The North Korean State of Mind

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The Wife and I watched a 2004 documentary over the weekend titled “A State of Mind” that was incredibly enthralling.  I’ve never been to North Korea, but I’ve known many South Koreans, and I’ve seen a few collections of photographs from various travelers that have managed to make it to the country over the last ten years, and I’m always interested in any kind of media that manages to claw it’s way out of that country.One reason for my intrigue is that the pictures I’ve seen are the closest to my memories of what it looked like when I arrived in China in 1984.  China was just a few years into it’s experiment of opening to the West, and it’s very difficult to describe what it was like to see a thoroughly communist country wading tepidly into the waters of capitalism.”A State of Mind” follows two young North Korean gymnasts through their training regimen to participate in the “Mass Games” which are held more or less every year to demonstrate the power of the North Korean state, the singular mind of its people, and the Communist ideal of the group overpowering the individual.  These games are elaborate gymnastic, visual, and auditory productions designed to shock and awe the North Korean population to even higher levels of devotion to “The General”, Kim Il-Sung.I previously mentioned how the wholesale lifting of hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty has to be one of the greatest miracles in history, and nowhere is this point driven home more than the contrast between China and the North Korea of today.  North Korea has barely progressed since 1950, while China is challenging for world economic supremacy.  South Korea, likewise is a beacon of economic progress, and it’s all eerily driven home by the gymnasts and their families who confess to the camera that performing for the Great Leader is and will always be the highlight of their life.  Electricity blackouts, food shortages, and the lack of any progress over the last fifty years are all the fault of the Imperialist Americans.  North Korea has truly succeeded in a total religious education of its population on the virtues of communism, and it’s almost like you’re watching a farcical episode of Monty Python mocking the heady days of communism in the 50s and 60s when you see otherwise intelligent, driven people in total worship of their deranged leader.The ultimate shame is that the North Korean people, like the Chinese, Burmese, Vietnamese, a host of nations in Africa, South America, and Central Asia, are completely stifled.  But nowhere is it as bad as North Korea, and as someone who remembers the flood of refugees flooding North China during the late nineties as millions starved, I was left with a genuine feeling of total frustration.  This film is important to remind people that it’s all been tried and failed before, right down to the 1984-esque state radio in every North Korean kitchen that broadcasts propaganda and cannot be turned off.  While it’s easy to criticize the evils of capitalism, and decry abuses of greed, it’s hard to see a corollary anywhere in world history where capitalism has produced a wasteland of human potential.Communism works, and it works well.  It is the greatest engine of equality the world has ever seen as it swiftly ensures that everyone is equally poor.  Watch this film for the cautionary tale that it is, and watch it to be amazed at the talent and devotion of the North Korean people.

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