A Giant Straw Man In Pyongyang

the-Wicker-Man-6Do I know what’s going on in Pyongyang? Of course I do, but if I were to tell you, I’d have to kill you. So let’s pretend I don’t and let me make some educated guesses at what is happening (the good thing about having a PhD is that each and any guess you make, no matter how hairy-brained stupid, becomes educated by default). Let’s put some of the facts (or perhaps I should say ‘undisputed, commonly accepted suppositions’) down:

  • Kim Jong Un has not been seen for 36 days now
  • He has been shown by state propaganda to have health problems
  • NK state propaganda with regard to KJU has been a bit off, to say the very least
  • KJU (all three generations really) is domestically still advertised as the Supreme Leader
  • North Korean regime is executing a many-faceted, multi-dimensional charm offensive combined with its habitual provocative military behaviour
  • OGD apparatchiks are stepping forward into public view (most notably Hwang Pyong-so)
  • People like Hwang Pyong-so have borrowed some of the regalia of KJU (private jet, bodyguards, independence in representing NK abroad)
  • All elite NK exiles stress the importance of the OGD (starting with Hwang Jang-yop) and the changes in its functioning under KJI and under KJU

Has there been a coup? Soldiers on the streets, bodies in the corridors of power, high-office holders in the dungeons, that kind of stuff? I doubt it, yet this seems to be the most popular notion to rebut in the media by those NK watchers who don’t have time for anything people who have actually worked at the very top of the NK power structure explain. See here for example. Now if you’ll permit me to go pedagogical for a minute (I have a PhD after all…). The argument you see unfolded here, dear students, is a classic example of the straw man argument. The what argument, you ask, while undoubtedly seeing pictures of a giant straw man trying to kill Nicolas Cage in your mind’s eye (or for those of an earlier generation Edward Woodward)? The straw man argument, which is according to the Ultimate Authority On Anything this:

A straw man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man)

And that is exactly what is going on here. Did elite exiles speak of a coup? Hardly. Jang Jin-sung on CNN spoke of how the NK power structure works. About the OGD (which is an anagram of what? Right, you think that is coincidence, I bet). About KJU’s failure to really rule the state. The coup thing was framing by CNN (and before that VICE). Now, media may frame as they see fit, but that doesn’t mean it’s not that: framing (which may be defined as “providing false evidence or false testimony in order to prove someone guilty of a crime falsely,” but here it really would be “selecting and highlighting some facets of events or issues and making connections among them so as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution.

There probably was no coup. KJU may be back tomorrow. Or he may not. He may be in hospital or he may not. Doesn’t really matter. But if you are going to rebut the argument that it is GOD, oops, I mean the OGD in charge in Pyongyang, focus on the argument and not on the framing in media who often are (by necessity, you can’t be an expert on everything) ‘ignorant or uninformed of the original argument.’ Until then, I’m afraid straw men rule the discourse.


P.S. I really like The Wicker Man picture at the top of this post. Giant straw man, gesticulating excited man explaining something to crowd in awe (okay, the crowd is not visible, but I saw the movie. Trust me on this). Reminds me of something.

P.P.S. I want a tweed jacket like that. With matching pants. But skip the yellow turtleneck sweater. Civilized people know turtleneck sweaters are black, dark blue, dark brown or if you’re feeling particularly festive off-white.

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