How North Korea is using TV sitcoms as state propaganda – National


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A bunch of mates, who all stay in the identical residence constructing, go about their day by day lives within the massive metropolis. The digicam follows them within the yard exterior, within the elevator, and in one another’s well-appointed flats – the place they make jokes, flirt and hang around.

It might be Buddies. However this additionally describes the setting of the 2013 North Korean TV drama Our Neighbours, the place meddling neighbours conspire to arrange two of the constructing’s single residents, with a number of alternatives for awkward misunderstandings and slapstick humour.

That is the brand new face of propaganda in North Korea, says Jean Lee, a worldwide fellow on the Woodrow Wilson Worldwide Heart for Students. It’s softer and extra refined than the nightly information broadcasts, and extra entertaining too, she mentioned. “[North Koreans] are far more inclined to concentrate as a result of they’re having fun with it.”

The clean-cut sailor hero of the North Korean drama “Worth Others” will get assist from a well-dressed girl on the streets of Pyongyang.


Lee, a former North Korea bureau chief for the Related Press, spent years working within the nation. Over dinner in a Pyongyang restaurant one evening, this system taking part in on a widescreen TV caught her eye. “I simply did a double-take as a result of I assumed it was a South Korean drama. The type and manner it was shot was so totally different than what I used to be used to in North Korea.”

She was impressed to start out gathering North Korean DVDs and began to research their content material, to be taught what the brand new TV exhibits say about North Korean life and propaganda.

Soap operas and short-wave radio: how North Koreans learn about the outside world

And what she’s seen is a shift that may mirror Kim Jong Un’s priorities: “Extra of an emphasis on the household, relatively than placing the state first, which is one thing that they actually tried to push in Kim Jong Il’s period. The exhibits additionally spend “loads of time promoting ‘the great life’ in Pyongyang that’s rewarded as a political deal with or political profit to those that are loyal to the occasion.”

For instance, the setting of Our Neighbours is likely one of the toniest addresses in Pyongyang – a spot the place, when it was constructed, individuals solely acquired flats as rewards for loyal service to the regime. “That is propaganda, it isn’t a mirrored image of how the typical individual lives by any means,” she mentioned.

“It’s not pretend, but it surely’s only one tiny slice on the high, much like what you’d see in Gossip Lady or a present like that.”

“Nearly all of North Koreans stay in absolute poverty with extraordinarily troublesome entry to a wealthy weight-reduction plan and meals. We’re in the midst of an especially chilly winter. They’ve little or no warmth and energy. Don’t be fooled into considering it is a reflection of life for many North Koreans. It’s a TV drama.”

Many packages additionally positively painting youth and science, she mentioned, that are necessary to Kim Jong Un. “Keep in mind that the youth are going to be his energy base. He’s very younger so there’s loads of emphasis cultivating and nurturing the youth. Science and know-how are necessary. That the nuclear program is necessary, that the economic system is necessary.”

WATCH: The North Korean youngsters’ present ‘Younger Researchers,’ a couple of group of scholars competing for a science prize, emphasizes the nation’s superior know-how and tries to encourage a aggressive spirit, says researcher Jean Lee. Right here is the title sequence.

One present, known as Younger Researchers, follows a gaggle of scholars competing to win a science prize. Their classroom is crammed with computer systems, microphones and different know-how. And Our Neighbours contains a scene the place the neighbours rejoice after watching a rocket launch on the information.

On this manner, argues Lee in her analysis paper, North Koreans get cues on what the regime’s priorities are and the way they’re purported to behave. The solid of Our Neighbours not solely rejoice the excellent news of a rocket launch, however fortunately pitch in to clear their yard of snow (the sort of work that’s usually left for the individuals to take care of themselves) and cheerfully take care of an influence outage that forces them to stroll many flights of stairs as much as their flats.

However in impoverished North Korea, who’s watching these slick new TV exhibits? Extra individuals than you may assume, suggests Lee.

Most households in Pyongyang have a TV, she mentioned, although fewer do within the countryside. And though the ability is normally lower round 10 pm, that’s sufficient time to squeeze in a TV drama earlier than the lights exit. “TVs are a luxurious merchandise, but they’re a part of the propaganda,” she mentioned. “So usually TVs are extra of a fixture than you’d assume throughout North Korea.”

The night broadcasts, together with dramas, are “extraordinarily necessary” for political messaging. “It’s not simply leisure. It’s not like individuals can subscribe to HBO and decide and select. That is propaganda and the individuals comprehend it. They know they should watch these broadcasts.”

And though the settings are as far faraway from most North Koreans as Gossip Lady’s Higher East Aspect Manhattan flats are to most People, Lee nonetheless thinks that they present one thing of North Korean family life – which most outsiders by no means see.

“Though that is TV, simply as pretend as TV is anyplace, it nonetheless offers you a glimpse into what’s entertaining to the North Koreans and it simply lets us see just a little little bit of what their day by day lives are like,” she mentioned.

“You see them flirting, which I feel is wonderful, gossiping, preventing. There may be an unimaginable scene a couple of marital spat. Simply this couple which have the identical complaints as anyplace world wide, with the spouse complaining that the husband isn’t doing sufficient work round the home.”

They’re simply TV exhibits, however they’re “humanizing,” she thinks.

© 2017 World Information, a division of Corus Leisure Inc.

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