By Sam Killenberg
Kim Jong-un has refused almost all American attempts at diplomacy. North Korea’s clandestine dictator rarely allows Americans north of the demilitarized zone. The few reporters who have been to North Korea paint a picture of poverty, human rights violations and an oppressive and propagandized regime. In fact, cracking the country’s shell of secrecy and subjugation seems to be a near-impossible task only a James Bond-like figure could accomplish.
But sometimes reality is even less predictable and more bizarre than film. Kim Jong-un’s only major contact with the Western world comes not from a diplomat, a reporter or even a superspy—it comes from Dennis Rodman.
Yes, Dennis Rodman. Nose pierced and hair dyed, the flamboyant former NBA star first ventured into North Korea in February. Accompanied only by his personal entourage and the Harlem Globetrotters, the rebounding champion befriended Kim, an avid basketball fan. Rodman recently described the totalitarian dictator who has sent thousands of dissidents to labor camps as “a very good guy.”
Sure, there are many reasons to doubt the judgement of the much-maligned Basketball Hall of Fame member. Rodman has a track record of questionable decision making, ranging from chronic alcohol abuse to starring in some terrible movies. And this clumsy attempt at what some are calling “basketball diplomacy” comes at an inopportune time in American relations with North Korea. Earlier this year, North Korea announced its nuclear capabilities. Not long afterward, a propaganda video depicting the nuclear armageddon of the United States surfaced, set to the tune of “We Are The World”. Most recently, U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp.
To his credit, Rodman deferred a diplomatic role in the Bae controversy. After requesting via Twitter for Kim to “do me a solid and cut Bae loose,” he has insisted that he’ll stay out of the negotiation, calling instead on President Obama to talk to the Supreme Leader.
Thankfully for American diplomacy, Rodman has tried to remove himself from formal statesmanship with Kim Jong-un, electing instead to remain just friends. Although he has faced scathing criticism from the American media, Rodman seems to be trying to relay a simple message of reconciliation between the two nations… in his own strange way. Days after returning from North Korea, a green-haired Rodman filmed an ad for Wonderful Pistachios alongside an actor playing Kim in which he reveals that pistachios are the secret to world peace. The tag line of the ad? “Dennis Rodman does it because he’s nuts.”