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Old 23 Mar 2010, 01:04 AM   #119245 / #1
lpetrich
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Default Vice TV Goes to North Korea

Some members of Vice TV's team have recently succeeded in visiting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a.k.a. North Korea, and they brought back lots of video of their trip there:

Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3

The VTV team's first look at North Korea was from across the border, at Panmunjom on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. The South Korean authorities were very cagey about photography there, allowing very little.

It was hard to get into North Korea, that present-day Hermit Kingdom -- none of the Western embassies would help, and the VTV team had to go to Shenyang, China, and bribe some officials there. Even so, when it was time to go, the VTV team was awakened rather rudely and flown there.

The North Korean officials seemed like a bunch of Stalinists still stuck in the Cold War, describing how they are united and willing to fight the Evil Empire, the Red-White-and-Blue Menace. They talked about how they successfully fought off that Evil Empire, but I think that they neglected to mention that they were helped by about a million Chinese troops.

They even created Potemkin Villages for their guests, including lots and lots of food, which some of the VTV team found almost inedible. This reminds me of George Bernard Shaw's response to people who claimed that there were big famines in the Soviet Union in the 1930's. He claimed that he had never been so well-fed in his life. As Bertrand Russell had noted, his bullshit detector switched off when the bullshit came from Moscow, even if BR did not use that particular word.

Even Pyongyang's subway-train system was something of a Potemkin Village, with only a few stations lavishly decorated. I remember going to St. Petersburg back when it was still Leningrad and seeing some lavishly-decorated stations there -- Moscow has even more.

VTV's North Korean hosts showed off a great prize, the USS Pueblo, a spy ship that they had captured in the 1960's. They've docked it up the river in Pyongyang, and they showed it off as "proof" of what an Evil Empire the US is.

Their country roads are deserted -- hardly any cars.

There's a place in the mountains which has numerous gifts that North Korea's god-kings have received from leaders and organizations from all over the world. Presumably to show how everybody loves him except the leaders of the Evil Empire.

They did not allow photography inside, but they allowed a lot of it at the Demilitarized Zone, as a way of sticking it to those stuck-up South Koreans. However, they were often very disapproving of photography in general, forbidding the making of documentaries and the like.

They had some lavish Busby-Berkeley-ish "revolutionary" shows -- Kim Jong-Il likes that sort of thing. He is the place's current god-king, er, President. Though his father Kim Il-Sung is now dead, he's still officially god-king. Both gentlemen were effusively praised by VTV's hosts as very wise and inspiring and full of great ideas.

Yes, those Godless Commies have invented their own gods.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 12:25 PM   #119306 / #2
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In case anyone's interested, the (catchy) opening tune of the documentary is:

(Not loaded: AoUybUHXYZ8)
(View video on YouTube)
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 01:14 PM   #119311 / #3
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The place is the epitome of controlling what people think. There is no internet and no cell phones. I would doubt landlines are abundant and capable of making international calls. They are truly cut off.

I saw a documentary once about a doctor who went N Korea to restore sight to hundreds of people in a short period of time. Because there were so many patients they had them all in a big room when it came time to remove the bandages on their eyes. When the bandages came off and they were ecstatic they could see did they thank the doctor? Nope. They walked up to a giant photo of "The Great Leader" and thanked HIM for restoring their sight. They then said that now that they could see they would take up arms against the Evil Empire. And these were very elderly folks.

It is scary.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 02:36 PM   #119326 / #4
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Yeah... there's only one word to describe the experience of being in North Korea and the Vice TV documentary maker uses it more than once - 'weird'. What a genuinely strange anomaly the place is. I was hoping to visit Pyongyang when I'm in China next year as it won't be all that difficult to get to from where we'll be based. The only place that seems remotely close in terms of secrecy and foolishness is Myanmar which I have been to twice...but compared to what I have seen and heard about North Korea, Myanmar seems open and vibrant .... I'm certainly not the most ethical of tourists (sorry folks) but my curiosity tends to be a bigger driver for me than my morality.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 04:35 PM   #119348 / #5
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Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
They even created Potemkin Villages for their guests, including lots and lots of food, which some of the VTV team found almost inedible.
Were they experienced connoisseurs of Korean food in general? I like it, but some of the things I like (Korean and otherwise) make some posters (usually from the USA ) respond, "You just ruined my keyboard"
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 04:58 PM   #119353 / #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by munnki View Post
Yeah... there's only one word to describe the experience of being in North Korea and the Vice TV documentary maker uses it more than once - 'weird'. What a genuinely strange anomaly the place is. I was hoping to visit Pyongyang when I'm in China next year as it won't be all that difficult to get to from where we'll be based. The only place that seems remotely close in terms of secrecy and foolishness is Myanmar which I have been to twice...but compared to what I have seen and heard about North Korea, Myanmar seems open and vibrant .... I'm certainly not the most ethical of tourists (sorry folks) but my curiosity tends to be a bigger driver for me than my morality.
Yeah, as bad as Burma is, it is orders of magnitude better than N Korea in my opinion.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 06:03 PM   #119376 / #7
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Interesting, if it is different it must be wrong and somehow evil. That is what I learned from the video amongst other things.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 06:35 PM   #119379 / #8
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Interesting, if it is different it must be wrong and somehow evil. That is what I learned from the video amongst other things.
Well let's follow through the notion that North Korean people want to live in the way that they are living. There are certainly interesting avenues of thought that flow from that - perhaps the floods of tears they cried at the death of the senior Kim represented their gratitude at being kept in innocence, at being protected from the storms of modernity, at being kept pure according to a nationalistic myth of identity, at life being kept simple for them.... and so forth...?

Perhaps, but then it's built on a series of shaky foundations. We would have to establish in the first place how much they know they are being protected from - both the pro and anti sides of the dialectic are both presented to them in governmental propagandist terms. It seems that the state goes to a great deal of trouble protecting its people from the knowledge of what they are lacking.

Now, who's to say that's not a good thing? How can one be jealous of the other without knowledge of what he has? However, how can one live without the security of some knowledge of that same other?

Attacks on the Evil Empire have always been pretty facile even if grounded in truth and especially when propagated in a state so dependent on the aid of that same 'Evil' other.

What I wonder is - what will happen when the walls of this rather odd house do collapse? When people within that state rub the dust of years of propaganda and false mythology off their eyes and finally experience modernity alongside the harsh realities of unanswerable questions and unprovidable securities.

I can see the temptations of living in such a way. In fact, it describes the way of life of the religious extremely well. But, in the same way that Tariq Ali joked about 'those who don't have democracy' seeming to 'think it's an amazing thing' those who live in such a weirdly constructed state perhaps don't even have the knowledge of what they are missing to know what it would be to not have it.

Such a strange and weird way to live. Life as a performative act bent on gesturing a myth towards the other. Represented first as Kim Jong-il but ultimately "the West" (a mythical creation in itself). A permanent dance of keeping up appearances, of striving to keep a series of myths going through performance. It's no surprise that Kim gets to live the most 'Western' of their lives within such a structure and that his lifestyle (what we know of it) resembles an assemblage of the most tatty and trite aspects of Western culture.

It's a genuinely weird and yet fascinating place. I wouldn't be so harsh as to say it's evil because it's different. No, not evil for those reasons. But I suspect at least a good number of its inhabitants do think to themselves, from time to time, between the Kim Jong-il themes and imagery - 'there must be more to life'.
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Old 23 Mar 2010, 10:03 PM   #119415 / #9
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More than anything, that whole society reminds me of a sci-fi story I read as a child (I think it was one of Stanislaw Lem's Ijon Tichy stories) about a society of robots fanatically opposed to humanity and everything human (one of their favourite pass-times being hitting a human doll with a baseball bat or something).
Hidden Text:
Turns out, every one of the robots was a human - the actual robots having died out ages ago - pretending to be a robot to avoid punishment by the other pretend-robots. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but I remember a passage about how one of the older pretend robots was moved tears of joy as he was hitting the human doll, which reminded me of the scenes from the documentary that LoneWolf was referring to. (Note that this and many other similar stories were allowed to be published in post-Stalinist Communist Poland.) Not that I intend to use fiction as an argument, but I don't think there's any reason to believe that most North Koreans are incapable of seeing through the sham it is.
Actually, I should re-read that some time.
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 03:57 AM   #119470 / #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by munnki View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Horrorfan View Post
Interesting, if it is different it must be wrong and somehow evil. That is what I learned from the video amongst other things.
Well let's follow through the notion that North Korean people want to live in the way that they are living. There are certainly interesting avenues of thought that flow from that - perhaps the floods of tears they cried at the death of the senior Kim represented their gratitude at being kept in innocence, at being protected from the storms of modernity, at being kept pure according to a nationalistic myth of identity, at life being kept simple for them.... and so forth...?

Perhaps, but then it's built on a series of shaky foundations. We would have to establish in the first place how much they know they are being protected from - both the pro and anti sides of the dialectic are both presented to them in governmental propagandist terms. It seems that the state goes to a great deal of trouble protecting its people from the knowledge of what they are lacking.

Now, who's to say that's not a good thing? How can one be jealous of the other without knowledge of what he has? However, how can one live without the security of some knowledge of that same other?

Attacks on the Evil Empire have always been pretty facile even if grounded in truth and especially when propagated in a state so dependent on the aid of that same 'Evil' other.

What I wonder is - what will happen when the walls of this rather odd house do collapse? When people within that state rub the dust of years of propaganda and false mythology off their eyes and finally experience modernity alongside the harsh realities of unanswerable questions and unprovidable securities.

I can see the temptations of living in such a way. In fact, it describes the way of life of the religious extremely well. But, in the same way that Tariq Ali joked about 'those who don't have democracy' seeming to 'think it's an amazing thing' those who live in such a weirdly constructed state perhaps don't even have the knowledge of what they are missing to know what it would be to not have it.

Such a strange and weird way to live. Life as a performative act bent on gesturing a myth towards the other. Represented first as Kim Jong-il but ultimately "the West" (a mythical creation in itself). A permanent dance of keeping up appearances, of striving to keep a series of myths going through performance. It's no surprise that Kim gets to live the most 'Western' of their lives within such a structure and that his lifestyle (what we know of it) resembles an assemblage of the most tatty and trite aspects of Western culture.

It's a genuinely weird and yet fascinating place. I wouldn't be so harsh as to say it's evil because it's different. No, not evil for those reasons. But I suspect at least a good number of its inhabitants do think to themselves, from time to time, between the Kim Jong-il themes and imagery - 'there must be more to life'.
Well the video only allowed us to see what DRPK wanted westerners to see which was certainly odd. I still know little more about DRPK than before I watched the video.

Many performers seemed happy and the show was beautiful I would love to see it in its entirety.

With the facts that the US has a military presence in approx 145 of 190 countries in the world (I talking off the top of my head I cannot remember the exact numbers but know I am close) I can understand a country who wants left alone fears the US and the west.

I think the DPRK has much more to fear from the US than we do from them. Very odd video I felt strange after watching it. /shrugs
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 01:22 PM   #119518 / #11
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Horrorfan, that 145 of 190 countries might be stretching the usual use of the term"military presence" as much of that is just military attaches, like myself, working at the embassy. By that definition, Cambodia has a military presence in the US.

Just a small quibble, but I get your point and agree.
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 02:49 PM   #119523 / #12
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If they've cut themselves off from the modern world so totally, this must mean their huge army (relative to the size of the nation) is, well, a paper tiger- because without the communications and computers so vital to modern warfare, they'd be cut to pieces by a far smaller force with up-to-date military tech.

I'm reminded of the Andaman Islanders; those stone-age primitives who throw spears at helicopters, and resist any intrusion on their island with single-minded ferocity. Of course the North Koreans could do vastly more damage than could the Andaman Islanders, but if it came down to it, I doubt that they could stop any modern army that really wanted to take their land and country. But since they have no valuable natural resources, I expect the N. Koreans will be threatening the world with their obsolete weaponry for many years to come.

Like munnki, I figure that the greatest threat they face is from within; once Kim Jr. dies, who will take over? Will it generate a factional war? Even if he has a competent heir, I suspect eventually there will be N. Koreans who realize their self-imprisoned status, and will work to liberalize the system, just as happened in the Soviet Union.
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 04:14 PM   #119533 / #13
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Originally Posted by Jobar View Post
If they've cut themselves off from the modern world so totally, this must mean their huge army (relative to the size of the nation) is, well, a paper tiger- because without the communications and computers so vital to modern warfare, they'd be cut to pieces by a far smaller force with up-to-date military tech.

I'm reminded of the Andaman Islanders; those stone-age primitives who throw spears at helicopters, and resist any intrusion on their island with single-minded ferocity. Of course the North Koreans could do vastly more damage than could the Andaman Islanders, but if it came down to it, I doubt that they could stop any modern army that really wanted to take their land and country. But since they have no valuable natural resources, I expect the N. Koreans will be threatening the world with their obsolete weaponry for many years to come.
This night time imagery speaks volumes:





They're not just in the dark figuratively.
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 04:53 PM   #119543 / #14
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Yeah I did a google satellite overview a few weeks back. Beautiful landscapes though.
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Old 24 Mar 2010, 05:07 PM   #119546 / #15
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This night time imagery speaks volumes:
They don't waste energy for frivolous purposes.
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