#North Korea

Touring North Korea

Picking up where I left off, in the midst of virtually touring North Korea, I think I have decided upon where my autoethnographic research will lead to for my final research digital artefact. Autoethnography is, essentially, when the researcher throws themselves into a cultural field, experiencing the oddities and nuances alike. And upon experiencing these foreign, but otherwise “everyday” events, looking back to within one’s self and understanding why such events have stood out. To explore my research through such a process I am thinking of writing a short online fiction piece. The narrative is still not entirely decided upon, however I am thinking of a plot that’s loosely based around the idea of a character being absorbed through a virtual reality headset and placed into the actual world of the 360 North Korea video I am basing my research around. From here the character experiences the unfolding events. I am considering embedding live tweets from my research as thoughts, or learnings that the character experiences. This would be slightly interactive as the readers could click on research links through embedded tweets(form of references/further readings).

So, in order to create this interactive online digital story, I must begin my research.

To do so, I am going to delve into some of the following things that stood out to me, in the hope of understanding North Korean culture through the cultural framework of my own life. Through this research it will be interesting to consider how my experience of the video changes. This investigation should then hopefully inform how I will convey my research through my interactive digital piece. Looking at my previous observations, I want to focus in on a few core aspects:

  • How successful can North Korea really be? How much longer can they last while being isolated from the rest of the connected world? To expand on this, I want to look at the internet situation of North Korea. In the last few days North Korea accidentally leaked the DNS for .kp, showing only 28 domains on their internet. This Reddit post will be a valuable place to being my autoethnography.
  • Military experts analyse the footage from the festival to try and gain an understanding of N.K’s military strength
  • The notion of tourism, or tourism attractions in North Korea is interesting.

Furthermore, there are a few other curiosities I am interested in exploring:

  • How do weddings work in North Korea? Are they planned marriages?
  • Traffic is reported as being relatively new to N.K.
  • Most people (everyone?) are wearing navy blue armbands. What are these?
  • The Supreme Leader is kind of hard to take seriously with his massive portrait on a float regardless of how many missiles and nukes he flaunts. However it is hard to ignore the atrocities he is carrying out.

As the civilians in the 360 video walked the streets, waited for trains, and even visited “tourism destinations”, I noticed they weren’t doing something almost everyone does in my day to day life. As they moved through the streets and waited in the metro, absolutely no one was scrolling through feeds on their phone, something of a complete obsession within the culture I am familiar with. The strangeness, and perhaps more importantly, the significance of this cultural variation was emphasised in the narrators final lines.

“All of this closing off from the outside world cannot be sustained as each successive modern era requires participation in a global economy in order to survive… many wonder how much longer will this last”

The notorious censorship of the North Korean internet is just one facet of this so called “closing off” of the country. But in understanding this isolation, I am, as an autoethnographer, able to better understand the 360 video at hand and thus the North Korean country. Interestingly, North Korea’s main Domain Name System (DNS) server was recently leaked revealing that there are only 28 websites on North Korea’s public internet. Now, when I say public, I mean this limited amount of websites can be viewed by the outside world and tourists. There is an internal intranet used by officials and government in North Korea, which would be a whole new type of interesting, but there is a lot of significance in seeing the limited extent of the public internet. For starters, many of the websites are propaganda in its simplest form, one site show casing the Supreme Leaders activities, such as visiting farms full of bountiful fruit. In this case, these sites are most likely meant to be viewed by the outside world.

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Supreme Leaders Activities: http://rodong.rep.kp./en/

Most of these sites are extremely “pre-dated”. Looking at the North Korean internet is like taking a step back to the beginning of the internet. They are slow to load, and when they do, you are presented with an unsophisticated site that may not have been updated for a long time. Yet in a way, this brings a kind of authenticity to my North Korean experience.

A few of these sites bring me back to one of my early observations in the tourism of North Korea. The idea of North Korea as a holiday destination is one that seems completely insane to me. The places I have holidayed in, be it western countries such as America or Asian countries such as Thailand, for the most part where safe and allowed for tourists to do what they wanted. This form of freedom and adventure in a foreign place is what I understand as the idea of a holiday. However, there is practically no freedom to tourists visiting North Korea. You cannot leave your hotel room without government official “guides”. While most western visitors recounts of travelling in North Korea are positive, saying “the only way DPRK tourism is not safe, in my opinion, is for tourists who plan on participating in any civil disobedience”, Enright, a travel writer who wrote about her trip on her blog, Borders of Adventure, said she was constantly aware of breaking the rules and the possible punishment this entailed. “You can’t say to your guides, ‘Hey did you know that during the war the North bombed the South and not the other way around?’” She goes on to explain that telling her North Korean guides the truth about the rest of the world would have put not only herself but the guides in immense danger if she were overheard. In discovering this bleak way of tourism, there is obviously a definite reason you are escorted around the country by The Supreme Leaders Henchmen “guides” on specific, structured tours.

I feel these strict circumstances around tourism and the isolation placed on North Korea are both pointing to what the Supreme Leaders dictatorship is trying to achieve and continue to maintain, a unified hive mind of solidarity. North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Su-yong told reporters at a UN climate change conference earlier this year that “The real source of power in our country isn’t nuclear weapons or any other military means, but the single-minded unity of the people and the leader. This power of unity we have is the real source of power that leads our country into victory.”

Living in a country where freedom of speech is a somewhat protected right, it seems bizarre that the government of North Korea is promoting single-mindedness. Furthermore, that’s an interesting sentiment when the country literally parades massive nuclear weapons through the capital city in celebration of the 70th anniversary of The Workers Party.

What I have found through my research is that North Korea is ultimately an oppressed society with limited freedoms. However, in a way this only adds to the culture of which as an autoethnographer I have begun exploring. As Ellis (2011) explains, “When researchers do ethnography, they study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture. These practices, values and beliefs (which I have merely scraped the surface of) vary from mine own with such a vast difference that when I view the 360 video now, the entire context has changed.

North Korea and Virtual Tourism

North Korea has always been something of a curiosity to me. How can a country almost entirely cut itself off from the rest of the world and continue to function? A notion which seems almost impossible in a world which is becoming increasingly connected and thus “smaller”, a paradigm we know as globalisation.

What goes on behind the closed borders of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un? How much truth is there to the controversial 2014 film, The Interview? In particular this scene:


To explore and research this, I decided to immerse myself within a 360 degree video within North Korea during the 70th anniversary of its Worker’s Party. This is an American ABC news production, and while obviously this is not an Asian produced media piece, the video still provides an interesting insight into the cultural experiences of North Korea.

It is important to remember that video is based on an itinerary that is overlooked by government officials. The news team are not even allowed to leave their hotel room unaccompanied by government escorts, or “guides”. This “pre-approved guided tour” is the case for every tourist visiting North Korea, and it is because of this that I feel tourism would be an interesting area to delve deeper into as I experience North Korea. Like most people, I like travelling and have visited many places around the world, so it’s not a surprise that tourism is one of the main aspects that intrigued me within the video.

Furthermore, the process of viewing a 360 degree video of a foreign place can be understood as a form of virtual tourism. This supports Denzin’s (2014) description of the autoethnographer as a flâneur, the concept of the flâneur being, the casual wanderer, observer and reporter of street-life in the modern city. This is exactly how it feels to experience virtual tourism, as you are free to move the camera around in all directions in order to observe the experience at hand, these observations being the cultural nuances and oddities of, in this case, North Korea. In exploring this, I am adhering to Ellis’s (2011) description of autoethnography as I am aiming to “retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.”

Additionally, Denzin (2014 p. 268) justifies this methodology saying “Within the context of history the autoethnography becomes the “dial of the instrument that records the effects of a particular stage of civilization upon a civilized individual”. The autoethnographer is both dial and instrument. As an ethnographer, I am both the researcher and the research.

Therefore by following this criteria surrounding authethnography, I will be experiencing a North Korean cultural celebration (a particular stage of civilization) , then looking back at my initial experiences, write about and critically analyse certain epiphanies, or effects on myself (the civilized individual), surrounding the experience.

To begin the process I wrote down my initial reactions when viewing the video. These initial experiences revolve around things that were slightly unusual to me, things that I was not aware of previously, or things I felt interested in exploring more of.

  • The notion of tourism, or tourism attractions in North Korea is interesting.
  • You cannot leave your hotel room without government official “guides”.
  • How do weddings work in North Korea? Are they planned marriages?
  • Traffic is reported as being relatively new to N.K.
  • Most people, or everyone are wearing Navy blue armbands. What are these?
  • The Supreme Leader is kind of hard to take seriously with his massive portrait on a float regardless of how many missiles and nukes he flaunts.
  • Military experts analyse the footage from the festival to try and gain an understanding of N.K’s military strength
  • How successful can North Korea really be? How much longer can they last while being isolated from the rest of the connected world?

The following blog post will delve deeper into understanding exactly why these certain things stood out to me, and in exploring these experiences, I hope to realise epiphanies and important moments. It is these epiphanies that will create interesting and important research, moving my autoethnographical process from “story-telling” to proper research

Pure Autoethnographic Research or Genuine Personal Narrative

Pure Autoethnographic Research or Genuine Personal Narrative

 

The journey I have taken through the world of media use in the Democratic Republic of North Korea has opened my eyes to a cultural group who live in a world far removed from mine. I was well aware that a cultural divide existed and that it was not unique to these two cultures and societies. Many Asian cultures reflect vastly different media trends, products and usage but North Korea really rocked my perceptions. However, what concerns this researcher is the very nature of the autoethnographic research I am carrying out. Leon Anderson identifies five key features of analytic autoethnographic research; complete member research status, analytic reflexivity, narrative visibility, dialogue with others beyond the researcher and a commitment to theoretical analysis (Anderson, L. 2006).

 

In the research I have undertaken for my blog posts on North Korea I have the reflectivity and visible narrative. It is the complete member research status that worries me because I am not a member of the North Korean culture, I have not visited the country and experienced the culture and I have not experienced an expatriate relationship with any North Koreans in Australia. My research has largely been media driven using the internet and news media to source the comparisons I make and the reflections and comparisons this information leads me to. This has led to an absence of dialogue with others beyond the researcher, another of the key features Anderson. Does the lack of these two components of an autoethnographic research project places the authenticity of the research and the associated cultural reflections and comparisons in some jeopardy?

 

Reading further into Anderson and other writers I feel the narrative I have constructed around the use of media in North Korea and the ongoing reflective nature of my thinking around the cultural and political differences clearly makes a strong case for three out of the five key features identified above. Regardless of the pure nature of the autoethnographic research work I have undertaken the information I have found and the cultural insights these have provided have definitely had an emotion and analytical effect on my thinking about the cultural issues associated with North Korea. It has produced a clarity of thinking which has sharpened my person narrative.

 

Anderson, L. Analytic Autoethnography Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 2006 35: 373

DOI: 10.1177/0891241605280449 http://jce.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/35/4/373.full.pdf+html

The New Human Right

Last post I tried to investigate the extent to which North Korean citizens had access to and engaged in online video gaming. My investigations were aimed at providing a baseline from which to compare a contemporary aspect of western cultures with the culture of the Democratic Republic North Korea (DRNK). The other aspects of media I had researched in this country left me quite confused, angry and empathetic with the population lock into a despotic regime. Confused because I could not rationalize how a culture so trapped by the irrational ideology of a small elite minority and an unbalanced family of puppet leaders, could exist in the detente of the 21st Century. Angry because I could not understand why the rest of the cultures of the world allowed this total media control to happen and empathetic because I could understand that they were missing out on a freedom western cultures simply take for granted.

People in Australia and other first, second and even third world cultures have the media freedom to use, produce and transmit information and digital products across the World Wide Web. http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/ states that the search engine Google receives a daily search volume of 3.5 billion. Although no accurate statistics were available, this level of freedom does not exist in the DRNK. If we watch the Denis Rodman documentary and examine the set-up of the Technology Centre there is one man with the Google home page on the screen but he is not searching he is acting the part of a media engaged citizen. If it is so important change the outside world perception of a media oppressed culture then an intelligent person would do it with an actual interaction rather than a farcical set up.

If autoethnographic research is about using the important discoveries in the researcher’s life what I have discovered about the use of media in the Democratic Republic of North Korea has really had an impact on me. My studies into media and communication have broadened my knowledge and understanding of how media is used in many contexts and for many purposes. My enlightenment has shown me how powerful the use of media, specifically digital media, can be in improving the life of the user. In the 21st Century I feel that access to and freedom to engage with digital media is a new human right.

 

Pace , Steven (2012) Writing the self into research: Using grounded theory analytic strategies in autoethnography in TEXT Special Issue: Creativity: Cognitive, Social and Cultural Perspectives

eds. Nigel McLoughlin & Donna Lee Brien, April 2012

http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue13/Pace.pdf

 

 

Raab, Diana (2013) Transpersonal Approaches to Autoethnographic Research and Writing

The Qualitative Report 2013 Volume 18, Article 42, 1-18

http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR18/raab42.pdf

 

Philaretou, A.G. & Allen, K.R. 2006, “Researching Sensitive Topics through Autoethnographic Means”, Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 65.

http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/docview/222637651?pq-origsite=summon

Gaming in the DRNK

In a regime as controlled as the Democratic Republic of North Korea I thought the concept of gaming culture would be non-existent. At best I expected to find an underground sub-culture who risks life and limb to engage in online and digital gaming. I started my investigation and found limited information to help confirm and expand my understanding of this culture in North Korea. There were some newspaper articles, such as The Telegraph’s, North Korea internet users ‘downloading Top Gear and porn’

(Tuesday 16 September 2014). This article mentioned the strict isolationist measures and speculated on the legitimacy of claims that games, TV shows and pornography had been downloaded from IP address within the country.

A Korean News article, Foreign laptops increasingly popular item for North Korean middle class (Phebe Kim, 10th July, 2014) discussed in detail the increasing movement of foreign laptops into North Korea and the fact that these were only available to the elite class of citizens who could afford the expensive items. The article quoted sources (defectors) who stated that video games were being played.

Computers are also popular with young people that watch DVDs, listen to music, and play video games. Jimin states, “As children of elite families] use more advanced computers to play games, they can be tempted to become like those game addicts that are often mentioned in South Korea.”

This information does not mention or allude to the existence of an underground gaming culture in North Korea but given the prodigious engagement of the western societies in the digital gaming environment it is only logical that this leaks into the North Korean society. Supporting this is the increasing engagement of neighboring countries – Japan, China and South Korea which makes access to contraband digital products less of an obstacle. In addition to this, I have already mentioned the public execution of citizens in North Korea for possessing copies of movie, TV and other foreign digital products. If people are going to risk persecution and death for old TV shows they certainly would for the digital gaming experience.

North Korea’s first video game –

Online commentators marveled at the backward design despite the existence of many online resources which would produce an infinitely better quality. North Koreas are definitely going underground for quality.

Changing North Korea’s Public Imagination

A number of scholars (Bogues 2006; Daniels 2010; Hawkins 2010) have argued that the imagination is a critical, and often overlooked, element in understanding such geopolitical realities and the way “publics” produce and process such realities. (O’Donnell, 2013) The imagination O’Donnell was referring to is the notion of a public imagination. The notion of the media influencing the public imagination in regards to nationalism was explored, in the context of China, by Guo, Cheong and Chen (2007). In this article they outline the importance of the digital media in maintains the nationalist imagination of how China should look to its own people and the outside world.

North Korean nationalist zeal is manifested by the Government’s total control of the media within that country and its ability to block incoming media to protect the public imagination of its citizens. This is also the theme of many information channels reporting on the situation in North Korea.

Could there be a North Korean “Spring”?

January 14, 2014, 9:43 pm ET by Sarah Childress

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/foreign-affairs-defense/secret-state-of-north-korea/could-there-be-a-north-korean-spring/

This article, and others like it reinforce the notion of the protection of the public imagination and first-hand accounts from people who were within the propaganda department of the North Korean government. They tell of their job helping to maintain the public image to the population until their eyes were opened by what they saw from outside. The North Korean government will stop at nothing to block information, which will shake the fabric of the nationalist image, from outside – even executing those who seek information from outside sources. However, the primary weapon in the information arsenal of North Korea is the creation of an alternate reality. Kim Jong Un encourages his people to think any information from the outside world is corrupt lies manifested by the imperialist world of the west, designed to destroy national unity in North Korea.

To change the public imagination of the population of North Korea the dissidents will need to have access to and be able to broadcast in formation to the population. With the strangle hold the regime of Kim Jong Un has on digital media in and out of the country this will be almost impossible and in some instances fatal. With no social media, open access to the Internet and exposure to TV and other medias out of South Korea sourcing information to accomplish this will be desperately difficult.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/foreign-affairs-defense/secret-state-of-north-korea/sue-mi-terry-north-korea-is-a-mystery-under-kim-jong-un/

http://marcusodonnell.com/research-projects/keyword-sphere-of-public-imagination/

Zhongshi Guo, Weng Hin Cheong, and Huailin Chen. Nationalism as Public Imagination: The Media’s Routine Contribution to Latent and Manifest Nationalism in China International Communication Gazette October 2007 69: 467-480, doi:10.1177/1748048507080873 http://gaz.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/69/5/467.full.pdf+html

 

Opening the North Korean Digital Eyes

The more I explore the extraordinary space which is North Korea the more I am struck by the culture of the isolation. The Communist regime would very much like to maintain a firm controlling grip on the population – the proletariat that they create an imaginary façade of a culture which the west copies and follows. The creation of a pop culture in North Korea has been centred on creating an image of a controlled and orderly communist state. Whatever pop culture exists in the country has been placed there by the government so the North Korean people see only a cultural identity which has been chosen for them and not freely created by them.

However, this isolationist policy can only go so far. The westernisation of next door neighbour, China and the leaking of popular culture across the demilitarised zone from South Korea means that the Leadership of North Korea cannot completely blank out the migration of digital culture across borders. Rather than make it this illegal they destroy the credibility of the information and substitute their own.

WochitEntertainment

Published on May 18, 2012

‘Propaganda’ (95min) – Part 1

Sabineprogram

These examples demonstrate how the Communist Government of North Korea handles the incursion of western media influences into the population’s mainstream digital experience. Given this ‘propaganda’ and the abject poverty of the nation and the digital world does not exist within the political borders of the country. I found this extremely disturbing because living in our culture of freedom of speech and enjoying free access to the outside world, I have difficult coming to terms with a world which allows this to happen. In our culture we are fortunate to be able to experience the enormous changes that are offered and created by digital technology yet others in the world are given no choice and are told that our freedoms are imperialist attempts to undermine their world and threaten the cultural purity that is presented farcically to them.

 

Radio Caroline euan walker

 

I heard about the pirate radio ships which operated outside the British territorial waters when British radio stations attempted to break the BBC’s monopoly on radio frequencies in the 1960’s. This is what is needed to open North Korean people to popular culture of the world. Unfortunately the despotic instability of the NK regime would make this form of protest a perilous proposition given the leaderships willingness to shoot at things.

A Digital-less North Korea

 

Sometime ago I watched a Youtube clip of Denis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters in North Korea. I only watched part 1 of the series of two because the absurdity of the event made a lasting impression of total oppression on me. I have travelled in Asia with my parents; hear stories of other people’s experiences and nothing compared to what I saw in that 14:32 sec clip.

When I scratched my head about the focus I need for my work in the subject of Digital Asia, part of my Media and Communications Degree, it was painfully obvious that the digital world in North Korea, or lack of it, might be an interesting place to start. This was not an easy decision to make because I had difficulty getting my head around the notion of an autoenthographic study, hence the tardiness of my initial efforts to blog. However, after visiting the DIGC 330 WordPress Blog I saw the types of subjects others were looking into and thought I may have an original idea.

My next thought was that it was probably going to be extremely difficult to source relevant research to expand my studies. North Korea being one of the most insular regimes in the world must have some stifling effect on the flow of information coming out of the country and the difficulties experienced by journalists and other observers entering the country made me sceptical concerning my information gathering fortunes. Nevertheless I will stick with my idea because the whole notion of total control of the digital environment in a country really made a negative impression on me. The totalitarian nature of the regime was so foreign to my psyche that I was drawn to find out more about it. It also made angered me that a population as large as North Koreas was being robbed of the entertainment, information and colour of the outside world. Sure it may not all be award winning stuff and there are negative aspects to the influences offered by aspects of the digital world but in the 21st Century people should have the choice – they should be able to enjoy the freedoms of digital communication and learn to deal with the Dark Side of the force.

So I will research what North Korea has to offer as a contribution to the digital Asia, it may be a very short case study or it may widening my conceptual understanding of a digital Asia and enthothnographic research. Only time will tell and I hope I can find some information to make it worthwhile.