Earlier this week, as the United Nations began its 70th General Assembly along the East River in Manhattan, footage surfaced of what appeared to be U.S. president Barack Obama, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holding hands in an unlikely symbol of unity and peace. Sure, the three men were actually professional skateboarders wearing masks, and the embrace culminated in a series of well-synchronized kick-flips rather than groundbreaking international diplomacy. But hey, given the current state of global affairs, it might be a start.
“It’d be really cool if Obama commented or liked it on Facebook or something. I hear he’s been engaging in a lot of social media lately,” Ian Michna, the founder of Bushwick-based skate magazine Jenkem, tells the Voice via email. The publication created the video — which has been viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube since it was posted on September 15 — in order to promote a new board it collaborated on with French skate company Cliché. “The video was just an excuse to dress up and skate around the city — to poke a little fun at politics and to make the board graphic really come to life.”
As War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” plays serenely in the background, the two-minute clip features skaters Flo Mirtain, Joey Brezinski, and Paul Hart tricking their way through the streets of the East Village, the Lower East Side, and Chinatown, each dressed as one of the three rival heads of state. It’s good fun watching Kim, Vlad, and Barry olly barrels and board-slide curbs, but what’s even more entertaining is seeing the three leaders snap selfies in the back of New York City taxicabs and guzzle bottles of beer together like real pals. Still, the spectacle of the shoots drew crowds throughout the city, and the skaters struggled to land tricks with big slabs of cardboard obscuring their vision.
“We did draw crowds, but mostly it was people that wanted photos, like we were one of those costumed performers in Times Square,” Michna says. “The masks were super hard to skate in. You couldn’t see anything while wearing them — it was like skating blindfolded. We tried several different methods, but the best was for the skater to just wear the mask on his forehead, so when he was looking down at his feet to do a trick it would appear that the leader’s face was looking right at you.”
The image of Kim Jong Un’s beady, hollowed-out eyes peering directly at the camera can be a bit unnerving, but the magazine is no stranger to the weird, wild, and shocking. Jenkem launched in 2011 as a way of challenging longstanding, legacy skate publications, which Michna felt had become too “boring,” “fluffy,” and “bullshitty” over the years. The magazine’s name is a reference to the drug jenkem — an inhalant made from human waste that Fox News once erroneously claimed was ravaging small-town America — and the publication has continued to churn out a steady stream of eye-grabbing content since its inception.
Over the years, Jenkem has sent skaters to film at abandoned psych wards upstate and given other subjects tabs of acid before shipping them off to skate competitions in Newark. Today, the site has garnered over 57,000 fans on Facebook.
“I initially decided to make a magazine for myself, something that I would enjoy reading,” Michna explains. “If I couldn’t read about the stuff that interested me, I would go and investigate, film, and write articles that I, as a lifelong fan of skateboarding, would like to read and write.”
The vision behind the partnership with Cliché was largely Michna’s idea, too. Drawn by the legendary skateboard artist Sean Cliver, the deck’s graphic depicts cartoon versions of Obama, Putin, and Kim getting high together — a concept Michna calls “Follow the Leader.” From there, a video promoting diplomacy between North Korea, Russia, and the U.S. felt like the next sensible step.
“The geopolitical situation has never been more tense between these three nations,” the description on Jenkem’s site reads. “Someone needed to step in to prevent the impending global catastrophe.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2015