We may finally have an explanation for Kim Jong-un’s mysterious 6-week-long absence from the public eye. And no, it doesn’t involve his apparent weakness for Swiss cheese.
Blame ankle surgery.
At least according to South Korean TV station KBS, which cites South Korea’s spy agency.
This is somewhat in line with a previous report from the South’s Yonhap News Agency claiming foreign doctors were flown in to treat Kim for a leg injury.
Of course, given North Korea’s tight grip on state media, it’s impossible to say for sure what’s really going on with the Supreme Leader.
This latest report may put to rest some of the more far-fetched rumors surrounding his whereabouts. But the least popular theory may have been the most plausible.
That is, Kim — caught on video limping in July — remained firmly in power while dealing with some physical ailment. (Video via ODN)
Given the personality cult built around him, it makes sense the young dictator — portrayed in state media as nothing short of infallible — would want to lay low while recovering from ankle surgery. (Video via Channel 4)
“Image is everything” says Paul Fisher at the Los Angeles Times. “The Kim family mythology is the foundation of its statehood narrative. [They] are the purest, most virtuous, most perfect humans, superhuman even. They cannot be shown to be wrong, to be weak, to fail."
Consider the mythology surrounding Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il. Official records claim when the Dear Leader was born on a mountain, both a double rainbow and star appeared in the heavens.
When he died, state TV claimed he died from “overwork” after "dedicating his life to the people."
Like father, like son. Since Kim's reappearance in state media, he's has been shown working tirelessly for his people — though with a walking cane. (Video via KCNA)
Which is pretty significant. State media never once showed Kim's father or grandfather looking ill.
As for why Kim may have chosen to step out looking less than perfect, Jonathan Pollack at the Brookings Institution writes: "Kim must have decided that it was better to resurface (albeit in a somewhat diminished state) than remain absent from the political scene. Even within a hermetically sealed leadership process, visibility matters."
Visibility ... like ... a photo op at an orphanage with zero children.
This video includes images from Getty Images and KCNA.