r/NorthKorea: Telling A Story Through A Story

For many, the Internet is linked with their expression of self (Poole 2012). Facebook feeds document feelings while Twitter records opinions. The online world offers an opportunity of expression and storytelling that has never been offered before (Pareles 2006). 

Pool, C cited in TechWebTV 2012 ‘Web 2.0 Summit: Self Expression Through Social Media – Chris Poole’

Reddit offers this opportunity more than most sites. As a site that thrives on user generated content, it welcomes personal experience albeit usually for the purposes of comedy. Boards such as r/AskReddit, r/iAMA and r/TIFU are all based on users recounting personal experiences. But it is not only the places that specifically ask for users to recount their personal experience that tell an important story.

r/NorthKorea provides an insight into the shielded Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but unlike most digital storytelling, it provides a voice for North Koreans through the documentation of the experiences of visitors and defectors, and the aggregation and discussion of everything ‘North Korea’ (Reddit 2014). While it is impossible to say whether this story truly reflects the average experience of a North Korean citizen, it provides somewhat of a voice and story to a nation that is confined from the rest of the globe.

Browsing the content of the board paints a picture of a nation that is built for show. Images show empty streets but extravagant statues. Scrolling through, I get a feeling of isolation and pride. The citizens isolated from others but prideful in their country. One user posted a poignant photo of a female traffic director smiling, which they say is a rare occurrence, amongst a reel of tourist snaps littered with propaganda (fatherdougal 2013). A sense of human delight nestled in a story of propaganda and poverty.

Through website of the nation’s main broadcasting service, presents an aggressive, proud and stiff voice (The Voice of Korea 2014). Same, same but different. The ‘Voice of Korea’ is littered with combatant rhetoric which is weakened by the outdated and disjointed layout of the site. As I listen to the snippets of news audio linked on the site, I can’t help feeling that the electronic voice of the news reader aptly matches the image the North Korean government pushes. Stiff, robotic and void of genuine emotion. Built for show, but showing nothing. 

r/NorthKorea, although not voiced strictly by those whom it is about, provides a story that has genuine human sentiment. Through the aggregation of content, the Reddit community provides insight into a group that is forgotten under the weight of their governments actions. Reddit, as a community, has expressed the identity of a group that is unable to do so itself. A story within a story. 

Reference List:

 Fatherdougal 2012, ‘Just got back from a week in North Korea (Pyongyang, Kaesong, and the DMZ) – Here are some of my favourite snaps from the trip’, thread, 10 May, Reddit, viewed 28/8/14, < http://www.reddit.com/r/northkorea/comments/1e2bw8/just_got_back_from_a_week_in_north_korea/&gt;

Pareles, J 2006, ‘2006, Brought to You by You’, The New York Times, 10 December, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/arts/music/10pare.html?ref=music&_r=0>

Poole, C cited in TechWebTV 2012, ‘Web 2.0 Summit: Self Expression through Social Media – Chris Pool’, web video, 3 April, Youtube, viewed 28/8/14, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYIingBky5A&gt;

Reddit 2014, North Korea, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.reddit.com/r/northkorea&gt;

The Voice of Korea 2014, Voice of Korea, viewed 28/8/14, <http://www.vok.rep.kp/CBC/english.php?sYear1=2014&sMonth1=8&sDate1=27&gt;

 

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4 comments

  1. Very interesting post, I was very taken with the paragraph:

    Browsing the content of the board paints a picture of a nation that is built for show. Images show empty streets but extravagant statues. Scrolling through, I get a feeling of isolation and pride. The citizens isolated from others but prideful in their country. One user posted a poignant photo of a female traffic director smiling, which they say is a rare occurrence, amongst a reel of tourist snaps littered with propaganda (fatherdougal 2013). A sense of human delight nestled in a story of propaganda and poverty.

    For me this gets to the heart of the AutoE method, a chance observation that reveals an entirely different dimension of a culture and populous that is of intense interest internationally, but usually framed around the dour, ‘crazy’, isolationist image of NK.

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  2. Reddit is a great example of an alternative form of digital storytelling, and you certainly have to look a little off the beaten track to find any solid digital related info on North Korea. When you mentioned the ‘Voice of Korea’ it reminded me of a paragraph from one of the articles I found, while written in 2011 I can’t imagine things would have changed too dramatically –
    “Televisions are set to receive only government stations. International radio signals are routinely jammed, and electricity is unreliable. Freestanding radios are illegal. But every North Korean household and business is outfitted with a government-controlled radio hardwired to a central station. The speaker comes with a volume control, but no off switch. In a new media age awash in universally shared information—an age of planet-wide instant messaging and texted manifestos—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains a stubborn holdout, a regime almost totally in control of its national narrative.” (Boyten, 2011)

    The nations ‘national narrative’ seems to be the core of North Korea’s communications, any other information either seems to be ‘swept under the rug’ by the government or those who try to bring any other unapproved information in or out of the country face the risk of imprisonment or even execution! It’s crazy to think they are still operating under such a centralised communication network! Here is another NK news site I found that tries it’s best to separate its operations from the government, http://www.dailynk.com/english/sub_list.php?cataId=nk01500, look forward to seeing where else your research takes you!

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  3. For greater extremism see the subreddit r/Pyongyang. It satirises the official news bulletin for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), by pretending it’s real. At least I hope so. It’s become a joke on Reddit to be banned from r/Pyongyang by commenting scandalous remarks about their true leader. You can read about the greater communities reaction to r/Pyongyang on ‘Know Your Meme’: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/rpyongyang.

    So, this is the identity of North Korea I expect, but it’s so ridiculous I don’t know if this is a true representation of North Korea or a misjudgement. I suppose this stems from my assumption that most Reddit users and creators are English users – I have no knowledge of Reddit being used in other cultures. There seems to be a lot of information on Reddit that reflects or comments on different cultures, including DPRK, but I want to know if there are actual North Korean users on Reddit.

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  4. Hi Courtney
    I found you post very interesting because not only does it have a parallel to my post but the sources you have identified have provided alternatives to the sites I have visited. One of the frustrating aspect of the oppressive control of the media in North Korea has been obtaining any reliable information, especially ethno centric sources. I understand that any attempt by the citizens in North Korea to leak information can be fatal but I am fascinated with the whole control angle and would like to to know more from a primary source on the ground in the DRNK. Well done!

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