The last time I spoke to my friend Michael Jackson was about a month ago, 3 weeks before his shocking death. He had called me late one night to ask about another of my close friends who he had read about in the news. Laura Ling, a former colleague and friend, was detained originally by North Korean border guards along with her colleague Euna Lee on March 17th. Since then, they have been imprisoned, had very little contact with their families or western officials, and endured a secretive trial at which they were sentenced to twelve years hard labor. At this present moment, it is unclear where Laura and Euna are – whether they remain in a government guesthouse where they were originally held, in a hospital (due to medical problems for both of them), or moved to the infamous North Korean labor camps that many do not survive.
Michael had read some of the details regarding Laura and Euna’s predicament. As was often the case with him and global events he read about – from famine in Africa to victims of natural disasters in far off countries, to orphans created by wars – he felt a deep sense of empathy for Laura and Euna. When I shared with him that Euna had a four-year-old daughter, he was even more anguished.
He asked me whether I had had any contact with Laura. I told him I had written her a few letters and had been assured they were getting through. Outside of that, her own family had only heard from her twice – brief monitored phonecalls – in the over three months they had been imprisoned. When I told him that, Michael paused.
“Do you think,” he said hesitantly, “that the leader of North Korea could be a fan of mine?”
I didn’t really know how to respond. Not much is known about the reclusive Kim Jong Il or “Dear leader” as he is called in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Over the years it’s been alleged he has a thing for Hollywood, certain NBA stars, Elvis, and specific liqueurs. Still, I’d never heard about any connection between Michael Jackson and Kim Jong Il.
Michael said he had seen some pictures on the internet of the Dear Leader. “You’know, he wears jackets like mine.”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. It’s true. Michael always had a fascination with military-like jackets, the types with markers and badges on the collars and shoulders. If you search it online, you will indeed find a lot of images of Michael and Kim Jong Il, similarly bedecked in analogous outfits.
“I don’t really know,” I answered Michael. “But I can try and find out.”
“Please,” Michael responded without hesitantly, “because maybe if he was a fan, I could help get those girls home.”
I explained to Michael that there were larger geo-politics involved, nuclear programs, a new administration trying to assert its foreign policy strategy (Obama), and another one in NK possibly going through some sort of transference of power.
“Yeah,” Michael said wistfully, “but if someone wants to do something good, they just can. They don’t really need to worry about all that other stuff.”
And that was really the end of that conversation. I kept my promise and tried to see if I might find a connection between MJ and KJI, but sadly I wasn’t able to. Before I was able to get back to Michael, the news regarding his tragic passing broke. The tributes and commemoratives began in earnest and have not stopped.
Then the irony occurred to me, the far out bizarre seemingly impossible possibility: there is really only one person in the world today that could make a truly meaningful tribute to Michael Jackson. If indeed Kim Jong Il ever was a fan of Michael Jackson, ever gasped at Michael’s moonwalk, smiled at Thriller, hummed along to the Jackson Five or any of Michael’s countess hits, his pardoning of Laura Ling and Euna Lee and sending them home to their families would be a profound act of compassion, a true tribute to a man whose death has left the entire world in mourning. What a better way to re-invent himself and his own conflicted image than for Kim Jong Il to send a message of hope, forgiveness, and empathy as a commemoration of possibly the greatest icon of our times. It’s an act that would be historic, covered by every news organizations in the world, and be immortalized in the annals of time.
Alas, maybe I’m naïve to have such dramatic hopes for my friend and her colleague, to think that leaders of nations may be influenced by the dying wishes of great artists. Or…maybe not. To me, Michael’s memory will always be as a great friend and mentor. To many around the world, it will be as an iconic and brilliant musical artist. Wouldn’t it be staggering if one Kim Jong Il were to honor him – post-death – as a truly great humanitarian?
- Gotham Chopra
Please Sign the Petition for Amnesty for Laura Ling and Euna Lee
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