Basketball Diplomacy
February 24, 2014 10:49 AM   Subscribe

 


"You realize, of course, that this isn't undercover work of the sort you see on TV. There will be no alias, no spoofed papers, no cover identity at all. You will be no-one but yourself. You, Dennis Rodman, promising '86 draft prospect, will become a world-famous NBA star; you will gradually decline into debt and an eccentricity ever more resembling madness; and then, at a time of our choosing, you will attach yourself to, and embarrass, a stunted dictator to be determined. This may well end in your death and ruin; I don't think you'll ever be able to come out of the cold. No monument will bear your name, unless some tinpot strong boy in a blasted nation takes into his head to erect one to you. No, I can't promise any true and unironic recognition, unless it be that small inner voice that reminds you, as you leave this world, that you preserved your nation's integrity by sacrificing your own."

A grunt. "One condition."

"I'll hear it."

"I get to do a movie with Jean Claude Van Damme."

"Van Damme? Birth name of Van Varenberg? Stunt man and occasional extra who, in this year 1986, has never yet had a bigger role than the villain in No Retreat, No Surrender?"

"Yeah."

"He's actually my three o'clock. I'll float it by him and get back to you by five. Do you own a fax machine?"
posted by Iridic at 11:44 AM on February 24, 2014 [49 favorites]


Come for the computer lab full of students staring at screens for minutes on end, stay for the all-girl band in white jump suits playing the Rocky theme song on electric violins.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I thought this was a post from @Vice_Is_Hip at first.
posted by brundlefly at 11:57 AM on February 24, 2014


I'm so torn in my feelings about Vice. I know people love to hate on them because of their attitude and vibe, and reading the online magazine, I certainly can see why. But the HBO show ... it is just so. Damned. GOOD. It is fearless documentary filmmaking, made by people who are evidently willing to do anything to get the story. It really is its own thing, IMO.
posted by jbickers at 12:08 PM on February 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm with you, jbickers. Vice magazine is such a steaming pile that I went into this with pretty low expectations and was quite surprised. A very good, very human story.

The part at the end with the impromptu pickup game put a lump in my throat. More of this, please.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:24 PM on February 24, 2014


dennis rodman is a good start, but if i ran the DPRK and was serious about going to war with the USA, my next draft pick would be metta world peace.
posted by bruce at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


See, I'm totally torn on this. On one hand it feeds attention to some really obnoxious, self-serving attention whores, namely Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman. On the other hand the only way we are going to break the mindset of North Koreans is to shatter the immage of outsiders as totally beligerant, so seeing the Great Successor standing next to, dining with, laughing, and shaking hands with flamboyantly tattooed and bequoffed African Americans in the state media is definitely going to be a bizarre image to reach the average North Korean.

Next we need to get guys like the one "researching string theory" to study at a decadent imperialist university abroad and see that people there aren't really all evil tricksters bent on destroying the DPRK and who wear underwear not made out of coal (seriously, they make clothes including underwear out of an artificial cloth made from coal that chaffes like nobody's business and is a major eye opener for defectors).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:55 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


They should have sent Commander Bubblegum Tate as one of the Globetrotters. Given that he's a senior lecturer of physics at Globetrotter University on the Globetrotter homeworld, he could have discussed string theory with the researcher in the computer lab. Kill two birds with one stone, I say.
posted by Flunkie at 1:02 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rodman is a clown.
posted by Flood at 1:12 PM on February 24, 2014


we're talking about a guy who had his ex-girlfriend machine-gunned to death, and who just got done feeding his uncle's body to hungry dogs. i have a bad feeling about this, it's all fun and games when they're partying together and posing for pics, but one wrong move and we could lose rodman and the globetrotters, and what would we do then? the options are nothing, ground invasion and nuking it, how do you vote?
posted by bruce at 1:23 PM on February 24, 2014


we're talking about a guy who had his ex-girlfriend machine-gunned to death, and who just got done feeding his uncle's body to hungry dogs.

the latter part, at least, is not true.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:30 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


we're talking about a guy who had his ex-girlfriend machine-gunned to death, and who just got done feeding his uncle's body to hungry dogs

You realize these things are complete fiction, right? (Actually not sure about the girlfriend one; the "fed to dogs" thing is factually false) Not saying he's a good dude, he's obviously not. But "Saddam puts babies in blenders" got us the first Gulf War and "Yellowcake uranium" got us the second. And we've already had movies like the execrable RED DAWN, which proved that some people are actually so deluded as to believe a starving little tin-pot dictatorship could somehow invade the U.S. mainland.

Sometimes it's best to stop and think about things that seem to confirm all your worst prejudices and turn "others" into cartoon villains.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:31 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Related:

@vice_is_hip
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:32 PM on February 24, 2014


Of all the plausible outcomes in North Korea, the best one is that Kim Jong Un decides to treat his people better and rejoin the international community, perhaps so he can receive praise from people who are good at basketball. It's not a likely outcome, but it is the best plausible outcome.

Dennis Rodman did not really help achieve this outcome.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:37 PM on February 24, 2014


they make clothes including underwear out of an artificial cloth made from coal
You mean, like nylon?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:46 PM on February 24, 2014


made by people who are evidently willing to do anything to get the story

I really wanted to like Vice on HBO, but every time I watch it, I come away feeling disappointed. Vice tackles compelling topics and secures amazing access, only to create a breathless narrative about how one young, non-expert white dude had his mind, like, totally blown.

After watching the video, I'm still insanely curious as to what it's like to be a Harlem Globetrotter in North Korea. What are the players' backgrounds? Why were they willing to get involved? What were their feelings throughout the trip? What did they take away from the experience, and would they do it all again? I'd also like to know what a North Korea expert might have noticed in the middle of all those tours. I want to know what it's like to get in touch with Rodman about this project, and the mundane aspects of Rodman's trip. (Was he spending time with the Vice and Globetrotters folks, or was he on his own? Is there anything about his trip that hasn't been reported, but that should have been?)

I basically want a lot less narration about how "totally insane" something is, and a lot more curiosity and details about all of the other people involved.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:55 PM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


And we've already had movies like the execrable RED DAWN, which proved that some people are actually so deluded as to believe a starving little tin-pot dictatorship could somehow invade the U.S. mainland.

No one believes that, even the makers of the Red Dawn remake. It was originally a Chinese army, but they wanted the chance to show the movie in China, so they changed it to a North Korean army in post-production.
posted by dragoon at 2:00 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Given that he's a senior lecturer of physics at Globetrotter University on the Globetrotter homeworld, he could have discussed string theory with the researcher in the computer lab.

You know as well as the rest of us that Ethan Bubblegum Tate would have just trotted out his showboating globetrotter algebra and made a scene of it.
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


After watching the video, I'm still insanely curious as to what it's like to be a Harlem Globetrotter in North Korea

The documentary is not about the Harlem Globetrotters, it's about North Korea under their new leader. They only have a half-hour, I'd rather see NK than learn about the Globetrotters background.

only to create a breathless narrative about how one young, non-expert white dude had his mind, like, totally blown

I did not take that away from this at all, did you watch the entire video? It seemed pretty elaborately narrated. It is easy to project whatever ad hominem hipster-hate frustrations because Vice's name is attached to it, but they are a legit media conglomerate now putting out equal parts trash (a lot of garbage on their website) as well as amazing stuff (things like this).
posted by windbox at 2:09 PM on February 24, 2014


I've seen plenty of video journals showing how the DPRK is a bazaar place that defies logic and they inevitably have a chauvinistic tone implying that the journalist is peering through the staged presentation and showing a glimpse of the real society. I can't help but think they are all being played.
posted by dgran at 2:16 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm still insanely curious as to what it's like to be a Harlem Globetrotter in North Korea.

Perhaps a written companion piece, with interviews with the players? windbox makes a good point about focus of the video, but I think hearing the players experiences could be edifying.
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 2:23 PM on February 24, 2014


It's like one of those "x, y and z walk into a pub" jokes.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:25 PM on February 24, 2014


I'm kind of curious about just how popular basketball is in North Korea. Is it only played by the children of the upper class, or are there public courts scattered all around urban areas? The documentary seemed to suggest both.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:40 PM on February 24, 2014


I knew Rodman wasn't smart or sane enough to put this together himself. Executive producer Bill Maher? Consulting producer Fareed Zakaria? I was surprised to see those names, but I guess its old news and was generally known long ago.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:02 PM on February 24, 2014


Well, after you've played Gilligan's Island, where else is there to go from there?
posted by JHarris at 6:55 PM on February 24, 2014


The documentary is not about the Harlem Globetrotters, it's about North Korea under their new leader.
Vice's most recent foray into North Korea was made possible by basketball, which is both unique and fascinating. As such, I'd like to hear more from and about the people involved, and how the trip happened to begin with, instead of a basic primer on North Korea. After all, Vice has covered visiting North Korea—from the handlers, to the tours, to the empty roads—before.

did you watch the entire video?
I did! I also watched their Escape from North Korea piece, and had the same reaction. For me, it's not so much about hipster hate, as wanting to hear more about the story, and less about the narrator. After all, why waste time telling me that something is mind blowing, when you could just blow my mind?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:59 PM on February 24, 2014


I hear soon after this game he murdered his uncle by throwing him naked into a pit of hungry wolf-hounds. Rumor is his wife Ri Sol-ju got around the senior leadership including the uncle, Kim Jong-un found out and was not pleased. Sounds like pulp fiction, but then so does everything about NK.
posted by stbalbach at 7:01 PM on February 24, 2014


I hear soon after this game he murdered his uncle by throwing him naked into a pit of hungry wolf-hounds.

Oh, the things tyrants keep handy for timely use.
posted by JHarris at 7:13 PM on February 24, 2014


I agree with evidenceofabsence. I appreciate Vice taking the initiative, but I am not particularly fond of the message or tone.
posted by ageispolis at 11:18 PM on February 24, 2014


they make clothes including underwear out of an artificial cloth made from coal
You mean, like nylon?


Similar, but not made with petroleum and more like the heavy nylon you would make a backpack out of except they use it for things like socks and uderwear, where you definitely wouldn't want a stiff, rough, inelastic, non-breathing synthetic fiber.

Sometimes it's best to stop and think about things that seem to confirm all your worst prejudices and turn "others" into cartoon villains.

Certainly when there are many, many true and confirmed stories that make the Kims look like cartoon villains there's no need to make things up!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:24 AM on February 25, 2014


Thank god we didn't send the Washington Generals. The world might be a smoldering nuclear wasteland right now if we had.
posted by Random Person at 11:11 PM on February 25, 2014


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