Would Dennis Rodman have played Sun City?

Visit Pyongyang – An idiom used to describe a desperate plea for media attention (see also Jump the Shark) by a washed-up celebrity or politician (see Jimmy Carter, Bill Richardson, Ric Flair) who, lacking the residual talent to attract such attention by any other means or device, visits the one place on Earth where any publicity-seeker whose name is vaguely recalled by persons over 40 can be assured of making global headlines without being arrested, indicted, or otherwise worthy of public interest. Lacks the mortality risks of space travel (see Lance Bass) or Celebrity Rehab, but does require travel on Air Koryo.

I don’t intend to spend a lot of time writing about Dennis Rodman, so I will answer Max Fisher’s question this way:  “No.”

If no right-thinking person would visit or do business with apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s, how can any right-thinking person justify paying money to Kim Jong Un-era North Korea? It would be (mildly) interesting to know what Dennis Rodman’s views on apartheid were, but I don’t have to go out on a long limb to suppose that he thinks it was unjust. He would be right about that, of course.

There were some important differences between these two dictatorships, but none supports a defense of Rodman.  The most important one is that present-day North Korea kills a thousand-fold more people and keeps the survivors in a state of infinitely greater misery.  Other important differences can be seen in this historic video of “Sun City,” a single used to popularize an artistic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa. There is a manifestly hypocritical difference in elite mass opinion about how to treat these two dictatorships — isolate (bad) South Africa, engage (worse) North Korea:

A third difference is all the b-roll that was available to fill this video. There is, of course, nothing like this in North Korea (well, almost nothing). If P.W. Botha had known how to run a real dictatorship, there wouldn’t have been a Sun City, there might not have been a boycott, and there might still be apartheid in South Africa today.

One can only hope that Rodman will eventually perceive his surroundings with the moral clarity that Muhammad Ali did despite the ravages of Parkinson’s disease (hat tip to me for that cite).


  1. I was surprised to read that Rodman is traveling with Vice media. Have the North Koreans not seen Shane Smith’s other work on their country?

  2. John – Look at this way, they hosted a high level Google exec. and his firm has done a lot of work in making possible the mapping of NK forced labor camps, military installations, and elite retreats. It’s not always the case, but sometimes brutal people aren’t terribly smart.

  3. By having these “enemies” visit, it’s just a propaganda coup for them. “Proof” that the West trembles and must pay deference to the “morally superior” North Koreans. Plus they also get their money. That’s a nice bonus.

  4. “There is a manifestly hypocritical difference in elite mass opinion about how to treat these two dictatorships — isolate (bad) South Africa, engage (worse) North Korea”

    Excellently put. It’s not a matter of engagement being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in black and white terms per se; but that hypocrisy of ‘elite mass opinion’.

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