Saturday, March 22, 2008


Talented in North Korea

Japundit clued me into a fascinating series of shorts shot in North Korea by a team of journalists. The intro is described as follows:

Getting into North Korea was one of the hardest and weirdest processes VBS has ever dealt with. After we went back and forth with their representatives for months, they finally said they were going to allow 16 journalists into the country to cover the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Then, ten days before we were supposed to go, they said, “No, nobody can come.” Then they said, “OK, OK, you can come. But only as tourists.” We had no idea what that was supposed to mean. They already knew we were journalists, and over there if you get caught being a journalist when you’re supposed to be a tourist you go to jail. We don’t like jail. And we’re willing to bet we’d hate jail in North Korea.

But we went for it. The first leg of the trip was a flight into northern China. At the airport the North Korean consulate took our passports and all of our money, then brought us to a restaurant. We were sitting there with our tour group, and suddenly all the other diners left and these women came out and started singing North Korean nationalist songs. We were thinking, “Look, we were just on a plane for 20 hours. We’re jet-lagged. Can we just go to bed?” but this guy with our group who was from the LA Times told us, “Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa.” So we got drunk and jumped up onstage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs. That was our first hint at just what a freaky, freaky trip we were embarking on…

There are fourteen segments. One which I found particularly fascinating was the journalists' visit to a school for the "talented." These children are handpicked for their talents, and then pressed into "service for the state" to develop their abilities.

Kim Jong Il is said to love theater and Broadway shows, and he pays for talented people to put on productions. In fact the video that follows this one shows a mammoth show, called the Arirang Games, involving many pieces of cardboard. You'll have to watch to understand what I am talking about.

Americans in general do not like to see children subjected to this kind of tutelage. It grates against our sense of what childhood should be about, which is to say, we want kids running around outside doing absolutely nothing--or if they are doing something, that something must involve a dog, a tree and perhaps some swimming. Never mind that developing a talent of some kind is necessary at a young age if one is actually going to be a musician or performer. We don't like it. Despite our love of "individuality" in this country, most people really want kids to be "normal," and we don't want to see them doing things like this.

I find this kind of thing horrifying and fascinating all at the same time because it does beg the question of what a person can accomplish when they are determined enough . . . which is of course an upsetting question for someone who basically likes the status quo.

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