Kim Jong-il: An Ass To Be Reckoned With

Tony Snow’s farming metaphor demotes Kim Jong-il from deific dais dweller into ditsy daisy-grazer.

The media’s recent fallout fetish helped prepare us for North Korea’s apparent nuclear test. Technically little more powerful than a Tupperware burp, the October 9th explosion still managed to send soap box aftershocks around an anxious world. Most particularly, a disturbance in the Force arrived at the White House, where spokesface Tony Snow presented us with a rhetorically enhanced nuclear threat. His choice of words, however, were far more alarming than the il-fated test bomb itself.

The theme of his press briefing was not new – in fact, rather old, being part of a primitive farming metaphor system. Groomed for rural Republican listeners, we might suspect. The carrot and stick model, which was the bucolic centerpiece of Tony Snow’s briefing, has its origins in the donkey days, where a tasty carrot was used as an enticement, and a whipping stick was used as a disincentive. Together they form a push-and-pull motivational pair. However, the carrot was not actually a reward, but tied onto a second stick, and tantalizingly dangled before the donkey, such that the dim-witted donkey would follow the unreachable carrot to the ends of the Earth. Though some interpretations of the originating idiom substitute a horse for the donkey, only the donkey has that reputation for stupidity and stubbornness critical to the idiom’s broader meaning. Thus, the donkey actor targeted in this phrase – North Korea – is being branded stubborn and stupid.

“We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and with a stick”.

Winston Churchill, May 25th, 1943

“Kim Jong-il is a jackass!” tacitly declared Snow, “He is America’s beast of burden!”. The implication that one country can be openly implied as the slave of another might be considered frightening to an extreme. Further, the charged rhetoric quietly suggests that an independent nation is as the global village idiot, to be ridiculed and demeaned; unworthy of civilized education. Considering that Kim Jong-il is – however brainwashingly – looked upon as a god within his own country, these incendiary words do nothing towards a diplomatic resolution. In fact, them’s fightin’ ‘phors.

Spoken without words:“Kim Jong-il is an ass to be reckoned with.”

White House Unspokensman Tony Snow

While the “carrot and stick” model can be useful, the caution here is that North Korea likes to think of itself as at least a peer; an adult citizen of the global village rather than its child, idiot or slave. America’s rhetoric here places itself as global master and disciplinarian, aspects which have long angered certain countries and Al-Qaeda alike. It is not to say that strong words are not needed, only that the derogatory metaphor of a donkey is more associated with fisticuffs than with farming.

“Jackass”, the movie, delivers what its name implies. It’s all about people doing really stupid things. However, the word’s implication here is about sillyness. We also affectionately use the phrase on friends, a term of endearment among roughhousers. However, when we spin the globe to Sri Lanka, for example, this word becomes a powerful insult (“mey pol booruwa“, I believe). The point is, the interpretation of a derogatory metaphor by one culture or individual does not dictate its meaning in another. Kim Jong-il was raised to honestly think of himself as a superior being; to be dubbed America’s dim-witted slave may well be absolutely offensive to him.

During the Cold War, the phrase “Capitalist dogs” was lefthandedly tossed by Communists at a dog-loving nation, fetching scads of humorous mimicry. However, when derogatory metaphor is used in earnest, and its victim properly chosen, the result can be explosive. North Korea is currently said to be preparing another test.

All the same, while North Korea may or may not have been influenced by invective American rhetoric, the Observatory couldn’t help but notice the timing of this statement. During a time of election, the Republican White House just happened to decide on an idiom that stars the Democratic Party symbol. Given that the use of a farming metaphor appeals to a Republican demographic, and that the statement defrocks a targeted foreign leader and subliminally ties him to Democratic symbology, one could call this use of symbols either masterfully clever or coincidentally brilliant. Whether created or an accident, it hits the spot like a Condie Rice handshake.


In the news today, Oct 23rd, 2006:
Nuclear “carrot and stick” approach doomed – Iran

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