North Korea Jokes No Longer Seem So Funny

The elaborate cruelty of the North Korean regime forbids satire. You don't make jokes about concentration camps or torture.

I've often thought that my finest moment in more than 20 years working for the Economist was a cover we ran on North Korea in June 2000. The editor was away that week, so what we did with the cover was my call. The hitherto reclusive Kim Jong Il had just appeared before the cameras, looking wonderfully absurd. Graeme James, the paper's (brilliant) art editor, showed me the photograph and said, "Greetings, earthlings." I don't know if Graeme intended it for the headline, but that was that.

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