Passport

And Then There Were Two ... Kim Jong Il's Dwindling Inner Circle

At Kim Jong Il's funeral in December 2011, the dear leader's casket was flanked by eight people -- his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, and the "gang of seven," a collection of the late Kim's closest advisors. These officials were hand-selected "regents" meant to guide the young dictator as he grew into his new role. Now, nearly two years later, only two of the seven remain in office after the apparent execution and very public shaming of Jang Song Taek, thought to be the second-most powerful man in North Korea.

On Dec. 28, 2011, these were the eight men standing alongside Kim Jong Il's hearse (clockwise, starting from front left of the vehicle; two are hidden behind the hearse in the image above):

Kim Jong Un: Dear Leader, still very much in office
Jang Song Taek: Director, Worker's Party Administration Department, Executed
Kim Ki Nam: Chief Propagandist, Worker's Party
Choe Thae Bok: Chairman, Supreme People's Assembly
U Tong Chuk (not visible): Head of State Security, Disappeared
Kim Jong Gak (not visible): Minister of the People's Armed Forces, Fired
Kim Yong Chun: Vice Marshal, Korean army, Demoted
Ri Yong Ho: Chief of the General Staff, Korean army, Disappeared

With Jang's sudden execution this week, all of the military personnel in the gang of seven have been, at least, forced from office. The North Korean government has been unusually public about Jang's fall from grace, releasing pictures of him facing a military tribunal and putting out a forceful, florid statement on his alleged crimes. That's a marked departure from some of the other members of Kim Jong Il's inner circle, who have simply disappeared and their positions quietly filled.

"People survive, especially at the highest ranks, by proving themselves useful, completely nonthreatening," Abraham Denmark, vice president for political and security affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, told Foreign Policy. He noted that it also "helps to have connections to Kim Il Sung," which the remaining advisors do.

Denmark says there are many theories for Jang's sudden removal, ranging from the regime's stated charge that he was plotting a coup to theories that he was actually killed by his wife, who is also Kim Jong Un's aunt. "My guess is it had something to do with his handling of the Kim family's money," Denmark said, though he stressed that, as with most matters concerning the hermit kingdom, all the theories are extremely speculativek, and in this case "we know even less than usual."

Military officers have borne the brunt of the young Kim's leadership purge. U and Ri have both disappeared from state media and had their prominent offices filled by others. Kim Yong Chun, one of the army's highest ranking officers, took a sudden demotion to head up the military's reserve training office. Kim Jong Gak was briefly promoted to the highest military office in the country after Kim Jong Il's death, was fired from every military position he held and is now only occasionally seen among the civilian leadership.

Kim Jong Un has begun building his own inner circle and dismantling the old, says Denmark. As he does, he appears to be drawing more from the country's civilian leadership that have risen through the Worker's Party -- a marked shift from the previous government.

But that probably won't help Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, the last remaining members of Kim Jong Il's gang of seven sleep any better.

EPA/KCNA Modified by FP

Passport

Beyonce's New Album Got FP Global Thinker Chimamanda Adichie All Wrong

Beyonce is just full of surprises. In the past 24 hours, she dropped an album, joined Weibo, and -- to our particular delight --  paid tribute to one of Foreign Policy's 2013 Global Thinkers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose 2013 novel Americanah is topping book charts.

On a track called "Flawless," Beyonce samples Adichie's April 2013 Ted Talk, which is a thoughtful, amusing examination of subtle sexism in everyday life. Beyonce bookends Adichie's words with distinctly less thoughtful lyrics of her own: She shallowly trumpets material wealth and physical beauty and, working in a few lines from her spring single, advises others to "Bow down, bitches."

This dissonance is a pleasant surprise, argues Daniel D'Addario at Salon, and the unlikely tribute to Adichie seems to bolsters Beyonce's at-times controversial claims to feminism. "Her music," he writes, "is feminist in precisely the manner Adichie's speech is."

It's a nice thought but, unfortunately, not at all true.

The pairing of Adichie's speech and Beyonce's lyrics is striking, but not for the reasons D'Addario suggests. Beyonce gives us a heavily-edited, watered-down version of Adichie's speech that aligns with the singer's banal brand of beginner feminism: She reduces Adichie's powerful message to an overly simplistic, inoffensive pro-girl anthem that does little to challenge trenchant gender ideals. Here's how that talk was repurposed in "Flawless":

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man"
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Adichie's actual speech offers deeper insights than Beyonce's treatment would suggest. Breaking down the many subtle yet insidious ways that sexism guides our choices and shapes our worldview, she's particularly pointed about how cultural expectations surrounding marriage inhibit women's potential by framing subservience as "love." It's not a new argument, but seems particularly relevant given Beyonce's efforts to reinvent herself as, chiefly, a wife and mother, as well as the singer's longstanding valorization of female domesticity. Apart from her well-known admonitions that men "put a ring on it,"  the woman titled her last tour, "Mrs. Carter," and is famous for songs with lyrics like these:

Let Me Help You
Take Off Your Shoes
Untie Your Shoestrings
Take Off Your Cufflinks (Yeah)
What You Want To Eat Boo? (Yeah)
Let Me Feed You
Let Me Run Your Bathwater
[...] Baby I'm Yours I Want To Cater To You Boy

For what it's worth, Adichie is sharply critical of the fact that women are raised "to cater to the fragile egos of men," taught to pretend to enjoy household chores and servitude for the sake of love. I'm fairly confident she would characterize the above lines in the same way she characterizes marriage: "a language of ownership rather than a language of partnership."

It's ironic that Beyonce would reference a speech that, in this and so many other ways, seems to highlight the tacit sexism of her own music. Then again, Beyonce -- for all her undeniable talent -- doesn't seem to understand the notion of irony. In a recent issue of GQ, for example, she is quoted as saying "Let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous." Truer words were never spoken. But they would have been more powerful if they hadn't appeared next to photos that unironically embody GQ's definition of what is sexy and feminism.

Adichie argues that women are socialized to "turn pretense into an art form." The same could be said about Beyonce.