Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Just like a car wreck, I can't avert my eyes.

The Hermit Kingdom. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Persian Empire. Respectively, they are North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. What do they all have in common? A fascination for me, as these societies are so very insular, and in the case of North Korea, completely closed off to much of the world. I can't say exactly where, when or how this fascination with these societies began, but I can trace its roots.

In 1980, my grandmother's brother, his wife, their daughter and her husband and their children immigrated to the U.S. from what is now the independent state of Moldova. Moldova has been traditionally part of Romania, and like many places in what was the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, it would often trade hands as to who actually laid claim to them from time-to-time. They came here during the outpouring of Jews from Soviet Union, and they provided me with a first hand account of life in a country that up until then, was only something I read about in books or in the newspaper.

Listening to my relatives' accounts of lines for just about everything from food, to shoes, to toilet paper, to how private property was unknown, and how fear of the KGB or even your neighbor was a daily fact of life there opened up my eyes to just how lucky I was to be living here in the U.S.. Despite whatever failings we have as a nation, we still had far more opportunity and better living conditions than what they faced there.

When I stop to think about it, this is probably where the seeds of my interest in societies that are far less open than our own began. At the top of the list is North Korea. The nickname "The Hermit Kingdom" is as accurate as it gets by all accounts. I won't bore you with a history lesson, as there are many places on the web for you to look up the basic facts about North Korea. Of course, it has been in the news of late; nuclear tests, misslie tests, two American journalists being arrested, tried and sentenced for "espionage."

It's people live with single minded devotion to the "Dear Leader," the wine loving, movie obsessed, all powerful Kim Jong Il. Inheriting his post from his father, Kim Il Sung, he has continued the cult of personality that has effectively kept its people in a form of mental slavery, and has cut them off from all outside influences that, in his view, would taint the spirit of the revolution he father began back in the 1940's. As Hitler did, he uses propaganda in such a way that the cult of personality he has developed invades every aspect of a typical North Korean's everyday life.

As a Westerner, and perhaps even more so as an American, it is difficult, if not downright impossible to grasp living under the rule of such a totalitarian regime. They have substituted a godhead for God in the form of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and have effectively turned worshiping the state and its leaders into their form of a church. Their idea of what constitutes cultures is limited to music, plays, and other art forms that solely cover anything and anyone related to the "revolution."

Now, it is true that this is my own take on things, and I glean this information more from things I have read or viewed, rather than personal experience. That said, I present two videos that I think can back me up quite well:



These are two favorites, but they offer a far greater glimpse into life there than you will find on an American media outlet.

I sometimes wonder how interesting it would be to see and experience the reaction of the average North Korean citizen to coming here for the first time. They have been spoon fed a pablum of propaganda without the ability to question it, and I wonder how they could cope with learning how much of what has been shoved down their throats are lies. Yes, we have our own varieties of propaganda here in the U.S., as all countries do. Here however, we have the freedom to disbelieve it, question it, and debunk it. Try that over in the DPRK, and you end up in a labor camp or dead. The tales I have read from those who have escaped from north of the 38th parallel only seem to drive home that fact. I still however, find myself gulping down any and all information that comes my way. If nothing else, it drives home the message tp be thankful for what you have, especially the ability to question why and how you have it.


Sistertex said...

Interesting post Mr. Nighttime. I couldn't agree with you more about how I feel about the US. My Dad being a military man went to many of these places during his life. He is a Viet Nam Vet and was over there a couple of times. The stories he tells are spellbinding. It is hard to understand how it is for other societies unless you can be a part of them.

Say - those two links you put up, for me they led to the same video. Unless I did something wrong there.

Thanks for sharing, certainly gives one a chance to think over some things you take for granted day in and day out.

Gaston Studio said...

So well said. These days, you can't count on news anchors to report what is really happening worldwide, you have to buy a book or find some obscure newspaper articles online. Methinks people just don't want to know because they can't relate... but if they aren't aware, they may be relating sooner than they want to.

willow said...

...and people think the cold war is over.

Peter said...

I believe many people who have been spoon fed an overdose of propaganda without the ability to question it
often have a weird tendency to hold to that propaganda, in spite of being shown otherwise.

A personal experience, closer to home: some Belgians tend to be shocked watching FOX ("is that anchor on acid?"), while some Americans unfortunately still believe EU citizens live in some sort of "all free" socialist paradise.

I personally believe that being immersed and confronted by a stream of different experiences and opinions is the only way to get a grasp on "reality"