‘Kim Jong Il Looking at Things’ will likely continue beyond its meme-maker’s death


Kim Jong Il looking at the future. (Korea News Service/Reuters)

“I still have about 375 photos to post,” said Rocha, who culled the images of Kim Jong Il from the batches of photographs released by North Korea every few months. “I keep an archive as I find them so I will probably use them.”

Rocha, who is from Lisbon, said that he has not totally decided what to do with the blog for now, but he imagines he’ll see it through to the end of the archive.

Rocha, an an art director at the advertising firm Y&R, debuted his Tumblr in October 2010 after seeing a photo spread on Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” in which the sameness of Kim Jong Il’s stance in each photograph is clearly depicted. Rocha says it was that gallery and “possibly sleep deprivation-induced insanity” that inspired his blog.

The blog catalogues photos of Kim’s observations of factories, farms and animals over the years — but whether he was glancing at a sculpture or a solar panel assembly line, his mirthless expression never changed. Rocha paired each photograph with a declarative sentence reporting what Kim was looking at: “girls,” “pencils,” “a persimmon tree.”

Melissa Bell wrote about Kim Jong Il Looking at Things in February:

The viewer is left trying to explain the unexplainable: Why is Kim Jong Il looking at these things? Why is he always surrounded by a coterie of suited men? What is he attempting to tell the world? The Tumblr — without ever being overt or crass — devastatingly mocks the North Korean leader's attempt to control his image.

Though Rocha has looked at several hundred photos of Kim Jong Il, he says that the photos haven’t given him any additional clues into the Dear Leader’s psyche.

“There’s only so much you can see from one photo and they are all, I assume, heavily edited,” said Rocha. “I don’t know how far from reality they really are. I prefer not to assume too much.”

Kim Jong Il was a not just an inspiration for Tumblr. His cult of personality was not big enough to keep those with free speech from depicting him as a tiny, laughable man.

One former North Korean propaganda artist who defected painted the Dear Leader wearing tracksuits and sneakers, and being served a Coca-Cola on his deathbed.

Another artist painted Kim with cartoon Pikachu nuclear weapons. Yet another, inspired by Kim’s human rights abuses, painted him with his own blood (Note to the squeamish: Video below shows blood being drawn).


View Photo Gallery: After years of speculation on his declining health, North Korean television has reported its leader, Kim Jong Il, has passed away. He was 69.

But the most cartoonish depiction Kim will always be his character in “Team America: World Police,” the post-9/11 puppet satire of superheroes and foreign policy. Kim Jong Il’s puppet became the most quotable in the film for his rather politically incorrect song “I’m So Ronery“ (link contains strong language) and his catchphrase, “You are worthless, Alec Baldwin!”

And in a never-ending play-on-the-past Internet memes, Kim Jong Il Looking At Things has inspired two new photoshopped memes (warning, mildly not-safe-for-work imagery): “Kim Jong Il Looking At Things in the Afterlife” and “Kim Jong Il is No Longer Looking At Things.”

As Rocha tweeted upon hearing the news of Kim Jong Il’s death, “Here’s looking at you, Kim.”

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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