Archive for the ‘News/Media’ category

Il Communication

30 May, 2007

Last night I watched a fascinating National Geographic documentary about North Korea. Fascinating not just because it was the only NatGeo show all week not to feature plane crashes, tsunamis or other disasters, but because it gave an interesting insight both into North Korea itself and into how the US views those parts of the world that don’t play by its rules.

The programme featured a Nepalese eye doctor who had been invited by the North Korean government to go to the country and perform operations on 1000 cataract sufferers to restore their sight, whilst simultaneously training local doctors to do the same. The government had also graciously allowed a NatGeo film crew to come along and film the events, on condition they only filmed inside the hospital. So of course they smuggled in hidden cameras to film everywhere else, thus making it more difficult for future humanitarian/medical missions to the country. Great, well done guys.

Much of the commentary conveyed the usual blinkered US worldview, as extreme and fundamentalist as anything issuing from North Korea itself.

“The country has nuclear weapons, and could even USE them, or GIVE THEM TO TERRORISTS!” said the presenter. Yes, and they COULD also paint their arses blue & run around singing Una Paloma Blanca. But they probably won’t.

“They HATE America!” – North Korea is hardly unique in this respect.

“They call us IMPERIALISTS!” – as if this was some sort of insane leftist delusion, rather than a reasonable conclusion formed after observing US post-war foreign policy.

And so on and so forth.

But equally interesting were the insights into life in North Korea itself, admittedly a pretty grim place to live. Its citizens seem to be in constant competition to outdo each other in displays of loyalty to Kim Jong Il – as the presenter, in a rare moment of insight, observed, it no longer matters whether these displays are caused by brainwashing, fear or genuine loyalty, because they are a fact. For example, when asked what was the worst thing about being blind, one old woman replied “Not being able to see Kim Jong Il.” When their bandages were removed and they discovered they had regained their sight, the patients ignored the surgeon and ran straight to the nearest image of Jong Il to thank him and pledge to work harder in the salt mines in his honour etc. It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

There was also footage of Kim Il Sung (Jong Il’s dad)’s funeral, streets lined with weeping hysterical mourners. Not entirely dissimilar to the lines of quivering morons lining the streets of London back in August 1997, it has to be said.

As for Jong Il, we learned that he has a collection of over 20,000 DVDs, and is the world’s no.1 individual customer of Hennessy Cognac. Obviously all that booze doesn’t affect his golfing prowess, as I learned elsewhere that on his first ever round he came in at -38, having hit a number of holes-in-one.

South Korea, in contrast, was portrayed as an oasis of “freedom”, freedom, as usual for the US, symbolised by capitalism – the freedom to drink Coke, eat at McDonalds, wear Nike and generally be a fat, unthinking consumer. Pyongyang, devoid of street advertising and chain stores, looked like paradise in comparison.

Interesting stuff then. I wouldn’t want to spend any time whatsoever in North Korea and Jong Il is obviously a bit of a sod, but at the same time, his country’s isolation is not some random whim but the result of decades of threatening murmurs from the South and its powerful ally. Omit this context from any documentary about the country (and as we saw post-11/9, the US media doesn’t do context) and you don’t educate, you merely fuel hatred & mistrust.

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One of the funniest vids on youtube – North Korea v South Korea, B-Boy style. Superb soundtrack too, and amazingly it appears to have actually been filmed along the 38th parallel.

Free Madeleine! (only in today’s Sun)

25 May, 2007

In August 1997, something very odd happened to Britain. The land of the stiff upper lip, the Blitz spirit, the “mustn’t grumble”, where triumph and disaster alike were greeted with little more than a Roger Moore-style raised eyebrow, suddenly became a nation of quivering, weeping, drooling morons, all desperate to outgrieve each other for a thick Sloane they’d never met.

Media commentators applauded our new-found Latin-style enthusiasm for public displays of emotion, and since the demise of Saint Diana, every ‘tragic’ event has been greeted with similar hysteria, accompanied by an even more unpleasant emotional fascism implying that if you’re not weeping/leaving flowers at the scene/wearing a yellow ribbon/flailing yourself with birch twigs, you’re some kind of pervert.

I say ‘every’ tragic event, but that’s not strictly true, for the public’s wailing & gnashing of the old choppers is highly selective. If you’re white, middle-class & photogenic, you’re in. If you’re working-class, black, or physically/morally unattractive, forget it. If you’ve died as a result of a natural disaster, such as a tsunami or an earthquake, you’re deemed eminently blubworthy. But if you’ve been massacred by British/US/Israeli death squads, tough titty. You don’t count.

Back in 2002, two news stories appeared in that witless freesheet Metro in the same week. The first story concerned two parents whose 16-year old daughter died after taking ecstasy at her birthday party. The second concerned two parents whose 14-year old daughter died climbing Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.

Two very sad stories then, but two very different reactions. The parents in the first case (working class from Essex) were villified as being irresponsible, as if they’d physically force-fed their daughter with mind-bending drugs (they hadn’t of course; they knew nothing about it until the autopsy). Those in the second case, being of good middle-class stock, were portrayed as tragic, grieving parents, even though they’d irresponsibly dragged their daughter halfway across the world to climb a notoriously dangerous mountain.

Double standards that we’re witnessing at the moment in the hysteria over Madeleine McCann. Now I’ve no doubt Mr & Mrs McCann are going through hell at the moment and wouldn’t wish their torment on anybody, but it has to be said that the media portrayal of thestory differs from previous cases of parents leaving their children unattended.

Imagine if the situation wasn’t one of two middle-class professionals abandoning their kids to have dinner in a nice tapas bar, but one of a single mother abandoning her kids to go to a bar or nightclub. I suspect the media response would be somewhat different, as would that of the public.

But they’re nice white Christians! And doctors! They couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong could they? Over a million people visit their website and thousands leave messages of support & donate reward money; meanwhile, over 600,000 Iraqi civilians are murdered, Israel tries to blow up the democratically elected leaders of a neighbouring country, and children are butchered in Darfur, with no public outcry whatsoever.

You can’t blame the public for this ignorance – if the mainstream media reported the true horror of what’s going on in Iraq & elsewhere, I believe people would be genuinely appalled – but you can wonder how such a once-reasonable nation has been transformed, in less than a decade, into a nation of emotional hysterics, lacking any sort of perspective or analytical faculties.

Like anyone else I hope Madeleine is found alive & well (though sadly that looks increasingly unlikely) but the whole story reminds me of the old Final Solution joke:

Hitler: OK Goebbels, we’ve decided to kill 3 million Jews and a dentist.
Goebbels: Why a dentist?
Hitler (to Himmler): You see Heinrich, I told you no-one would give a damn about the Jews…