The second I found out that Kim Jong Il had died I quickly followed the protocol in a situation such as this and immediately scanned my twitter feed for confirmation. After failing to come up with anything worthy of 140 characters I moved on and waited for others to do what I couldn't be bothered doing.
I've kept North Korea in my partial attention zone for a few years, after @cowbellistan gave me a copy of Dictators Homes for my birthday, followed by Tyrants the following year. Hungover, I would spend the day after reading about horrible people and their horrible ways. Don't know why but North Korea always seemed to stick out. Fascinating, train wreck of a place. Complete and utter nightmare. I could keep on going with the cliched half sentences but I'll leave it at that. Point is, a bad man died. And now we're all supposed to react in some collective way. But how do we react to something this culturally foreign and closed off? Why do we feel the need to react in a certain way?
We do it for the Lulz.
While that video was uploaded in mid September, months before his death, it conveys the point. Especially when the subtitle is Ain't no party like a Pyongyang party, cause a Pyongyang party is ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY. It's a response to a situation that we don't understand, by the only means through which we're capable of understanding. It's not humour, but not tasteless either. It's a response to everything being available, at all times, for everyone. It all just becomes fodder. I'm surprised that no one has taken apart the chilling video of North Koreans trying to cry their hearts out and replace the sounds with cats meowing. When I first saw it (and I've seen it countless times in the past few days) I remarked on twitter that it felt like one big cultural photoshop. We can clearly see through the whole affair, and I'm sure that they can too, but meh. Whaddya gonna do? Viscerally feel what it would be like to live with such a twisted mindset?
And that was when I realised the depth that the lulz was willing to go. How it acted as our coping mechanism. The contrast between the lulz and the leader couldn't be starker. A man who commanded a country with the most perverse of grips; he went far beyond the jackboot stamping on the face of humanity. North Korea is testament to the failure of centralised command hierarchies.
The lulz, on the other hand, revels in its distributed and decentralised nature. Anyone can do it for the lulz, as long as you're steeped in network culture. The lulz takes your Juche ideology of self reliance and determinism and pisses all over it. The Lulz sees your hermit kingdom, scrapes all the intent out of it and squirts it out onto the web. For all the unknowable horror that he causes, we take it and turn it into a small joke of him looking at things.
It would be remiss of me to not mention Team America and the hilarious song I'm So Ronery by a puppet Kim Jong Il. I'm beginning to see this as the Ur script of all humourous takes on North Korea. It enabled us to see him as a short and angry little man, something able to be mocked. Perhaps we needed that particular angle to view him as in order to make fun of him. But that was before he died, while he still maintained godlike power over a nation of slaves. When all he could do, post-stroke, is look at things and approvingly smile.
Not that we should be surprised at any of this. Lulz has somewhat become the easiest way to cope our world. It's soon on the way to replace irony and sarcasm as our humour coping mechanism. Or, as sarcasm was to the nineties, the lulz is to the early twenty teens. Yet, the lulz seems only possible in our networked world. It doesn't seem to make much sense away from keyboard and mouse. Unless you're Anonymous, then go right ahead and do whatever it is that you please.
I feel as if there needs to be some mediated screen between us and the lulz. The lulz needs to come out of the internet, as a product of it. Either as a cheezeburgeresque macro or as a single serving fuckyeah tumblr. I've been keeping a few tabs on the fuckyeah genre of tumblr; it works really well when there's enthusiasm for the topic. A sadistic yet comical tyrant, not so much. So how, now that he's dead, do we deal with it? Simple, another single serving tumblr, this one with more deft and vulgarity than the previous. Kim Jong Il Dropping the Base.
I'm impressed at how quickly it was put together, let alone coming up with the idea. It's also amazing how many photoshops could be made in one day, all of fairly decent quality. All scraped and spidered off the internet, ready to be spread as fast as possible. Prepackaged and destined for a quick like on the facebook. To re-enter the stream in as many ways as possible just to become more content for our thirsty eyeballs and reward centres.
Much as the trend for vintage posters of soviet memorabillia seemed odd and somewhat offensive to survivors of communism, Kim Jong Il dropping the base would be downright weird if any North Koreans ever get a hold of it. Not because it's offensive to their beloved leader, or because of all the atrocities that they've gone through. No, it's because they simply wouldn't get it. Their pre-networked culture isn't close to the nuance and deft that the lulz can bring. Expecting them to get the joke, pushed through the sieve of the new aesthetic is light years ahead of their aesthetic sensibilities. That's probably the saddest part of all of this. Apart from the torture and starvation and fear of course. That when the Norks do open the border through some way or another and the stream of stunted masses pour through the border that they'll be too far gone to ever catch up to the cynicism of the lulz.