The PJ Tatler

North Korea, Lies and Videotape

[Update: On the question of whether the video described below is a hoax, or the real North Korean McCoy  — it looks like it’s a hoax. Which means what we’re looking at here is a fake, done neatly enough to pass at first glance for an authentic collection of North Korean lies. A fitting window, in its way, on the Hall of Mirrors within which dwells the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong Un.]


Hat tip to Ron Radosh, who just sent me a note flagging a video now making the rounds, purported to be a North Korean propaganda film about poverty in America. It shows footage of people wrapped in rags, huddled together in the cold, living in tents and collapsed homes, or sleeping on the streets. An English-language voice-over of the strident Korean soundtrack describes an America in which desperate hungry people have been eating birds, making coffee out of snow, and buying guns to kill each other, and especially to kill children.

The obvious wisecrack is that someone in Pyongyang has been paying too much attention to President Obama’s scare rhetoric last month about the U.S. budget sequester. But what’s really going on here? Is this video a hoax? Or is it a genuine piece of North Korean propaganda?

At first glance, hard to say. North Korean propaganda is routinely occupied with the chore of inverting the known universe, a project that usually entails taking a minuscule grain of truth and swaddling it so thickly in lies that the entire exercise looks like self-parody — unless you happen to live in North Korea, and on pain of exile to a slave labor camp, together with your parents and your children, had better bow down and at least pretend to believe. For instance, here’s a line about America, from an Oct. 20, 2011 dispatch from North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, pegged to the Occupy Wall Street Movement then in the news: “In this society 1% of privileged class is granted all preferential treatment while 99% of working masses are forced into poverty and death.”

Sounds a lot like the the style of the newly-circulating video (here’s that link again), in which the English voiceover says that material for the tents of impoverished Americans is provided courtesy of North Korea. That still doesn’t tell us whether the video is a spoof, or a piece of authentic North Korean propaganda. But, while pondering the ways of a North Korean regime so ringed in lies that it’s hard to pinpoint where satire ends and propaganda begins, let us note that according to a Jan. 4, 2013 report of the Congressional Research Service, U.S. food and fuel aid to North Korea since 1995 has totaled more than $1.2 billion. (I suspect that’s actually a low-ball estimate). In the impoverished world of North Korea’s propaganda machine, or the capers of anyone satirizing the same, that bit of truth about American largesse flowing even to America’s enemies might well lead to the vision of an America in which — but of course!–  there is nothing left to eat but birds, and nothing left to drink but coffee made from snow.

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