You may not know much about North Korea, and you are not alone. With the continuous increase in the globalization of information, it is surprising that so little is known about the people and culture of North Korea. This may be why it is dubbed the "Hermit Kingdom".
Following the Second World War, North Korea was largely influenced by the politics and ideology of Soviet Union and China. They became dependent on the resources received from each nation, and when the Soviet Union fell in the early 90's, the North Korean economy took a massive blow. Along with the decrease of foreign aid, there have been numerous environmental disasters, and this has caused further damage to the already fragile economy.
The resources that are available in North Korea are largely allocated to military and other government spending. Currently, there is no form of diplomacy between the Unites States and North Korea, and this is largely due to North Korea's ongoing nuclear testing. The Western world has vocalized their complaints that this spending should address the rampant malnourishment, due to food shortages, instead of funding nuclear tests. According to The World Food Program, who has been working with the UN, one in every five children suffers from stunting in the capital city, Pyongyang.
The animosity between the Western world and North Korea drew the interest of Vice Co-Founder, Shane Smith. He has visited North Korea on a series of journalistic missions in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the Hermit Kingdom. Each visit encompassed a strict government regulated tour that took him through a series of indoctrinations that contrasted the evils of Western ideology against the purity and strength of the current Supreme Leader. Each trip that Smith took, he was under constant supervision of 'minders', secret service or other political figures with the purpose of tracking tourist and journalist movement within the country. His trips were slightly eerie and reminiscent of the "Truman Show" because he was always under the careful eye of the secret police.
Smith's fascination with the country led him to stumble upon a gift that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave to Kim Jong-il in 2000. In her unprecedented trip to North Korea, the Secretary of State gifted the Supreme Leader a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. Albright had somehow learned that the Supreme Leader and his son, Kim Jong-un, had a love for basketball, particularly the Chicago Bulls. With this knowledge, the staff at Vice began scheming on how to implement their own form of basketball diplomacy.
Vice enlisted the help of the Harlem Globetrotters as well as "The Worm", or better known as Dennis Rodman, for their mission to North Korea. The enthralling HBO documentary shows glimpses of life within the Hermit Kingdom, but the journalists are always under the watch of their minders. The basketball diplomats are taken on a state guided tour that attempts to show prowess of the country, but comes off largely choreographed and subdued. The main event of the trip was an exhibition match that saw the visitors and locals come together to make up the two opposing teams. In true fashion of a friendly, the game ended in a tie, and Dennis Rodman had a new "friend for life", in that of Kim Jong-un.
This trip seemed to have left a hunger in Rodman because he soon orchestrated a second trip to North Korea, but this time it was sponsored by an Irish betting firm called Paddy Power. Rodman furthered his relationship with Kim Jong-un, and was able to hold baby Ju-ae, the daughter of Kim Jong-il. The significance of this encounter is that her existence was only rumored until Rodman's confirmation at his last press release. During this release, Rodman also stated that he would be returning to North Korea with twelve ex-NBA players to have a series of exhibition matches.
Rodman was largely optimistic on what could be achieved in North Korea. He believes that his new friend, Kim Jong-un, is generally a good guy that wants to open up to the world, but at the same time he is required to maintain a certain image for his people. In addition to the exhibition matches, Rodman will also coach their Olympic team for a certain time.
The conference turned political when Rodman stated that Kim Jong-un just wanted to talk with President Obama, and made the basketball connection by further saying, "He loves basketball. And I said Obama loves basketball. Let's start there, all right. Start there". Having opened the political discussion, the press asked Rodman about the situation of Kenneth Bae. Bae is an American citizen who is currently imprisoned at an unknown work camp in North Korea. In response, Rodman fired, "Guess what? That's not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae. Ask Obama about that. Ask Hillary Clinton."
However, he was not opposed to accepting a more diplomatic role because he added, "Let's have a conversation [Obama]. Why Obama, you afraid to talk to Dennis Rodman? You're not afraid to talk to Beyonce and Jay Z?". As strange as this tale may sound, Rodman has spent more time with North Korean officials than any American diplomat, let alone American citizen. With no end in sight to the food shortage crisis, continued imprisonment of Kenneth Bae, and ongoing nuclear testing, it may not be such a bad idea to call in "The Worm".