marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

The Cleanest Race

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves -- and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers

An analysis of North Korea's internal propaganda.  Which is not in fact Stalinist or Communist.  And does not hit heavily on socialist principles but instead on nationalistic and racial themes.  (As opposed to Juche thought, which was manufactured for external export.)

The central theme revolves about the notion that Korea is home to an exceptionally pure race, in both sense of the term.  Their virtue led to a horrible history of oppression at the hands of ruthless foreigners, evil by definition.  Fortunately they now have a powerful leader who can protect them.  The Great Leader -- most of whose history prior to his taking power is made up -- fought boldly against the Japanese, a war that is heavily mythologized and romanticized in the propaganda.  He was then able to make Koreans, in North Korea at least, safe.  Therefore, now the Koreans can safely follow their natural, virtuous spontaneity.  The workers in Soviet stories worked hard, with heroic exertion and much sacrifice, and learned proper Communist behavior; those in North Korean stories, the heroes and heroines eagerly and naturally go to work, are childish, pure, and full of spontaneity, and often violate rules out of the purity of their hearts.  The Great Leader frequently provided on-the-spot advice and oversight, generally in a manner more maternal than paternal; he is seldom if ever depicted as intellectual and learned or educating.

His death conveniently coincided with the fall of the Soviet bloc and the loss of the subsidies that North Korea had -- conveniently, because the resultant famine might have reflected badly on him.  Though, with its nationalistic overtones, North Korea managed to acknowledge that times were hard -- though not admitting to famine and claiming that it was worse elsewhere -- because it had never claimed the economic benefits that the Soviet Union had.  By positioning the Dear Leader as "military first" -- he must attend to the army to defend the country against those Evil Yankees -- they divert the question of responsibility for their economics.

Their propaganda is breaking down under the breakdown of the information cordon.  Time was they could depict South Korea as even poorer than North Korea.  When that was no longer possible, they tried to portray them as rich but abused, longing to re-unify with their northern brethren.  Unfortunately, that is no longer plausible either, and they are trying to revert to the poverty theme.  This is a problem, as North Korea's justification for its existence, why it can't rejoin the south, is that it is needed for protection.  What they will do when it gets even more threadbare is yet to be seen.

An interesting view of a personality cult and the structure of propaganda.
Tags: ethos, non-historical non-fiction reviews, secondary source, world-building: economics
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