| American political anthropologist Clifford Geertz conceptualized as "theatre state" a political state directed towards the performance of drama and ritual to shape state order and mobilize people`s loyalty. Kwon Heon-ik, a chair professor at Cambridge University in Britain, and Chung Byung-ho borrowed the "theatre state" concept to analyze the process in which the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il inherited the charismatic power from Kim Il Sung, his father and founder of North Korea. The Korean scholars argued that the junior Kim won his father`s recognition and justified his hereditary power succession by using movies, operas and large-scale mass gymnastic games idolizing Kim Il Sung.
Separated from whether Geertz`s "state theatre" theory perfects fits North Korea, a state leader`s hobbies or talents are reflected into his act of ruling in any way in countries with a supreme leader in power for a long time. If Kim Jong Il used screen (movies) and spectacles (large-scale performances) to propagandize his regime and mobilized the masses, sports seem to be playing those roles in the Kim Jong Un era.
The North`s official Korean Central News Agency recently reported that popular sports games would be held in Pyongyang every weekend. Wrestling games took place last Sunday, while women`s boxing matches are scheduled to take place on December 29. Kim Jong Un has been fond of sports such as inline skating, basketball, horse-riding, jet skiing and swimming since his days as a student in Switzerland. His construction of a ski resort, a horse-riding club and a swimming pool reflects his liking for sports.
According to the accounts by Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese cook for Kim Jong Il, the junior Kim praised or harshly criticized his teammates after basketball games. Kim Jong Un invited former NBA star Dennis Rodman three times, showing that the young leader has a totally different taste from his father. Kim Jong Il kidnapped South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee to make them produce films for him and invited South Korean singer Kim Yeon-ja to sing for him.
Many dictators often use sports to divert people`s discontent and maintain their power. Unlike art performances, sports games have winners and losers. Kim Jong Un showed leadership and strong desire to win even in basketball games. According to the Japanese cook, when Kim Jong Un was playing marbles with his older brother, Kim Jong Chol, the younger Kim lost marbles while using tricks his brother told him to use. Then, Jong Un got angry and threw marbles at his brother. Kenji said, "Even when his younger brother was acting so violently, Jong Chol was still grinning." Kim Jong Il selected the younger son as his successor, saying the older one was "like a girl." The decision was based on such observations of the two sons.
Kim Jong Un`s strong will to win and cruel and explosive temperament were well displayed in the execution of Jang Song Thaek, his uncle-in-law and once Pyongyang`s No. 2 man in power. Kim Jong Il had suspicions about but went easy on Jang, his younger sister`s husband. For Kim Jong Un, who threw marbles at his older brother when angry, exploding his anger toward the uncle-in-law was probably not a difficult thing to do.
While Kim Jong Il, who liked arts, made a theater state, the junior Kim seems to be trying to turn real politics into theater. Kim Jong Un had security agents drag Jang away from a party politburo meeting even though his uncle had already been under house arrest. He also had mass rallies be held across the North to make people denounce Jang and demand his execution. The photo of handcuffed Jang`s haggard look at his trial was dramatic enough. The dramatization of his reign of terror solidified Kim`s power and alerted the North`s power elite and people.
Kim Jong Il had a long period of time to prepare for his hereditary power succession and could thus soft-land his power succession by dramatizing and institutionalizing his father`s ideology of juche, or self-reliance, without having to make dramatic purges. However, Kim Jong Un, who had only a short period of time for his power succession, has exposed his extreme violence, creating an atmosphere of terror. Unlike his father and grandfather who kept their purges secret, Kim Jong Un does not hesitate to make purges public. Kim Jong Un`s reign of terror and violence might succeed in creating an atmosphere of terror and suppress factions against him, the international community is angry about and wary of his inhumanity.