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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

STTB: This Week in Tourism and Fake Propaganda

by | August 15th, 2014 | 07:35 am

If you haven’t already seen it, “Enter Pyongyang” – a slick time-lapse video made in collaboration with Koryo Tours that shoots you through the North Korean capital – has made a big splash in news outlets and social media; at the time of this writing it has received 2.6 million views. In terms of technical achievement and execution, there is no denying that this is a very cool video. What it adds to our understanding of life in North Korea is a different story, as it is largely a novel way of depicting content and sights that have been on tour itineraries for a while. (However, it was interesting to note that DHL operates in Pyongyang.)

But framing “Enter Pyongyang” in the inevitable discussion of whether or not it is an accurate depiction of North Korea masks a more interesting point. It is an example of the subtle shift in how the government goes about pursuing their campaign to bring in more tourism. Koryo, et al. have recently claimed growing access and freedom to operate in the DPRK. Even the “Enter Pyongyang” filmmakers marveled that “amazingly, we were given complete editorial control in the making of this piece” (well, predicated on the fact that they were constantly accompanied by minders who placed restrictions on what they shot.) To us, this is not so amazing – authorities have simply become more comfortable with the idea that these market-incentivized foreigners are much more effective at generating promo materials for their country than KCNA English or the KFA.

In the not-so-slick rollout department, North Korea announced tourists are now able to catch some righteous waves on new surfing tour packages – that is, if the waves exist. In a Telegraph article on the subject led by a photograph of a serene, wave-free beach, Simon Cockerell notes that the experience may be a disappointment if you believe state claims that waves are “several meters high.” Nonetheless, we can add this to the list of increasingly diversified tour packages, which are perhaps marching towards their logical conclusion.

Finally, it appears North Korea is not churning out enough propaganda, because outsiders have taken on the task of producing it for them. Last month, a video appeared on Youtube depicting DPRK-state news coverage of North Korea’s team trouncing Japan (7-0), the US (4-0), and China (2-0) in the World Cup. But it quickly emerged that the news segment on the fantastical event was itself a spoof: besides the clear lip synch and incorrect dialect of the newscaster, the video depicts a shot featuring a prominent advertisement of South Korean symbol-of-global-success Hyundai. Come on, guys – you learn to cut that stuff out in Propaganda 101!