Today marks Dennis Rodman’s third visit to North Korea. He claims to have befriended Kim Jong Un and has described himself as an ambassador who will achieve things President Obama has heretofore been unable to accomplish.
That’s what he’s said in the past, however. Now, he has let slip he is only interested in becoming “the most famous person in the world” and that he has no interest in negotiating for the release of prisoner Kenneth Bae (caption, photo #5). As for DPRK’s career of human rights violations, “these things have been going on for years and years.” Washing his hands of any humanitarian efforts, Rodman continues to vaunt his willful ignorance of North Korea’s history and practices, which allows him to insist “this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media.” That’s an ignorant thing for him to claim, as he actively blocks out all information that would disrupt his career aspirations, those of coaching North Korea’s Olympic basketball team.
In actuality… well, no one else is unaware of North Korea’s crimes against its own citizenry. This is a secret to no one but retired Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman. Every year, as 1,000−3,000 defectors flee DPRK, the rest of the world learns more and more about what’s going on inside the “hermit kingdom,” a moniker less appropriate every day. We learn about the labor camps, about the “three generations hence” rule of punishment, about decent, hard-working citizens who suddenly find themselves imprisoned and rebranded as less than human. And we learn they’re learning about us and, consequently, the truth about their own nation, the truth beyond the irresistible contradictions they increasingly face.
Shin Dong-Hyuk, famous for escaping the infamous Camp 14, has written an open letter to Rodman. In this he pleads with the retiree to educate himself as to the present condition of North Korea and use whatever influence he believes himself to possess to persuade Kim Jong Un to change his ways and relieve the suffering of his people. Lofty entreaty but ill-fated, say I.
Does Rodman have an imperative to use whatever clout he has with Supreme Leader to persuade leniency from his new buddy? Morally, anyone who has the opportunity does indeed have that obligation. Intellectually, perhaps Rodman’s not the best person for the job—GQ named him ‘Least Influential Celebrity‘ of 2013—and the US government has an opinion on the wisdom of his actions.
I could speculate on Rodman’s vanity and desire to stay relevant, or the hypocrisy of stating his disinterest in politics yet suggesting, in broken and incorrect English, that he will unite North Korea with the US and the rest of the world through basketball. I could speculate on these but they are only my opinions. I never followed basketball and I never followed Rodman’s career apart from the bad press he received through his misbehavior and unusual hairstyles.