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A rare look into North Korea's famed Propaganda School (aljazeera.net)
135 points by davidchua 2286 days ago | hide | past | web | 60 comments | favorite

Why are all these North Korea articles/videos always so interesting to us? Every time one of them is posted I find myself glued to the computer screen and then looking up more information on Wikipedia for hours. I must have seen like 10 documentaries on it by now, but it's interesting every time.

It's one of the few closed societies left on Earth. I think it's natural to be fascinated knowing that there's a country of millions of people, but it's almost impossible to know anything more.

I find it fascinating wondering what everyday life must be like for people in the regime. North Korea has engineering schools and computing systems - so, they must have hackers. I wonder which programming language best embodies the Juche spirit? Do they use standard software engineering techniques or is this considered Western capitalist propaganda?

>>I wonder which programming language best embodies the Juche spirit?



It is, after all, Job Control Language.

Be careful not to assume from this video that propaganda primarily only happens in far-off dictatorships like North Korea. Propaganda is more useful in a democratic society because as Chomsky says, "If you don't behave in a dictatorship, they'll just bludgeon you over the head." To control the population in democratic societies, governments and lobbyists use propaganda to control the masses through an "artificially created public sentiment" (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9F07E5D8143FE...).

Modern propaganda originated during World War I under Woodrow Wilson. Americans were isolationists and didn't want any part of the war; however, the US government wanted to enter the war so it created the Creel Commission (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_on_Public_Information) to influence public opinion towards entering the war.

The Creel Commission was so effective that it was able to turn Americans from isolationists into German-hating warmongers in only 6 months. The Creel Commission operated for 2 years, and it is where the modern PR industry emerged from.

But this was almost 100 years ago, and the government, lobbyists, and PR agencies have been perfecting it ever since. We are the propaganda experts, not North Korea.

A few weeks ago, I formed an open-source project called "The Propaganda Project" (http://www.propagandaproject.org/) to build a Web service that will enable people to identify and catalog instances of propaganda techniques (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_techniques) used in mass media to effectively pull back the curtain so that it loses its persuasive effect.

For example, let's take the three 60-minute cable news programs competing at 5 PM -- Glenn Beck (Fox News), Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (CNN), and Hardball with Chris Matthews Hardball (MSNBC).

The Web service will make it easy for people to identify and catalog instances of propaganda techniques used during each episode. Someone might see and tag in online video that Glenn Beck used a "glittering generality" at 1 min and 12 seconds into the show and an "appeal to fear" at 1 min 33 seconds. Someone else might see that Chris Matthews used a "red herring" at 1 min 20 seconds and Wolf Blitzer used a "quote out of context" at 1 min 40 seconds.

My premise is that there is a finite number of shows and an abundance of politically-passionate people that love pointing out the other-side's propaganda. Over the course of an hour-long program, people might be able to identify 30 or more instances of propaganda techniques used in each program.

If the service becomes popular, and people use it to check to see if their favorite shows are using propaganda or if the other-side is, the networks won't want to be known as the networks with the most propagandist shows so they will force the shows' producers to reduce the ratio of propaganda per episode.

This is a brand new project that's just getting off the ground so please give me your feedback, and let me know if you want to help.

Wow. Where to start.

The first thing that caught me about your comment was this: as Chomsky says, "If you don't behave in a dictatorship, they'll just bludgeon you over the head."

Ignoring the appeal to authority (which always is a red alarm for me) the problem is that dictatorships are completely different entities than are commonly thought. Most people think that in a dictatorship there's one guy in charge and he directly controls the lives and actions of all the people. But that's not true: simple span-of-control theory says that one person, at most, can observe and coordinate the work of 5 to 10 other people. The more control, the fewer number of people. So there are dozens of levels between Kim and his people, each level interpreting things their own way and each level impacting how things are run to a great degree.

Nope, dictatorships are actually oligarchies, with a symbiotic relationship between the dictator and the "middle management" so to speak. Even if the dictator took all the middle level management out and had them shot, there would just be a new structure put in place with all the same old problems (and symbiotic relationships)

My perception of your comment kind of went downhill from there. Some highlights were comparing "news shows" across several different channels, 1 of which was a news show, 1 was a quasi news show, and 1 was an entertainment show. I seriously doubt such comparisons are going to lead to much value for the reader.

Then we had the whole problem of definitions. As I understand it, propaganda is the dissemination of information in order to effect change in public opinion. It doesn't have to be false, involve logical fallacies, or any of that. Some of the best propaganda, as the Pentagon says itself, is simply telling people the truth about stuff they haven't heard before.

Then there was the over-reaching narrative of "everything is propaganda" -- joining up marketing, entertainment, sales, etc. It's a sign of a poor definition when it fails to distinguish things. And of course we had to trot out a good dollop of American-bashing with the Creel commission and such. Sometimes I think America-bashing has become the salt and pepper of faux intellectual discourse. Discussion getting a bit tired? Throw in a few jabs at the Yanks. "Easily manipulated into warlike frenzy" and "more controlled by propaganda than North Koreans" (I paraphrase) are serious assertions. Assertions that you began with, then failed to offer any proof, aside from a Chomsky quote.

So apologies if I am being a bit harsh. I just didn't get much value from your comment at all.

You don't think there's a link between dictatorships and repressive regimes? You can see examples of this right now in the news with all these protests going on.

I also fail to see why news-based entertainment shows (as is my understanding of one of the programmes mentioned) are any less valid a target for propaganda analysis. Do you believe people cannot be influenced by an entertainment programme? If not, why would such an analysis hold little 'value for the reader'?

I feel you are taking his points far too literally to be relevant in any real-world situation, even if OP's assertions were overly-emotive hyperbole. Nor are you providing much (relevant) value here, IMO - it's not enough to counter criticism of the US with complaints of "America-bashing" unless you say why the criticism is invalid.

As for the propaganda definition you provided (which is a good one), it states the purpose of the disseminations is to change people's opinions. Now you can do that with just plain releasing facts and information (e.g. Wikileaks cables) but it's disingenuous to downplay the role of delivering information by whatever means necessary to produce a specific effect. Propaganda that is 100% factual and non-misleading is called 'facts'.

You would be far better off reading Chomsky's own take on it Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, or a documentary like Century Of The Self.

link to The Century Of The Self - Adam Curtis


Here is Chomsky speaking @ Harvard on "Propaganda and Control of The Public Mind":


This fascinating talk presents a ton of research with references so you can research it further.

You're comparing a totalitarian system to a mid-level manager at a company. Not the same things.

There is a ton of material written about the workings of the Nazi German government and the Soviet Union. I suggest reading it. While Stalin, Hitler or Lenin didn't directly oversee millions of people, the top layers of the power structure were deliberately setup to create bitter rivalries and a level of terror and paranoia that kept them in line.

When they didn't stay in line or were perceived as a threat, they were shot. On MANY occasions, people near the top of the Communist structure in the USSR were declared "counterrevolutionaries" and erased. Probably the highest-risk thing for an aspiring apparatchik in one of these types of places to do is get close to the top.

You seem to be incredulous that US TV news is propaganda. The government in the 20th century wisely forced broadcasters to treat news as a public service and restricted the ability of individuals to control broadcasting on a national scale. Anyone who can remember TV from the 70's can tell you about the difference.

> So apologies if I am being a bit harsh.

So why not just rephrase it to be less harsh? Or are you not really sorry, just trying to be civil?

> Ignoring the appeal to authority

Well you don't really expect him to paste in the contents of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Poli... in the comment box, do you? That is a good resource to study and with plenty of references and sources. In fact, it had to be, because it challenges common assumptions about how propaganda and control works in US.

> Most people think that in a dictatorship there's one guy in charge and he directly controls the lives and actions of all the people.

Right after you accuse the poster of a common fallacy (appeal to authority) your proceed building a straw man. Dictatorships in most cases are sustained by military leaders, party leaders, or an extended family network (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saud).

However I do not see how your discussion of power structure and distribution in a dictatorship applies directly to the article above.

> Nope, dictatorships are actually oligarchies

Ok, so? You can call it the "military-industrial complex" or "a ruling family", it doesn't matter. The majority of the people are controlled by a very small and powerful minority and use propaganda to effect that control better. I thought that was the point.

> Some highlights were comparing "news shows" across several different channels, 1 of which was a news show, 1 was a quasi news show, and 1 was an entertainment show. I seriously doubt such comparisons are going to lead to much value for the reader.

You, me and everyone here probably know that these news sources are heavily biased but I don't think the majority of Americans know. I believe that most would be willing to swear that American news agencies are free of censorship and also provide objective news. There is the party division of Fox vs MSNBC or CNN but I think most would pick one of those and identify it as a valid news source.

> It doesn't have to be false, involve logical fallacies, or any of that. Some of the best propaganda, as the Pentagon says itself, is simply telling people the truth about stuff they haven't heard before.

Yes you are applying the Lippmann & Bernays definition of it. It has acquired a negative connotation over time for a reason -- because it is usually used to mislead and lie rather then inform and educate.

The problem with Pentagon news is that they are not objective. The way the news are worded, and most importantly, which news are selected to be reported, and which are not, introduces a tremendous amount of bias.

> Then there was the over-reaching narrative of "everything is propaganda"

Ok, let's apply your definition "Propaganda = dissemination of objective information." So everyone is interested in educated the people? Every one of those powerful entities like the government and corporations will always report the objective truth, without spinning it, even when it ends up harming it? You really believe that?

> "Easily manipulated into warlike frenzy" and "more controlled by propaganda than North Koreans" (I paraphrase) are serious assertions. Assertions that you began with, then failed to offer any proof, aside from a Chomsky quote.

But you also fail to provide a counter-argument and don't explain how American public went from isolationism to hating Germans in such a short time? How do you explain the fact that so many Americans still claim that Saddam was involved with al-Qaeda or had weapons of mass destruction?

One of the biggest problems with the way the news is presented is the idea of framing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_(social_sciences)) -- stories are presented in a narrowly-framed viewpoint so most public debate only occurs inside the framed perimeters.

Our perspective is constrained so we see things through a "reality tunnel" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_tunnel).

We never see the whole picture. We only see a narrow sliver of it. Perspective is infinite -- only the Omniscient see its entirety. But we often believe that our perspective is the way things are -- the whole truth. Thus it shapes our beliefs, and in so doing, guides our thoughts, our choices, our trajectory.

And because we are not experts in most things, we use mental shortcuts to help us decide (http://jcr.wisc.edu/publicity/press-releases/docs/2009/june/...).

Here's an example of a divisive, yet narrowly-framed issue: Abortion.

How is abortion usually framed? People argue about the "right to life" vs a "woman's right to choose." We argue back and forth about these issues, but we are doing so inside a narrowly-framed perspective.

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg said that abortion is primarily about population control, but this rarely gets talked about (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/12/magazine/12ginsburg-t.html...). It's the establishment's pink elephant that's been sitting in the back of the room since the 1970s.

I believe that much of propaganda is designed to dance around the issue of population control (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_population_control).

Watch Dr. Al Bartlett's (http://www.albartlett.org/) fascinating lecture on the exponential function at the University of Colorado at Boulder (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9znsuCphHUU&playnext=1...). He says, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." Professor Bartlett then goes through the stark reality of what will happen if we continue our exponential growth against finite natural resources.

Research by economists John Donohue and Steven Levit at the University of Chicago (http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/DonohueLevittT...) showed that the legalizing of abortion started to reduce violent crime by the 1980s because would-be impoverished people weren't growing up to be criminals. You may have read about this is Levit's book, Freakonomics (http://freakonomicsbook.com/). The government knows this.

In the 1960s Henry Kissinger completed National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200), which is more commonly referred to as the "Kissinger Report" (http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PCAAB500.pdf). Kissinger says that the greatest threat to America is not the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but the overpopulation of third-world countries.  NSSM 200 discusses several mechanisms that control population growth, such as war, famine, disease, pestilence, poverty and immigration.

My point is that abortion is a form of population control and our government sees it as such, but this rarely gets talked about. Instead we argue about "right to life" and "right to choose" and most have never even considered the bigger issue because that's the way the issue has been framed, because that's the way the government and the media establishment want it.

The question we should be asking is, "Do you believe that population control is a good thing or a bad thing?"

Why do you think government and media don't talk about the population control issue more? Is it because they think the population will be upset thinking about the idea of population control?

At the end of Dr. Bartlett's lecture on population growth (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9znsuCphHUU&playnext=1...), he presents the "Great Challenge." He asks, "Can you think of any problem on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted or advanced by having larger populations at the local level, the state level, the national level, or globally?"

My answer to his challenge is: Yes, larger populations mean we have more of our greatest resource -- ourselves. Our creativity and ingenuity has developed solutions to our greatest problems, but we need true and accurate information so that we make better decisions and work toward a solution. To our government and the media: Don't hold back stark realities or frame it in propaganda because this only impairs our ability to find a solution.

The Propaganda Project (http://www.propagandaproject.org) is my answer for reducing the noise and getting more truth out of the media. Do you think it can work?

> My point is that abortion is a form of population control and our government sees it as such, but this rarely gets talked about.

I wonder where is the separation between those that understand the issue at hand (let's say "population control") but know that they will never be able to frame it as such, and those that don't know the issue and are just bouncing around between the allowed frame limits?

In other words this seems to imply there is a group of people in the government that meet and discuss these issues "off-the-record" so to speak, and they all sit around and ponder "How would we curb population growth?". Presumably NSC is doing this as you pointed out.

However I feel there is tinge of conspiracy theory here as well. I can't imagine there be this group of very intelligent and informed governmental group that is also at the same time able to keep it secret and is able to exercise control. They would have to communicate their desires or commands to IMF, World Bank, UN, branches of the US Govt., somehow determine who gets elected and who doesn't etc. It is not impossible but somehow I don't quite believe it yet.

This separation occurs between those that take the time to research and think about the issue and those that accept the issue the way it's generally framed.

Population control has been talked about publicly. It was discussed more prevalently in the 1970s -- it just doesn't get talked about much anymore.

Here is a recent video of David Rockefeller speaking about the importance of population control for the UN and other international bodies (such as you mentioned):


Again, it's not so much a conspiracy -- you don't see the establishment giving presentations on who killed JFK at conferences. But as you can see, population control is a discussed in these settings -- just not in the mass media. As explained in "Manufacturing Consent," these type of framed issues are just part of the political economy.

I find it interesting that the list of propaganda techniques linked is mostly a list of (informal) logical fallacies. In other words, your standard internet political rant is 'propaganda', but it seems strange to call it that; although the ranter is trying to change people's opinions, they aren't deliberately using underhanded tactics.

For me, 'propaganda' implies people arguing in bad faith, that is, using arguments they know are fallacious/manipulative, to promote a cause they do believe in. I'm more tempted to believe that average levels of rationality are low and that the people you describe as propagandists actually believe everything they say is sensible and logical.

Then the transcendent propaganda move is to dumb down the populace and the popular discourse to a level where fallacious and manipulative discourse is just the accepted norm. When all everyone expects is smoke and mirrors, no one is going to be looking for the substance underneath.

You're right -- surface-level politics today is more like theater than genuine debate.

The most effective propaganda is self-propagating among its unwitting targets.

Yes, and this is how propaganda is designed to propagate (it's like viral marketing).

The Internet can be a vehicle for propagating truth or distortion, and I believe the most effective way of reducing propaganda online is to cut it off at it's source, which right now is primarily the major news networks, and the new Propaganda Project (http://www.propagandaproject.org/) is being designed to do exactly that -- influence our major news networks to remove propaganda from their news programs.

Several years ago I published a collection of 1,125 selected quotations on PROPAGANDA,PERSUASION and DECEPTION. It's available as a free downloadable PDF file at several locations on the web. It deals primarily with political propaganda but is useful in a number of contexts, including advertising and entertainment. Laird Wilcox

Propaganda, Persuasion & Deception Over 1,125 Selected Quotations for the Ideological Skeptic. Compiled by Laird Wilcox. 124 pp. ISBN 0-9761337-0-9. 2005.


There is one big difference. In North Korea you have only one point of view presented to the people - the point of view of the party. In democratic society you can have and freely express an opposing point of view.

You can try to. But realistically, you're up against Big Media, and while it is theoretically possible to compete against them, good luck trying. It's one thing to be able to freely express a point of view, but quite another to be in a position where anyone will actually see/her it.

There are multiple viewpoints in big media too... There's also the Internet. It's pretty naive to think North Korea and the USA are the same in terms of propaganda.

I don't think anyone in this thread is claiming they're the same - just that America has plenty of its own propaganda as well.

I think some people do think they are the same. I know people from China who claim they are the same (or worse).

Are you saying that people in China think US propaganda is worse?


Where are people on the Internet getting their information that they repost on blogs and community sites? Is it from first-hand accounts and primary research, or are they just repeating what they heard from the news wires or cable news?

Propaganda is about propagation of a meme, but where does it start? And how do you distinguish fact from fiction when the self-identified news networks intermingle news with opinions masquerading as facts?

Big media propagates its own messages. On the internet, if people repost on blogs they are propagating it themselves.

> Propaganda is about propagation of a meme, but where does it start? And how do you distinguish fact from fiction when the self-identified news networks intermingle news with opinions masquerading as facts? I dunno. That's a good one. Now I know since I am one of the smartest .000000000001% of people in the United States (because I read Hacker News and engage in thoughtful discussions like this) I have the ability to identify the rational arguments made by independent sources when held up against the drivel from mass media. But you make a good point as the average american would probably be too stupid to make such discernments. They couldn't reason their way out of a box.

In all seriousness, if you pound a rational argument equally as hard as an irrational one, the rational one I believe will always have the advantage. That's how you distinguish fact from fiction and it's predicated on the fact that the average person is intelligent enough to be rational. Yea people will head for the light that shines the brightest but they'll still try to head towards the one that looks less like a train heading towards them.

Overall it's the emotionally-charged argument that usually prevails over the rational, unfortunately. That's why mass-marketing firms focus primarily on emotional appeals -- they appeal to a larger percentage of the audience.

What you said there is just opinion. How can you know that's true? Are you part of the audience that succumbs to emotionally charged message?

And if you aren't, how can you say that others are? Isn't that presumptuous?

I know this to be true because I'm in marketing and witness the results of different campaigns first hand.

If it does win over the rational argument it's because it's being repeated and pounded more into their heads than the rational one.

You can't fight reality. Even the dumbest of the dumb will try to turn if they keep hitting a wall. But with all things being equal, the rational argument will have the advantage.

Take religion as an example. Its message is extremely appealing which is why some people make logical leaps to accept it but despite that it's still had to morph and mold to fit science/reality over the centuries it has existed.

Watch this TED talk by Rory Sutherland, "Life lessons from an ad man": http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rory_sutherland_life_lesso...

And read "Winning Hearts and Minds: Why Rational Appeals Are Irrational If Your Goal is Winning Elections" by Drew Westen, psychologist and neuroscientist at Emory University Professor: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-westen/winning-hearts-and...

Do you still have the same perspective?

Noam Chomsky @ Harvard - Propaganda and Control of The Public Mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0OnTHz--7I&playnext=1...

And here is his recent talk at Google... Google Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnLWSC5p1XE

I thought the propaganda market merely cater to people's bias and political views. Maybe people's view are also influenced by public relation firms?

Watch the Google TechTalk: "The Wires that Control the Public Mind":


...talks about how public relation firms influence people's views.

There obviously are an incredible number of lobbyists and interest groups that try to influence political opinion -- in all countries. It is obviously big business. Also, everyone tries to play this game, if they want to make a difference for what they want to achieve.

But you read as something from a conspiracy theorist. If you e.g. analyze some random TV program about cooking, you can infer a multitude of hidden meanings just from the spices they use!

I personally have more hope for insights from internal documents published on WikiLeaks, instead.

But, well, good luck. The world needs competent alternative viewpoints.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (Wharton School) presented the "Propaganda Model" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_model) in their 1988 book, "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Poli...).

In their research they describe the dynamics between the government, corporations, and the media. As they show, it's not so much a conspiracy, but instead it's part of the political economy.

My point was rather that analyzing articles looking for conspiracies will find them everywhere.

And I acknowledged that the ideas of lobbying/influencing is universal.

(Chomsky is an activist/idealist. You should apply salt to him, too...)

I am not suggesting that we analyze articles looking for conspiracies. I am suggesting that we look for well-defined techniques, the mechanisms used, regardless of the messages' meanings.

My point is still relevant. A bunch of idealists looking for patters of conspiracies in text will find them.

You need some verification subsystem; a scientific method, if you want. Otherwise, you'll reinvent an even worse version of:


Edit: Good luck inventing something new. I mean it.

The verification system will be built into the Web service. To account for human error in the identification process, the system will be designed so multiple users are used verify identifications made by other users. Similar systems are used to ensure the accuracy of, for example, transcriptions through reCaptcha (http://www.google.com/recaptcha/digitizing), and reCaptcha is able to achieve 99.5% accuracy.

Thank you :)

It's almost funny, I guess in a sad way, to watch this and realize that every person you see in the film is planted (including those in the backgrounds), the young actors carefully picked, every shot is framed to make NK not seem like the giant hole it actually is. It's no more real than a hollywood production.

On a fairly unrelated note, I really wish Al Jazeera was watchable in the states as a proper news channel. I'd prefer to watch it than streaming web video -- I might actually watch TV news again! But I think it'd bring some well-needed balance to what else we see on the news (even including BBC).

I've read every comment just to find somebody who mentions this. I'm not in the US (Actually in north Africa), so I watch Aljazeera whenever I want. Why the Americans are not trying to address the question of why they're missing out on such delicious journalism is a fact that I cannot fathom.

This video kind of makes you wonder if people are really saying these things cause they mean it or if they are just being watched and have to act a certain way to reap the benefits of being a firm party supporter. Benefits like living in Pyongyang and actually having food and shelter. I feel that it's probably the latter in like 99% of cases.

My father in communist Poland wasn't able to do the research he wanted at his university at Poland cause he wasn't in the party. He cursed out his professor and called him a communist and got kicked out and had to transfer schools. Calling someone out as a communist was a slur against them because those reaping in party benefits were seen as betraying their own country.

I feel like it's a similar case in NKorea. You have to act that way cause your neighbors will tell the authorities about any signs of disloyalty and the family will disappear (into a re-education camp.) I think that's why these people on the videos when they are interviewed really chose their words carefully and make anything they say an attempt to glorify the dear leader. Their eyes give them away though. I feel like everyone is aware of it -- the conditions in their country vs the west, but they live in fear of expressing their own opinions so they just shut up and go about their lives.

I did not see that in their eyes. These people are privileged, as the video said, so they're probably content with their status.

24 million people, all brainwashed. There will be a long time before this country sees a popular uprising like Tunisia and Egypt have.

I'm pretty sure they are not brainwashed that much. There are people who are like those young actors. But that engineer (father of actress) understands situation better: there is reason why he does not want his daughter to be actress. Actually looks at reaction of parents when actress told the story how she became actress. They are trying to hide their eyes like they could betray them. This video alone is enough to understand what price she might pay sometime.

Such attitudes may predate the communists. Even in my mother's generation, entertainers carried a stigma with them. Much like in ancient times in the West, entertainers of many kinds were considered the lowest of the low.

My mother was born to parents who were living in what is now North Korea. My grandfather was a doctor and a successful entrepreneur. Needless to say, the communists didn't have a very sunny view of him, and the family had to be quickly moved south.

Both my mother and my father had some inclinations towards the performing arts and were actively discouraged from this. In the case of females, yes, a fear of "dishonor" was involved. Since many men of power in the North Korean regime are effectively above the law, such fear is perhaps not unwarranted. (Is it really much different than our society?)

I thought this video was excellent because of just that. The subjects' reactions and the little nuances tell so much. I find it fascinating that the NKorean censors gave so much freedom to the film crew and the students, to showcase their life.

For example, I thought it was really cute to see the male and female protaganist quite close to one another. Could they be dating? Or is it all just acting?

The varied emotions seen in this documentary is a refreshing break from all the straight-face, cautious, camera-shy interviewees from the other films by foreign crews in NKorea.

Why the hell would you assume "all brainwashed"? People under a dictatorship pretend to like the regime out of fear.

You'd always hear stories about this guy who said X in front of person A, and the next day he was taken "down there", and the idea is: be careful of A, he's an agent. But also: be careful of any stranger, you never know who's gonna report you to the authorities if you say the wrong thing.

Basically, under a dictatorship, the safe thing to do is pretend you're ok with the regime, as long as you don't know who you're talking to.

The history shows that this may happen sooner than many expect. In 80s nobody in the USSR could even imagine that in several years the country would not exist.

The same conditions do not exist in North Korea. In the USSR, there was a clear disconnect with economic reality. Communism was not a superior economic system. In fact, it produced rampant disincentives.

The North Korean regime doesn't rely on such ideology. Rather, the idea is that Koreans are the world's "true" people, and that only the North Korean regime keeps this faith and keeps their culture away from willing economic and political servitude to the west.

The North Korean regime sees itself as the last bastion of resistance for "the good guys." As far as they're concerned, they're like the rebel alliance in Star Wars. As in Star Wars, their weapons are worn and inferior and their industrial power is dwarfed by that of the evil empire that they fight. Yet they somehow heroically fight on, defying the odds because they are "the good guys."

1. Communism is a political system & ideology; not an economic system (See Communism article in Wikipedia). In fact the country can be a communist society and have a fairly open (liberal) economic system (China).

2. The ideology in USSR was exactly the same - the war against evil west. There were a lot of propaganda about decaying western society and how in 10 years we will build communism and win the Cold War.

3. The economic situation in North Korea is very bad. People would starve there if China would cease it's economic help.

4. Don't think that people there have no understanding of the situation inside their country. In USSR there was an Iron Curtain and totally controlled media but still many people understood the situation and discussed it in their kitchens. People feel the situation very well when they see the dramatic difference between the idealistic picture in government controlled media and in real life.

1. "We will bury you" -- widely taken as a statement that communism would out-compete capitalism. North Korea and the USSR differ because the former doesn't have an ideology like communism that can be shown to be rationally hollow. Instead, it's based on nationalist feeling, which is entirely irrational.

2. I don't think the North Korean regime preaches that the West is decaying and will fall in X years. That's another way the USSR got egg on it's face that the North Korean regime does now.

3. Not disputing this. The "heroic struggle" stance takes care of this. The thing is that it only works if it resonates with the people. It got to the point where no one in the USSR believed it. I think huge numbers of North Koreans do believe it.

4. The USSR failed to maintain a believable alternate reality for enough of their people and they lost the emotional support of virtually all of their populace. From what I've seen of North Korea, I think they do have a viable "reality distortion field" in place and large numbers of people are emotionally involved in it.

The segment during the dance class was... weird. With the exception of the mention of the great leader, it's almost completely identical to something you'll see over here. Right down to "I need to go on a diet".

This video's available in 720p on Al Jazeera's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmzPsJfkWjA

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