Friday, September 20, 2013

Anti-Americana: Anti-Imperialist Spectacle

This is a tourist postcard from Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic Republic of Korea. While tourism is not a major industry in North Korea, it does serve a public relations role in attempting to counteract the dominant western propaganda narrative built on standard anti-communist tropes of drudges walking around in a gray slave society. As a resident of the United States, which specializes in the manufacture of such tropes, I find it hard to accurately speculate on the actual nature of North Korean society; I suspect it's a country like any other, full of people just trying to live their lives in peace. I would reject out of hand both the giant prison narrative and the competing official rainbows and unicorns one.

Back to our postcard, this seems to be a shot of a stage spectacular. There's a projection of a spinning globe and a choir bearing red flags; actors gather in clusters around the stage posed in composed vignettes that suggest the dynamic groupings of people shown on propaganda posters. What's going on here?
Turning the card over, we get to the crux of the matter. The caption reads: "The revolutionary peoples of the world, unite more firmly under the banner of anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. struggle, and mutilate the U.S. imperialists in all parts!" Ouch!

The card doesn't say which, but this is clearly some kind of revolutionary theater production. As in cultural-revolution-era China, in North Korea there are a number of officially sanctioned revolutionary plays, operas, dances and films. One of them, "Sea of Blood," a story of resistance to the Japanese occupation, has apparently been running continuously since 1971. Another, "The Flower Girl," also about the years of resistance to Japan, is attributed to Great Leader Kim Il Sung himself. Sadly, I can't tell what work is represented on this postcard. But I'd sure like to see the show! I'm guessing this card is from the 1970s.

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