"Unicorn" "Layer" "Discovered" in "North Korea"

After the unicorn layer was discovered in North Korea

Today, the Guardian helpfully informed me that a unicorn lair had been discovered in North Korea. Apparently the journalist in question didn’t entirely believe this news, since “discovered” was in quotation marks. If it were me, I might have chosen “unicorn” as the word to call into question, but apparently we’re assuming unicorns are plausible but discovery is suspect. Okay, whatever. Readers of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Sun will be familiar with the story.

I don’t know who broke this inane non-story, but it’s probably safe to assume the others copied it, since three of them refer to the unrelated Chinese report that Kim Jong-Un had been voted the world’s sexiest man but turned out to be based on an Onion spoof, and two included — verbatim — the sentence “satisfied with his performance, he reportedly immediately declared his retirement from the sport.” They’re all very keen to point and laugh at the zany North Koreans, aren’t they wacky, look, they think they’ve found unicorns, and while Korea has its share of silly beliefs and absurd propaganda I think it’s safe to assume their main news network doesn’t actually believe in unicorns and maybe give them the benefit of the doubt until you’ve done just a dash of research, hm?

Attached to each article is a stock picture of a unicorn, literally all of which have a shitty lens-flare effect Paint Shop Pro’d onto them, which is not really a good start because Eastern “unicorns”, actually called Qilin or Kirin, have nothing whatsoever to do with them, look more like lion-ox-dragon chimeras, and often don’t have the Narwhal-style horn at all. But then, maybe these were added by a subeditor later.

On the other hand, if we look outside the British print media, where loads of other people have reproduced this garbage, Time Magazine have inexplicably gone with “Unicorns’ Existence Proven” according to “North Korean scientists”. Go on, blame your editor for that.

The unicorn's grave was rediscovered near a temple in the capital Pyongyang, with a rectangular rock engraved with the words 'Unicorn Lair' at its entrance, according to the report. The report did not elaborate on what further evidence of the royal unicorn's existence was discovered.

The Guardian, and only the Guardian, helpfully provided a link to the original story, so we can have a look and figure out whether or not the zany Koreans actually think their ancient king rode around on an actual unicorn in actual real life. I think it’s useful to bear in mind while we do this that our patron saint is principally famous for killing a dragon.

io9 and Archaeopop have good articles debunking it (although io9 also have the stupid version) and basically what it seems to boil down to is: the Korean equivalent of King Arthur had Kirin instead of a wizard and a magic sword and periodically North Korea likes to make a big show of rediscovering the site Kiringul (where they lived) in North Korea, and not South Korea, which makes their country the most important therefore hooray. Nobody is suggesting the Kirin actually existed any more than the existence of Jerusalem proves that God exists (which by the way is at least arguably less plausible than unicorns so maybe we should be a bit less cocky about mocking other cultures for their apparently silly beliefs).

I appreciate there can be precious little motivation for a journalist to do research that can only destroy his story, but the willingness of just about everyone to assume Koreans believe that unicorns either exist or would be a good thing to pretend to have without apparently wondering if something might have been mistranslated is a little sad.