The infantilization of Kim Jong Il

February 8, 2013

Rodong Sinmun, a state-run North Korean outlet, posted several stamps depicting Kim Jong Il as a child. (Screenshot)

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has a birthday coming up next week, a state holiday referred to as "the day of the shining star"; he would be turning 72, were he still alive. If you're still looking for a gift to appropriately mark the occasion,  look no further. North Korean state media has released a series of stamps commemorating Kim as a child.

The stamps are Norman Rockwellian in their sentimental treatment of a young Kim Jong Il, who still manages to come across as stern and creepy. The stamps also seem, according to North Korea analyst Adam Cathcart, to be part of a larger trend of infantilizing Kim since his death in late 2011.

State media has been playing up Kim's adolescence and even toddler years, increasingly portraying the former leader as a child rather than an adult. That's included state media discussing Kim doing one of his famous on-site inspections at the impossibly youthful age of 3. There was also a story about North Koreans flocking to a "revolutionary site" supposedly famous as a place where a 9-year-old Kim has "hardened his will to beat back the enemies and cultivated patriotism."

(Rodong Sinmun)
(Rodong Sinmun)

The stories are preposterous in the way that only North Korean state media seems consistently capable of, but they're also telling. The point, Cathcart says, is likely to make Kim's son and heir, Kim Jong Eun, look older by comparison.

State media has been hinky about the younger Kim's birthday, which is thought to be in January 1983, sometimes suggesting he is older. Kim Jong Eun has been working aggressively to consolidate his rule and legitimacy, for which his relative youth and inexperience could be liabilities.

Portraying his own father as a child to make himself look better – that's just how it goes in the Kim family.

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Max Fisher · February 8, 2013