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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Censoring Hollywood

by | July 25th, 2014 | 07:45 am

The Dear Leader’s dignity is under attack from all sides. What is to be done?

First it was the imperialist Hollywood machine with “The Interview”, the latest Seth Rogan/James Franco bro-mance that depicts an assassination plot against Kim Jong Un. In response, the North Korean state lodged official protests to both the UN and the White House, along with making veiled threats to take “merciless countermeasures” if the film were ever released.

Now, a new threat has surfaced on Youtube. The Chosun Ilbo reports that North Korea has implored China to stop the spread of a viral video (which we append below, please share) featuring the cartoonish likeness of Kim Jong Un in a dance-off with Barack Obama, kung-fu fighting Shinzo Abe, getting pranked in a whole manner of childish ways, and generally having a fantastic time. It is three and a half minutes of completely harmless buffoonery (KJU skipping hand-in-hand with Osama Bin Laden is as edgy as it gets). But the DPRK has once again taken the bait.

In an interesting article from Yonhap covering the hysterical reaction to “The Interview”, Victor Cha observes that entertainment products could be more effective  than sanctions in moving the regime. As Cha notes, “[Kim Jong Un] doesn’t care about four U.N. Security Council resolutions. He doesn’t care that the U.N. Commission of Inquiry says this is the worst human rights violator in the modern era”, but “[“The Interview”] really seems to bother him.” North Korean focus on these lampooning cultural products may also reflect a serious miscalculation by authorities: the overreaction of North Korea’s press to “The Interview” has not only drummed up publicity for the movie in the West, but could ultimately pique the interest of North Korean citizens as well, who increasingly access illicit cultural products through the porous Chinese border.

If North Korea really wanted to censor international entertainment depicting their country in a negative light, they should take some lessons from China. Back in 2009, MGM studios shot the remake of the 1984 Cold-War classic “Red Dawn”, updated with Chinese baddies to replace the Soviets. However reportedly due to negative reaction in the Chinese press, studio execs eying the lucrative China market grew jittery and digitally altered the film in post-production to depict an entirely different enemy invading America’s shores: the North Koreans! With 13 new movie theaters being built in China per day, Hollywood was not anxious to alienate Beijing, which got its favored outcome without raising an official finger. The lesson for North Korea: successful censorship of Hollywood rests not on histrionics but the ability to hit people where it really hurts — their wallets.