Saturday, January 11, 2014

Give Dennis Rodman a Break

I've been watching the media firestorm over Dennis Rodman's recent visit to North Korea, and I gotta say, I'm solidly on the pro-Dennis Rodman side. This post is not satire - I seriously think the media should give him a break.

First, let's talk about the press conference. It was obvious to me from the get-go that he was drunk (which doesn't excuse anything - just an observation). His "spokesperson" should have pulled him away from the mike before he said anything dumb. But if you listen to what he did say, he actually made a reasonable point - Chris Cuomo from CNN probably doesn't know a damn thing about North Korea, whereas Dennis Rodman has actually set foot in the hermit nation four times in the past year. Yeah, what he said could easily be interpreted as implying that Kenneth Bae did something wrong, and that's why he's in prison, but what he actually said was (courtesy of CNN itself), "Do you understand what he did in this country? ... No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why?" It's a valid question to Chris Cuomo - how much of the situation that you're yelling about do you actually understand?

Are we really na├»ve enough to think that Dennis Rodman went to North Korea as a mere publicity stunt? Clearly there are way easier ways of getting PR from the safety of America. In fact, here's a good one - playing armchair quarterback for foreign policy from the CNN "news" desk and deliberately provoking outrage and putting American citizens (i.e., Dennis Rodman and his crew) in a very uncomfortable position while they're still in an extremely dangerous nation. Good job, Chris Cuomo. You think he's free to say whatever he wants while his minders and government officials watch? Would you have the balls to venture into sensitive foreign policy from a press conference in Pyongyang?

Anyway, the real reason I support Dennis Rodman is because, along with the trip by the New York Philharmonic back in 2008, Dennis Rodman's visits have been the most incredible cultural exchanges with North Korea in literally decades. Dennis Rodman is not a politician. He's not trying nor pretending to be a politician. For better or worse, he has the best access to North Korea out of everyone in America, and possibly the world. And I believe him when he talks about cultural diplomacy through basketball.

The main arguments against his visits are the usual: you're supporting a tyrant, you're legitimizing a monstrous regime, you're just being used as a PR prop, etc. And the people with this opinion will suggest the following course of action instead: do nothing. Which is why I fully support what Dennis Rodman did, because it's incredibly simple. Here's what Dennis Rodman did:

Something.

We can analyze this thing till the end of time, yet we still know so little about North Korea. In the midst of that uncertainty, without political motives, Dennis Rodman took a chance and did something. That's how humans deal intelligently with the world - they act under uncertainty and then respond to the information they attain. It's easy to sit back and yell about how interacting with our enemies is so damaging, yet deliberately provoking them and/or avoiding contact is somehow better? Obama got the same treatment from the conservative media back in 2008 when he said that he would meet "rogue leaders" without preconditions. The right was all over that. Same thing every single time he's bowed to a foreign leader or dignitary (the Saudi Arabian King, the emperor of Japan, the President of Mexico, the President of Cuba, along with a few others). Now the same people are having a hissy fit because Dennis Rodman bowed to Kim Jong Un. What would you suggest as an alternative? Is it better to go into an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar customs and just do whatever you feel like, and deliberately not show respect to that country's people and leaders? Have you considered the possibility that one can be respectful without automatically becoming subservient?

Learning about other cultures brings the world closer together and makes it a better place. That goes for North Koreans (even if they're the hand-selected elite) interacting with American basketball players, and it goes for Americans (even if they're strangely dressed heavily tattooed former basketball celebrities) meeting with the leaders of our sworn enemies. I have a very hard time believing that middle aged basketball players playing a few games with North Koreans is somehow endangering the fate of Americans in North Korea, or the tenuous relationship itself. It's just basketball, man. You gotta start somewhere.

So with that, I'm with Dennis. Way to go, man. What you did really was historic.

Just one thing - please, please, try not to sing anymore.

Peace.

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