I don’t speak North Korean but luckily for me it’s not difficult to tell what’s going on when it comes to North Korean television programming as I’ve discovered this morning. If you’re interested in watching live North Korean TV – and why wouldn’t you be? – then the link I was using (and you’ll need a media player to view it) is this one: mms://188.8.131.52/chosun.
So, what television programme from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was I watching?
It was – I think – the Kim Jong-un Happy Execution Hour Mandatory Funtime Show! This show is the highest rated show on North Korean television along with every other show on North Korean television. Presided over by a robot of the Korean leader, each week an enemy of the people takes part in a series of challenges to determine just how it is they’re to be eradicated from existence. It’s a bit like The Running Man but without the figure hugging outfits. And you thought North Korea was a country with no taste. Shame on you!
This programme’s executionee-to-be was an elderly general, one of Kim Jong-un’s favourite choices to die and – by law – one of every North Korean citizen’s favourite choices to die too. The general looked more or less amused by the whole spectacle as the host of the programme (on the right) explained the many ways of death that could be enacted upon him. To the left one of the executioners – I’m going to call her Lady Tar Death for reasons that will become clearer later – ensured that the general didn’t make a break for it. Of course, they never make a break for it but it’s important that North Korean viewers don’t entertain the possibility in their heads either (under penalty of execution) so the presence of a formidable killer is important. And there’s the sex appeal angle too. Being appealed by sex also carries a penalty of execution.
The execution building was very impressive. A series of steps – being pushed down them until both hips shatter is one of the possibilities for geriatric enemies – led up to the North Korean leader robot. The Kimbot was flanked either side by what looked like balconies to my western eyes but which turned out to be presses able to rise and fall on the columns crushing flesh and bones beneath their weight. Inventive! The wall of the Kimbot’s alcove featured a film on loop of last week’s execution where a distant cousin of Kim Jong-un had been strapped to fireworks and fired into the sky over the Taedong River.
At this point the general drew a card from the Kim Jong-un Happy Execution Hour Mandatory Funtime Show Death Pack and this was shown to the viewers at home. It was the Ascending Handsome Leader card, the first time it had been seen since its introduction into the deck replacing the Definitely Not Ronery Leader card two years ago. The Ascending Handsome Leader card allows the enemy to pick his or her own means of death and it is often touted as a way in which Kim Jong-un’s regime is a far nicer executing regime than that of Kim Jong-il.
Evidently playing to the camera the general then took the show’s host, official death adjudicators, and Lady Tar Death down to the pool of acid, gesticulating encouragingly at its bubbling surface before laughing, shaking his head, and wandering away. Clearly, having his skin dissolved by chemicals didn’t appeal to the North Korean military man.
There’s no room for tanks in the execution building but a door in one wall adorned with a bronze relief of the war machines opens up to a courtyard area where those who choose (or, more often, do not choose) can be crushed under the caterpillar tracks. The general stopped for a moment and patted the relief leading me to wonder if he considered this an appropriate way for him to die but, again, this was just a diversion and maybe an old man fondly remembering better times serving one’s totalitarian country in the defence of imaginary foes.
Finally, the North Korean general made his decision: he pointed to Lady Tar Death and nodded. The adjudicators smiled and stepped away, as did the host of the TV show, probably to make sure their suits weren’t splattered (punishable by death). While some stirring commentary from the host carried on in the background – probably pointing out that this fate awaited all enemies of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as quite a few friends, and maybe a lot of those indifferent to it – Lady Tar Death used her Small Roller of Tar Death to slowly tar the general. To death. Hence her name. I told you I’d explain it.
After his death the general was mounted on a pedestal and positioned outside the execution building, a warning to the would-be treasonous across the country. I have to say that it was a lovely day for a television execution in North Korea. I’m sure the general appreciated it.
Uplifting martial music and laughing children (under penalty of execution) accompanied the end credits. And that concluded my first Kim Jong-un Happy Execution Hour Mandatory Funtime Show. In case you’re wondering, the show’s format was devised and sold to North Korea by Noel Edmonds. Say what you like about him, but the man knows what TV audiences like to see.
The programme that then followed was the North Korean version of Laverne and Shirley, the thought of which turned my stomach so much that I was forced to switch it off.
I’ll be finding out more about North Korea in January when Alistair Coleman presents a talk on the country to Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub (event details: here). Other skeptics groups will also be hosting Alistair in the near future too so check your area (not euphemistically; that’s punishable by death in some places) if you’re interested.