John Oliver was not among the more than 100 journalists invited to North Korea to cover the ruling party’s first congress in 36 years, but thanks to Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, you can see how it might have gone. Oliver covered the highlights of the North Korea visit, mocking the country's PR and the media's attempt to take the country seriously during the brief — and unusual — opening to the West.
Kim Jong-un is thought to have called the party meeting as a way to consolidate power. He bragged at the congress Friday about his success with the country's nuclear program and a satellite launch. He told the gathered politicians that showed "dignity and national power of Juche Korea at the highest level." Juche means "self-reliance," and is the country's governing ideology.
The journalists invited to the country for the event, however, didn't even get to see Kim's speech — something Oliver of course had something to say about:
They couldn't even watch the speech on state TV because as one of them showed on Vine, it was airing an old black and white Korean military drama. So her readers were reduced to watching someone watching North Korean television. And now you're watching this show watch someone watching North Korean television. It's like a Russian nesting doll if every piece were less entertaining than a dull wooden doll that does nothing.
Oliver showed what they did see though: awkwardly translated interviews with "normal, everyday, completely unscripted Pyongyang citizens." Reporters from NBC and CBS spoke with the North Korean men and women who called Kim the "best one in the world," North Korea, "the most powerful country in the world," and of course its leader is a "peacemaker."
There was also some anti-American sentiment spewed by the everyday North Koreans selected by the government to speak to reporters. "We don't have anything against Americans, but we don't like American policy makers," one woman said before saying something more in Korean while smiling. The North Korean translator cleared up what she said: "If she's given the weapon, provided the weapon, she wants to shoot at him." "So, if she's given a weapon, she wants to shoot at President Obama?" the American reporter asks. "Uh huh, she wants to shoot at him." "Wow," is all the reporter can respond with.
Yeah, "wow"! There is literally no other response to that than, "Wow"! Especially because you don't usually hear assassination threats in the same wistful tone of voice you'd say, "Well, If I had a bread maker it would be focaccia every morning."
The journalists also went on a tour of preschools with violent cartoons on the walls and a gun factory-turned-museum where Kim Jong-Il, the current leader's late father, supposedly fired a bull's–eye from one of the country's first domestically produced sub-machine guns — at the age of seven.
In the end, a big part of the party congress was about Kim consolidating power, in the form of a new title. "Oooh," Oliver squealed. "Kim Jong-un is getting a title bump. I guess the only question is what's the title going to be?" Oliver offered some possible answers to his own question:
Will it be "Supreme Leader?" "Triple Supreme Leader?" I happen to think the most fitting would be "Kim-leesi, Mother of Dragons." Because, think about it, given his unpredictable violence and fantastical family history, he's perhaps the only person on earth who could conceivably win the Game of Thrones.
For the record, he's just chairman of the Worker's Party — a bump from first secretary. "Kim-leesi" would be so much better, though.