The decade's most triggering comedy
Yeonmi Park’s story is one of courage, endurance, and resolve. Since escaping from North Korea’s brutal communist dictatorship, she has dedicated her life to speaking out against the atrocities committed by Kim Jong Un’s regime. Once she made her way to South Korea and eventually over to the United States, she was feted by the elites, including Hillary Clinton, as a paragon of resilience in the face of unrelenting cruelty and oppression.
That is, until she began to make uncomfortable comparisons between North Korea’s Orwellian totalitarianism and the woke ideology permeating the country, especially on college campuses. All of sudden, in the eyes of the mainstream media, Park was no longer a hero. Instead, she was a willing pawn of the right — hoodwinked into becoming a soldier in America’s culture wars.
A recent profile from The New York Times titled “A North Korean Dissident Defects to the American Right,” propagates this new angle. It does so even in the headline, with the negative connotation of the word “defects” suggesting that she has committed an act of betrayal by associating with conservatives and speaking out about leftist ideology in the United States.
Further on in the article, she is framed as an outlier, an aberration. Other escapees from the Hermit Kingdom, the Times notes, tend to live tranquil lives in their new safe havens. They don’t rock the boat. They’re grateful.
They also subtly jab at the sincerity of her advocacy by featuring experts who believe that Park may be motivated by a desire for fame and fortune. A Korean studies professor from the University of Melbourne pointedly described her as an “amazing entertainer” who’s “always picking up on keywords.”
“It’s a shame, because she has important things to say about what life is like in North Korea,” Jean Lee, a journalist for the Associated Press who has reported from both North and South Korea, told the outlet. “But I think it’s been clouded by a desire for attention or a platform.”
But Park’s story is more complicated than that.
Yeonmi Park was born in Hyesan, North Korea, a city on the border with China. Her father was a civil servant and later worked at a foundry, but he also supplemented the family’s income by smuggling in goods from China. Park has said that watching a VHS tape of James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic” was a turning point for how she viewed the North Korean regime, with the film providing her a glimpse to the outside world since all media is strictly controlled by the government. Her father was eventually arrested in 2002 for his smuggling operations and sent t0 one of the country’s infamous reeducation camps in 2004.
During her father’s imprisonment, the family struggled and was often forced to consume insects for food. Yeonmi and her sister were forced to quit school, which she said did little but propagate the personality cult surrounding the nation’s ruling Kim family. “I thought Kim Jong Il was a god who could read my mind,” she said of her school lessons, according to NBC News in 2018. “I thought his spirit never dies, and I never thought he was a normal human being.”
Her father orchestrated the family’s escape to China in 2007, when Yeonmi was only 13, after he was released from the camp. He died of colon cancer the next year, and Yeonmi and her mother — they had been separated from Yeonmi’s sister during the escape from North Korea — eked out a living in China before meeting a group of Chinese and Korean missionaries in 2009 who agreed to help them get out of China by smuggling them through Mongolia.
After being stopped by Mongolian border guards and threatened with deportation, Yeonmi and her mother were flown to South Korea. Upon reaching South Korea, she was immediately given citizenship and received an education. She also began appearing on a South Korean variety show that often featured North Korean defectors as guests.
She first visited the U.S. in 2013 and moved to New York City in 2014 as she completed her memoir of her experiences in North Korea and China. In 2014, Yeonmi learned that her sister had been able to make her way to South Korea via China and Thailand. She enrolled in Columbia University in 2016 and graduated in 2020 with a major in economics.
Practically as soon as she landed in South Korea, Park began speaking out about her experiences in North Korea. Her harrowing tale soon received considerable attention, with numerous mainstream media outlets crediting her with revealing the “horrifying” realities of life under Kim Jong Un and praising her resilience. She appeared at both the Oslo Freedom Forum and the One Young World Summit in 2014, as well as the Women of the World Summit in 2015, which also featured former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Park also made an appearance at the Met Gala in 2017. A Times piece written after her appearance at the event, titled “Activism at the Met Gala,” declared, “It is worth pausing to consider a red carpet moment most people missed” and noted that Park is “highly regarded by activists.” This piece does not suggest in any way that Park attended the gala for any reason other than raising awareness about the North Korean regime.
The establishment’s fondness for Park soured once she started to speak about her experiences at Columbia and about wokeness in U.S. society.
“Going to Columbia, the first thing I learned was ‘safe space,’” she told the New York Post in 2021. “Every problem, they explained us, is because of white men.” She said that the emphasis on white privilege in her classes reminded her of the practice in North Korea of judging citizens based on how loyal their family has been to the communist party in the past.
She compared her classmates to “giant adult babies” due to their obsession with safe spaces, trigger warnings, and pronouns.
“I thought North Koreans were the only people who hated Americans, but turns out there are a lot of people hating this country in this country,” she added.
During an interview with Fox News, Park warned that universities do not teach students to think critically but instead blindly accept certain leftist dogmas about race and gender. She said that North Korea’s education system brainwashed people into accepting blatant lies as absolute truth.
“In North Korea I literally believed that my Dear Leader was starving,” she said. “He’s the fattest guy – how can anyone believe that? And then somebody showed me a photo and said ‘Look at him, he’s the fattest guy. Other people are all thin.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, why did I not notice that he was fat?’ Because I never learned how to think critically.”
“That is what is happening in America,” she added. “People see things but they’ve just completely lost the ability to think critically.”
Speaking about the issues of gender and pronouns on Columbia’s campus, Park argued, “Even North Korea is not this nuts. North Korea was pretty crazy, but not this crazy.”
“These kids keep saying how they’re oppressed, how much injustice they’ve experienced. They don’t know how hard it is to be free,” she added.
She noted that while information and the media are strictly controlled by the North Korean government and its citizens have almost no knowledge of the outside world, Americans have access to an almost unlimited amount of information but “choose to be brainwashed.”
“Where are we going from here?” she wondered.
Park has given expansive interviews with Daily Wire host Candace Owens and DailyWire+’s Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, during which she speaks more on her escape from North Korea and her time at Columbia. He newest book, “While Time Remains,” thoroughly chronicles her experiences with wokeness in the U.S. and calls for Americans to push back against it, lest it become a collective-obsessed dictatorship like North Korea.
The media’s heel-turn on Park after she began critiquing American society has been rather stunning. Once lauded as a champion for human rights who shared a stage with Hillary Clinton, she is now framed as a conservative activist looking to cash in on her personal trauma. But the critiques of her account and her sincerity from the mainstream media may inadvertently vindicate some of her comparisons between the American Left and North Korea as both try to silence and discredit opposing viewpoints.