In a world where tragedy and farce intermingle in the most curious ways, it would take one with a heart of stone not to laugh at the absurdity of the political condition that some nations are currently experiencing. Beyond this, having a sense of humour is an important tool in respect of helping one to read between the liens of public and private rhetoric so as to ascertain the nuance behind seemingly straightforward statements. Recent studies have found that those with a sense of humour tend to have higher than average intelligence. Assuming these results are accurate, this does not bode well for several former US diplomats from the Obama era.
Twitter is home to numerous parody accounts where satirical versions of everyone from Kanye West and Elon Musk to satirical Donald Trumps and Vladimir Putins compete to see who can best lampoon current events by assuming the exaggerated rhetorical style of well known figures. One such account is DPRK News Service which parodies the style of press releases and speeches from North Korean officials. However, the subject matter discussed and the often overtly silly themes on the parody account makes it clear that the Twitter account is a humours fake.
After posting a satirical Tweet about United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross…
Report: US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross resigning, to spend more time with his bags filled with money. pic.twitter.com/XZcKzLBPGC
— DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) November 9, 2018
…the parody North Korean Twitter took a dig at Donald Trump who last Saturday refused to attend a memorial service due to heavy rainfall.
Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un does not fear rain.
— DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) November 10, 2018
The Tweet was later commented on in all seriousness by the Obama era US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.
So I guess it's safe to say that he….McFell for it? pic.twitter.com/NdWpnrv5rf
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) November 11, 2018
Not wanted to be left out, Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, a woman who said without any iron that bombing campaigns can save lives, also appeared to take the fake DPRK account seriously.
— F. Henderson (@TheTigerTrainer) November 10, 2018
Clearly the joke was on Power is it appears that she is as humourless as she accuses the DPRK of being. Ironically, anyone who could re-introduce the obscure word “dotard” to the English speaking world as an actual official statement from Kim Jong-un did last year, must have a far better sense of humour than Samantha Power.
Should there have been any doubt that the DPRK News Service Twitter feed in question was an outlet for comedy rather than news, subsequent Tweets ridiculing Donald Trump’s allegedly close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin by quoting the lyrics to Lionel Richie’s ballad Hello ought to have been a dead giveaway.
'Cause I wonder where you are,
And I wonder what you do.
Are you somewhere feeling lonely, or is someone loving you?
Tell me how to win your heart,
For I haven't got a clue,
But let me start by saying, I love you.
Hello, is it me you're looking for? pic.twitter.com/PBiz6VmBw1
— DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) November 11, 2018
While it would be understandable for an ordinary person to mistake a parody account for the real deal, when one is a seasoned diplomat, there ought to be a higher standard expected. For those who actually dealt in private meetings and open discussions with diplomats from around the world, confusing an outlandishly absurd account, albeit one which occasionally captures the unique prose of DPRK press releases, for a genuine news feed from Pyongyang is clearly a sign that something is lacking at the level of critical thinking. This is true not least because it is well known that officials from the DPRK do not operate any social media accounts, let alone those on American owned platforms like Twitter. To think otherwise betrays a deep ignorance as to the actual diplomatic channels used by Pyongyang.
This basic deficit in deductive reasoning is a clear indication of cognitive shortcomings among diplomats who appeared to be genuinely fooled by an online prankster. In this sense, humour is often the best method to expose such shortcomings among the powerful.
Last year, outgoing US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was pranked by Russian comic duo Vovan and Lexus, two men famous for impersonating world leaders and convincing the actual politicians on the other end of the phone that they are who they say they are. During the phone call to Nikki Haley, Vovan and Lexus pretended to be the Polish Prime Minister and even convinced Haley that Russia had just rigged elections in the non-existent nation of Binomo which according to the comedians was located near Vietnam.
At the time I wrote the following:
An intelligent person on the receiving end of a prank, always knows when he or she is being pranked. In such cases some people respond with anger, others laugh it off and call-out the comedians or otherwise, speak up afterwards stating that they realise they were being pranked and that they played along out of their own sense of mischief.
There are countless examples of this, as demonstrated by the antics of the former prankster Sasha Baron Cohen who went by the stage name Ali G and often trapped political leaders in absurd situations, just as Vovan and Lexus do. But on three occasions he failed (videos here, here and here).
For Haley though, it seems as though she took the fake Polish Prime Minister seriously and at no time indicated that she was even partly aware that she was speaking to a comedian.
This is quite worrying as it shows both a lack of personal judgement and a lack of geo-political knowledge on the part of a woman whose job title would dictate that she should have a great deal of both.
In an age where journalists and politicians are increasingly afraid to ask difficult questions about crucial matters, it seems that the west has reached a stage in which it takes an unabashed prankster to reveal the truth.
I personally propose a “Vovan and Lexus test” for public officials. Beyond being materially harmless satirical clowning, the prank phone calls of Vovan and Lexus are actually deeply instructive in respect of what politicians think, say and are ignorant of, during times when they don’t have their script in front of them.
People must ask themselves: “Would I prefer politicians and diplomats who can sniff out a prankster using logic and intelligence or would I prefer politicians and diplomats who get duped as Nikki Haley did”?
Haley should be publicly scrutinised for acknowledging the existence of a fake state and taking the absurd leap of agreeing that a fellow permanent member of the UN Security Council is meddling in elections which did not and could not take place. This ought to make people question whether Haley is even up to the job if this is all it took for her to be fully revealed as lacking in knowledge about the political geography of South East Asia.
When it comes to the “Vovan and Lexus test”, both McFaul and Power failed and making matters worse, unlike a prank phone caller who might be apt at disguising his voice, the parody DPRK Twitter feed can be easily researched by looking at past Tweets which clearly indicate that the person behind the feed is a comedian rather than a professional bureaucrat or diplomat.
Thus, the fake DPRK News Service has done the world a favour by exposing the gullible, the naive and the ill-informed. The frightening part is that two people who are self-evidently gullible, naive and ill-informed were high ranking diplomats in the most powerful nation on earth not long ago.
Ultimately, the wise man laughs, the wisest man makes others laugh and the vacuous man takes himself and the world around him far too seriously.