Thursday, September 09, 2010

Anti-American Art: ...and THAT...and THAT...and THAT!

It's a familiar tableau on North Korean posters and stamps, what I call the "Take That!" scenario: a heroic individual or group of individuals, usually well-muscled and steely-eyed, force a nasty American into a corner, where he cringes and cowers. We see it again and again as a central device in Korean propaganda, and today here's a three-fer showing the development of our submissive G.I.

Above is the earliest appearance of "Take That!" on North Korean stamp, from a series issued in 1959 to mark the Day of Struggle Against the U.S. Occupation of South Korea. Here a wave of construction and development rises in North Korea: across the DMZ (symbolized by the little wooden sign) an American soldier with a giant honker seems to be alarmed, and a South Korean hand dripping manacles reaches up rather pathetically for the hope represented by North Korea. It's ironic to compare the two Koreas today, but back then North Korea really was the economic development miracle of the peninsula, and this little allegory conveys it perfectly.

The stamp issued for 1960's same "Day of Struggle" commemoration offers up a bizarre little comic-book styled version of "Take That." Healthy and robust Korean workers, portrayed naturalistically if idealistically, are clubbing the crap out of a chubby little cartoon American, again with a giant nose.

Finally, in an elegantly-engraved vignette on this stamp from 1966, commemmorating the "Reunification Campaign," a determined, head-banded worker prepares his giant iron hammer for a second blow against an American G.I., rendered helpless as his rifle falls aside and his helmet cracks from the first blow. Our hero is egged on by crowds of demonstrators, and just in case, a tank.

Nearly sixty years after the end of the Korean War, some 28,500 U.S. forces remain in South Korea.

Take that!

Click on all of these images to see them up close. Having always seen these as tiny little postage-stamp sized subjects, it's revelatory to see them enlarged.


  1. i think this is pretty sad. i have an unrealistic hope for globalism and unification. all of this "us v. them" just makes me unhappy.

  2. Well here's the thing freebones, you can divide the world into many many us-es and thems. I don't think the one the North Koreans divide it into is particularly productive, though I understand where it's coming from, which is what I'm trying to communicate in my posting things like this.

    But what if the "us" you identify with is the vast majority of the world's people who just want to live their lives in peace without oppressing anybody else and the "them" is a teeny tiny layer of parasites trying to take the rest of us down with them. In that sense, identification with that "us" makes me profoundly optimistic.

  3. any 'us' and any 'them' really. i don't want people to be against each other. that's all.