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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

The Semiotics of North Korean Propaganda III: Has Olympus Fallen?

by | March 24th, 2013 | 07:00 am

Over the past few months, North Korean state media has produced increasingly provocative anti-US propaganda videos with images including New York in flames, Jihadists burning flags, and now rockets blowing up the US Capitol building.  In the video above, just before the 3:00 mark, rocket sights are trained on the White House followed by images of missiles exploding the dome of the US Capitol. Before readers rush to build underground bunkers, note that the low production quality of the video above is likely correlated with North Korea’s overall technological prowess.

As with the last two videos (here and here), we have consulted famed semiotics expert Dan Marcus to dissect the video and provide insights.

Here is Dan’s take on the latest:

American news shows summarizing the video emphasize the repeated shots of NK military resources in the spot, but don’t mention that this footage is preceded by images of American military might. In the video, the NK military emphasis is defined as a justifiable response to American imperialism. Most of the NK weaponry on display is defensive in nature, and seems small compared to American bombers and aircraft carriers, though the producers try to portray an effective deterrent through the barrage of artillery firing at the end. The quiet trump card, though, is the missiles on display at the military parade – the true deterrent to American aggression.

The images of the attack on the White House and the Capitol hark back to the 9/11 plans of Al Qaeda, but also to Hollywood fantasies of the President under attack – think of the famous shot in “Independence Day” of the White being blown up by aliens, and the forthcoming thriller “Olympus Has Fallen.” As the director Robert Altman stated after 9/11, Hollywood had rehearsed this sort of destruction many times. The weapons in Hollywood productions – lasers, cruise missiles, giant monsters – parallel Al Qaeda’s small-scale use of airplanes as weapons. The villains in Olympus Has Fallen are the North Koreans, and they capture the President and Secretary of Defense, and threaten nuclear apocalypse, which ups the ante of most Hollywood visions of attacks on POTUS. Despite the imagery of the video, NK’s nuclear deterrent would not just wipe out the buildings along the Mall. Perhaps including footage of a nuclear blast would seem too destructive and bloodthirsty, so NK purports to target only the buildings that hold the centers of power of US imperialism. By effacing the actual destructive potential of its weaponry, NK can portray itself as the powerful and dangerous, but humane and non-genocidal, opponent of American hegemony.