It is curious that one whose field of study is ‘visual culture’ should seem to have no knowledge of modern iconography at all: but that is not his fault, rather it is a sad commentary on the state of the humanities in modern universities.
For it is perfectly obvious that ‘Kim Il Sung looking at wheat’ is not sui generis, that is to say without an iconographical tradition; on the contrary, it is totally derivative. The iconographic tradition of Communist dictators contemplating groaning plenty while the population goes short to the point of famine stretches back to Stalin stylistically and to Lenin conceptually. In how many Communist dictatorships have Dear Leaders surveyed the golden corn while their populations ate rat stew and grass soup? In how many Communist dictatorships have Dear Leaders inspected factories and provided on-the-spot-guidance, taken down in notebooks held by those leaning forward obsequiously to ensure that no word shall escape immortalization? I saw precisely the same iconography in Russia, Albania, Romania and North Korea, effortlessly and indeed unavoidably, and I am not an academic of ‘visual culture.’
Dalrymple returns to the topic of North Korea at the Library of Law and Liberty, reviewing the book (based on the website of the same name) Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things. Though fully enjoying the humor and satire, he thinks the author of the accompanying essay misses an important point.