Slave to the Blog: Gays, Laibach, and mX

June 16, 2015 6:30 AM

A few weeks back, Steph Haggard sent me some news articles about North Korean refugee Jang Yeong-jin. He has written an autobiographical novel, A Mark of Red Honor, which depicts a North Korean attracted to other men who literally lacks the mental framework or vocabulary to comprehend his situation. While I have seen several interesting and sensitive articles on Jang, the book is only in Korean and I don’t have much time to read fiction.

So while in terms of this blog I am not sure what I can do with A Mark of Red Honor and Jang Yeong-jin, I was intrigued by the hullabaloo surrounding a planned gay rights march in Seoul.  (If the topic interests you, Steph pointed out that Mark Buttweiler runs The Kimchi Queen, a blog/portal devoted to the LGBTQ scene in Korea.)

Anyhow, the “Korea Queer Culture Festival” kicks off today and was expected to culminate in a parade attended by 20,000 in downtown Seoul on 28 June. The authorities have blocked the march, however, which organizers say will go forward despite the police ban and prospective penalties of two million won ($1,800) and two years in jail. Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to President Park Geun-hye dissecting the dubious rationale of the Seoul police for their decision and pointing out the UN covenants to which Seoul is a signatory that the action violates. One hopes that the police will reconsider and more tolerant voices of reason will prevail. But the action seems to be consistent with a broader and more disturbing pattern that Steph and I have pointed out in numerous posts: to use instruments like the National Security Law to impinge on civil and political liberties.  There is surely no equivalence between such practices in North and South Korea, but it is not without reason that South Korea has fallen in the Freedom House rankings.

I don’t know if there are any gay people in Laibach, but I expect that if there are, some loyal reader knows. Amid the private commentary (c’mon folks, just post your comments on the website!) someone sent a brochure (see here: Laibach in DPRK brochure) for the concerts in Pyongyang that indicates that the event is being bankrolled, or at least partly bankrolled, by the Norwegian Arts Council, a publicly-funded though independent entity, via a grant to  filmmaker Morten Traavik who is documenting the affair. In March Traavik was  allocated 10.5 million Norwegian kroner (about $1.3 million) over a period of 3 years. He has received previous support from the Arts Council. The Foreign Ministry and the Norwegian embassy in Seoul apparently had no say in this; it is not clear if they were even consulted.

(Sending Laibach to Pyongyang puts Traavik's earlier video of those North Korean kids covering a-ha on their accordions to shame. Surely someone knows how to say in Norwegian "You want engagement? We'll send you a bunch of middle-aged Slovenian crypto-anarchic-futurist punks. How's that for engagement?")

Finally, Sydney-based Loyal Reader Dr. Morris Jones sent me the sad news that Australian tabloid mX has ceased publication. Avid readers may recall that mX got into the crosshairs of KCNA when in its medals ranking coverage during the London Olympics the paper listed two NOCs as “Naughty Korea” and “Nice Korea.” (One guess as to which was which.) Anyway, mX didn’t go down without getting in its last shot. According to Morris,

“The next chapter in this saga has now unfolded. MX is shutting down! This is primarily an economic decision. As anyone who commutes in Australia knows, more people have their eyes glued to smartphones and tablets than newspapers. Thus, MX has become a dinosaur in a modern media age. It will close within days.  

The edition for Friday May 29 opens with the following open letter from Editor in Chief Craig Herbert.  

"Kim Jong Un has got a lot of things wrong since becoming Supreme Leader of North Korea - he can now add failed media analyst to the list. His Pyongyang KCNA news agency mouthpiece, getting MX's title wrong, predicted "Brisbane Metro will remain as a symbol of rogue paper" after we published a certain cheeky medal tally during the 2012 London Olympics.  

Well, Kim and his team got that wrong. MX will be closing down after 14 years at the top of our game, entertaining, informing and engaging with all of you on your daily commute home after a full working day."  

The rest of the letter is a fluffy goodbye with no more references to Mr Kim. It's amazing that this incident would be dredged up after so many years. It's probably because the KCNA roasting was the only international recognition this paper received. What comes next? Will KCNA issue a "good riddance" message to MX? Will they get the name right this time? Stay tuned.”  

OK, so Culture Club or Laibach? In an earlier draft of this post there was a reference to Culture Club but Steph took offense (not at Culture Club, just at my commentary, and Boy George got cut, a victim of editorial collateral damage). But honestly, whose video would you rather watch, Boy George's or that dude from Laibach's?  So why not both? (Sorry for the ad on Culture Club but the video seemed particularly appropriate to the subject matter.) What drama.



I always think Margaret Cho's imitation of her mom is very much analogous to Korean attitudes towards the LGBT community at large:

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Marcus Noland Senior Research Staff

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