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TikTok star Munya Chawawa takes on North Korea in a new documentary that follows a long tradition of Western media mocking the Kim family regime.

TikTok star Munya Chawawa takes on North Korea in a new documentary that follows a long tradition of Western media mocking the Kim family regime.
TikTok star Munya Chawawa takes on North Korea in a new documentary that follows a long tradition of Western media mocking the Kim family regime.


Munya Chawawa, best known for his satirical sketches aimed at educating and entertaining a Generation Z audience, has made a new documentary about Kim Jong-un's North Korea. How to survive a dictator created to Sheffield DocFest on June 13, and will be broadcast on Channel 4 Later this year.

The documentary attempts a new vision of North Korea. It includes serious interviews with experts, activists and escapees from the country, interspersed with skits and songs satirizing aspects of North Korea's political ideology and its leader.

This follows a long tradition of Western media mocking North Korea, playing on public curiosity around the mysterious, seemingly eccentric and sometimes bellicose regime of the Kim family.

In one sketch, Chawawa is dressed as Marvel's Nick Fury. He describes the North Korean regime as a gangster operation led by the Revengers, engaged in slavery, money laundering and the sale of narcotics and weapons.

Another song parodies Kim as North Korea's new prince. It's a nod to the fact that he rose to the position of supreme leader seemingly out of nowhere as the regime sought to prevent a power vacuum after the health of his father, Kim Jong-il, began. to deteriorate.

The use of comedy to portray North Korean leaders as deranged, immature and selfish tyrants bent on world domination and destruction is not new. Political comics have a history of represented a rosy-cheeked baby Kim playing with toy missilesor sitting on the naughty chair in the corner.

These childish caricatures mock a relatively young leader whose nuclear weapons program is presented as a self-indulgent vanity project into which he funnels much of the state's very limited financial resources.

North Korea does not always remain silent in the face of humiliating depictions of the supreme leader. The 2014 Hollywood movie The interviewstarring Seth Rogan and James Franco, presented a storyline in which two American journalists travel to North Korea to assassinate Kim in order to conduct an exclusive interview with him.

Kim's darkly comic self-effacement depicted in the film angered North Korea. He considered the film an act of war and required the UN intervenes to prevent his release. North Korea then reportedly showed its disapproval by deploying a massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures shortly afterward, although it denied direct responsibility.

Why do we laugh?

In the documentary Chawawa, he visits a popular South Korean television show where North Korean escapees recount their lives in the North, sometimes using humor to add levity to their experiences.

Referring to his own childhood experience during Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe, Chawawa notes the cognitive dissonance involved in talking about trauma, violence and dictatorship through comedy. He describes how, for those who have experienced such things, joking about them can be a coping mechanism.

But what about those of us who have not lived under the brutality of an authoritarian government? Should we laugh? The use of denigrating humor is a common device observed by social identity theorists in media commentary that seeks to diminish the danger posed by threats to others or strangers.

For example, former US President Donald Trump's favorite insult towards the North Korean leader was Little Rocket Man. This was intended to minimize Kim's ability to carry out an attack against the United States and its allies by downplaying his nuclear program.

But disparaging humor can also facilitate the effective transmission of messages because it acts as a kind of mental balm. Chawawa noted during his discussion with the DocFest audience that his use of satire is a tool that he hopes will reduce the discomfort young audiences might otherwise feel when faced with difficult, sad or anxiety-inducing topics.

Psychological warfare

The use of disparaging humor in comments about North Korea does not work equally with all audiences. In May, a North Korean political song released by the government went viral worldwide on TikTok, including in South Korea.

The song, titled Friendly Father, gained attention for its catchiness. Melody coded in Abbaaccording to the many approving comments from Gen Z listeners.

However, the song was banned by the national media regulator in South Korea. The move is not surprising given the caution with which the South Korean government has historically treated North Korean state content.

THE National Security Act of 1948 prohibits the dissemination or consumption of any content originating from North Korea in the South due to a dislike of any content that might praise, incite or propagate Activities in North Korea. More recently, comical T-shirts with Kim's smiling face printed on them have been prohibited from sale in South Korea for this reason.

Kim Jong Un walked in front of a row of missiles with men in military uniforms.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees military exercises at an undisclosed location in North Korea in April 2024.

Some young South Koreans might think it's OK to make fun of North Korea for the same reasons as Western audiences. But many in the South still believe that the national security threat posed by the North Korean regime is real enough that viewing Kim lightly risks weakening South Korea's ideological defenses.

In the West, the man who leads North Korea will likely remain the target of media ridicule, especially since there are many things foreigners find difficult to understand about him. However, Kim Jong-un is not irrational and went to great lengths to ensure the survival of his regime. It would be a mistake not to take it seriously.




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