ridicule them.  Sure they have their problems, but we don't have an exactly glowing report card either.  With over 40 million people living in poverty, over two million people living behind bars and the highest incarceration rate in the world in the "Land of the Free", maybe there are a couple things we could all learn about our own country as well.

MarshallHiepler
MarshallHiepler

How futile, are the hopes, regarding: "Five key lessons we hope he brings back to share with his American fans."

One might experience greater productivity, by viewing daytime television.

A more valuable learning experience may be had, by reflecting upon "What we have learned about Dennis Rodman, regarding his visit to Pyongyang."

epitygxanwn
epitygxanwn

Rodman is not the only one who has to learn these 5 things. When will China figure out they should stop propping up a racist state that considers the Chinese themselves an inferior state? When will Russia finally say 'enough', too?

The outside world does not have much influence over the thugs running that country. But even so, I find it hard to believe they would continue their truculence of both Russia and China told them they would no longer support them at all, in any way.

surething1050
surething1050

A pretty pathetic person to represent any Country anywhere, but if he just has to, let him go to Zwahili land where body piercings play an important role in social stature.

WalterSigona
WalterSigona

laying the CIA rhetoric on a little thick aren't we? Well that's you job I guess. Keep the propaganda flowing. 

xalf18
xalf18

Roldman i a psycho!  Can you expect anything rational from him?

William
William

Do we really care what Rodman thinks or does. Here is another example of a failed celebrity trying to get attention to bolster his deflated ego. 

Fernando_Llano_
Fernando_Llano_

@TIME @TIMEWorld Perhaps Rodman is worldwide known for his long career as a defender of human rights and freedoms or just as a basketplayer?

mrspeel
mrspeel

I think Rodman's comments about being their friend for life etc, may seem outrageous to many of us when we consider the animus between North Korea and the rest of the world, but there could possibly be an upside to it eventually. Call me naive, but given the country's love of Basketball, it could just be the link that will open lines of communication between them and the US. I recall Ping Pong opening the door for Nixon's visit  to China back in 1972.

CoreyKitt
CoreyKitt

“@TIME: 5 things we hope Dennis Rodman learned about North Korea | http://t.co/J3eD9IUN2M"-- No one should respect this media hungry human.

BLACKfoote
BLACKfoote

@TIME @TIMEWorld leave him alone, the Bushs' are knee deep in blood money...report on that!!

gingin
gingin

Rodman in N Korea is confusing. “@TIME: 5 things we hope Dennis Rodman learned about North Korea | http://t.co/JWkUPrHxsF (via @TIMEWorld)”

fred.fries6
fred.fries6

I wonder how many North Koreans were also enjoying a can of Coke!

felixabt
felixabt

@TIME @TIMEWorld @ishaantharoor's patronizing North Korea piece full of half-truths.

Marco Sousa
Marco Sousa

Denis Rodman thought that being In North Korea was the best shot to make a new "Gagnam Style"!

Sionni
Sionni

@TIME @TIMEWorld let him stay there,see how awesome he thinks it is,effen crackpot!

JorgeJohnson
JorgeJohnson

Dennis Rodman and Manti Te'o now have something in common: they both love people they've never met.

Vikash Pattnaik
Vikash Pattnaik

Oh! By the way, he also mentioned he would do the Gangnam Style for the crowd!! Wrong Korea, buddy

ARabuffo
ARabuffo

@JoshEstrin @timeworld Nothing that's what he learned Nothing!!!

1francesco
1francesco

@JoshEstrin @timeworld Apparently not much just made a friend for life? Ugh plus he thinks everything is good there? Maybe new sunglasses ?

Steve Tucker
Steve Tucker

Rodman will only see what they want him to see. This was a publicity stunt for all involved. Only the North Korean people lose out.

EmmaAnne9
EmmaAnne9

what Douglas implied I'm shocked that a single mom able to get paid $8556 in 4 weeks on the internet. did you look at this site fly38.ℂoℳ

Mike Nijakowski Jr
Mike Nijakowski Jr

If i was well liked and was welcome some were or any were I might of done the same thing but only if it would b a posative out come.

The812Element
The812Element

@MariaNelson22 @whit_nelson19 oh I didn't know you joined the insane asylum, the only prerequisite for entry. good job

Kabwe Pande
Kabwe Pande

The world all over will always have starving and marginalized people. Don't the legally convicted felons in the USA feel oppressed........? Its the state of the human heart. I feel its less stupid to live in an environment where you know you have no control and freedoms than to live in an environment where it is perceived that you have freedoms but have no control over the agenda.

Tommy Whole
Tommy Whole

smiling about learn. .. it's good news

joseph.burke.pr
joseph.burke.pr

Is the gratuitous use of underline and ALL CAPS to drive home points considered within the bounds of objective journalism now?

I've been to North Korea as a U.S. tourist. It was a tough moral decision as my dollars went straight into the North Korean coffers, money that may have bolstered prison camps and the North Korean Military. And yes, everything you mention about the regime is true from what I could tell and the research I'd done before and after my visit. 

But the starkest reality of being inside North Korea is the total lack of contact with or information from the outside world. The regime thrives on ignorance for it's ability to manipulate the population. In my opinion, any damage I, or Mr. Rodman or Google has done by visiting North Korea is more than offset by exposing the North Korean people (even the limited number those approved to interact with outsiders) to westerners- particularly westerners who appear friendly and interested in their own culture- not the westerners or the Americans depicted in propaganda. Even the smallest trickle of outside influence is a step in the right direction- where diplomacy, sanctions and the boogeyman-image the media uses to sell stories- has failed for decades. 

Gradual opening is the only way out. None of this excuses the North's horrendous regime- but this sort of journalism only antagonizes the situation by simplifying a very complex social and political dynamic in North Korea.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

Does anyone agree that perhaps Dennis should stay there?  After all, friends for life need to be close to each other.  If Dennis has any money left, he single handidly will lift their economy (doesn't take much).  Maybe he could even become a General or something in the army.  Maybe he could be relevant there somehow.  Maybe?  Well, at least its fodder for a slow news day.

KingStevie
KingStevie

@mrspeel  absolutely right, in fact Rodman's comment that Kim Jung Un just wanted someone to call him may be the closest thing to real diplomacy the U.S. has seen in a while. The U.S. government war machine propaganda needs an enemy for everyone to hate, since they have killed Saddam and Osama, it doesn't leave too many boogey men.

MarshallHiepler
MarshallHiepler

Hope is a nobel expression, true enough.

Intelligence has value as well.

Combined, their power is multiplied.

Subsequently, the choosing of  an intelligent "ambassador", upon which, to rest one's hopes may be the greatest expression of intelligence by the hopeful.

gordonpatzer
gordonpatzer

@mrspeel  -- I compliment the view expressed by mrspeel, which is a boldly and couragerously expressed thought that certainly goes against the thinking advocated by the American government and many others throughout the US.  I look forward to someday visting North Korea to see matters first-hand..

We_Sell_Miami
We_Sell_Miami

@RichelleCarey @elindsayatl @time @timeworld @ishaantharoor R mybe @dennisrodman talk'd politics. What we DO KNW is u haven't open dialogue

RobbieH
RobbieH

@joseph.burke.pr This is a fantastic response. I do think the fact that Dennis Rodman, an *American* basketball player was able to engage this directly with Kim Jong-un is really quite groundbreaking. Was his comment about Kim Jong-un being a "friend for life" silly and ignorant? Absolutely. But the North Korean people should not be needlessly excoriated as they are in this article, nor should they be assigned the blame for the actions of their leader. North Koreans are not the propaganda-spewing America-hating individuals they are portrayed to be - they are kind people who have been misinformed their entire lives. This kind of cultural exchange actually engages the North Korean population and helps to develop a relationship of trust, while in the process, breaking any stereotypes they might have about Americans. Any kind of exposure to the outside world is making a difference, and I feel that this positive influence has been sadly overlooked here.

MichaelRichards
MichaelRichards

I think your view is absolutely correct, but I don't think many people can see the forest through the trees. 

SaltyIrishman
SaltyIrishman

@gordonpatzer @mrspeel Gordon, you won't see anything but a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory force-fed BS tour accompanied by a minimum of 2 government minders [1 to watch and control you, the other to make sure that the other minder isn't being apolitical].  You won't see any of the countryside, prison camps, starving orphaned children due to their parents being in concentration camps or dead from starvation...

MichaelRichards
MichaelRichards

PS If you can stomach your way through some of the comments here, you'll see why.  North Korea is just too closed and authoritarian and too many Americans are just too damned dumb politically.  It's a bad mix for any real diplomacy or progress. the irony is that our dumbness only contributes to the tragedy.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@MichaelRichards I deleted mine too, thank you.  I think your point above is well made and rises above the discussion about whether someone's humor (about a bad situation) is dumb or not. 

MichaelRichards
MichaelRichards

PS I deleted the comment and again apologize.  On re-reading it, it did seem unfair.

MichaelRichards
MichaelRichards

First, it's not an election, its an opinion post.  Second, humor is often dumb, so I'm not sure why there's any problem with that.  It's not personal, just like 'jeez, that's dumb', not like 'you're dumb'.  I apologize if it came off that way.  It's just that it would be nice for people to put some real thought into the potential benefits of small peaceful actions in American diplomacy instead of violent attacked or passive aggressive diplomacy (like economic boycotts that also inflict harm on regular people).  The real way to find peace might actually be through peace itself.  I'm definitely not the first person to suggest it.