It’s painful to contemplate the relentless gauntlet of oppression and misery the citizens of North Korea have endured for decades now. The reign of autocratic terror hatched by Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il, and his grandson Kim Jong Un is an occurrence we can only hope ends soon and is never repeated again. The three Kims are held up as something akin to deities, while most of the population starves.
In North Korea, the Korean War of the 1950s may as well have happened yesterday. There is no such entity as “South Korea,” it is all simply “Korea,” with the southern half temporarily occupied by American imperialists, who (as the propaganda never stops emphasizing) started the Korean War and have been intent on killing and raping North Korea ever since, an outcome stymied by North Korea’s dominating military forces.
By chance I’m in the middle of a pretty decent murder mystery set in North Korea—it’s called A Corpse in the Koryo, and it’s written pseudonymously by a westerner with access to the country.
For that reason I was extra-interested to learn that an hour of North Korean TV programming found its way onto YouTube yesterday. As might be expected, the programming is equal parts rousing, patriotic, and grim.
From the 10th to the 18th minute there is an amazing story, told entirely in the medium of dance, of a boy and his mother being brainwashed by a Catholic priest. After the priest kills the boy, the mother avenges the boy’s death. After the story is over, the text “Do not forget the brutality of American things” appears on the screen. Because the United States is all about murderous clergymen!
There’s a documentary segment about a clothing factory, followed by one about mining. Around the 35th minute we begin to get the truly demented patriotic pageantry that is associated with North Korea. A loud and uplifting song is played while stirring images of prosperous and colorful North Korea pan and fade in and out. For the first time we see copious images of the Glorious Leader Kim Jong Un.
The last chunk is dedicated to North Korean children engaging in music and dance. Two small children play a duet on a piano—this is followed by a solo dance of a young boy dancing with a stick. Then we get two small girls playing a duet on guitars but the instruments might technically be called something else. After that is some groovy K-pop by a sextet of teenage girls. At the very end is a kind of musical calisthenics routine conducted outdoors by a group of colorfully dressed moppets. If you’re looking for primo North Korean weirdness, it’s hard to do worse than this section.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
North Korean paintings of contemporary China as a socialist utopia