30 Rock is More Accurate than You'd Think on North Korea

2011-04-29 10:24

In last night’s episode of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy’s journalist wife is kidnapped by North Korea and forced to read propaganda newscasts. It’s revealed that Tracy Jordan once co-starred in a film with Kim Jong-Il (here, played by Margaret Cho!), which he also directed.

But, as ludicrous as this all sounds, it’s all based on real events. Kim Jong-Il orchestrated the kidnapping of a famous South Korean film director and his actress wife in the 1970s, forcing them to make propaganda films for the regime. American deserters like Charles Jenkins starred in films, and became quite famous there. They were forced to record propaganda messages in English to be broadcast across the DMZ into the South, just like Jack Donaghy’s wife.

It’s been said, in fact that Kim Jong-Il’s favorite job was running the state film industry. I’ve read one of his short essays on filmmaking — The Cinema and Directing — and I have no doubt that it’s his work. He’s not any better of a writer than he is a leader. Tracy Jordan says as much in the episode, criticizing his directorial skills.

Really, the only part of the episode that’s inaccurate is the suggestion that Kim Jong-Il regularly appears on North Korean television and radio. That’s simply not the case: as someone who claims to be tantamount to a living god, any live appearance will simply help erode that image.

While relaxing in my Pyongyang hotel room on my own trip to North Korea, I got to see what a real television appearance by Kim Jong-Il on a TV drama looked like. The show was evidently about a group of coal miners. They seemed increasingly despondent, until, suddenly, a posed picture of Kim Jong-Il visiting some coal miners flashed on screen — I suppose this was meant to suggest he had visited the miners on the show. Flash back to the miners, and they are suddenly inspired to live the Juche ideal and produce much more coal.

Oh, and one other inaccuracy: Kim Jong-Un won’t be marrying a foreigner; if he’s anything like his father, his marriage won’t even be public. But a foreigner? That would defile the cleanest race. Not a chance.

Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves, if you have the right sense of humor.

Andrew Todd