A recent article confirmed to me something I was told about by a Special Forces sergeant major who once worked in Special Forces Detachment Korea. Today, people living in North Korea know what life is like in South Korea. In previous decades, North Koreans had been so brainwashed, they actually thought they were the lucky ones, living the good life while people in the South existed in squalor.
My contact related one story about a North Korean fisherman who was accidentally washed down river and by the time he emerged, discovered he was in South Korea. The South Koreans welcomed him, but the fisherman insisted he needed to be sent back home. He believed the lavish lifestyle he saw in the South was merely some type of trick, a propaganda ploy meant to deceive him. The South Koreans were shocked by this. The government even put him in a helicopter so he could see Seoul from the air with his own eyes, but he still didn’t believe it. In the end, it accommodated his request and sent him back to the North.
This level of brainwashing is only possible in the most Orwellian of states, and something increasingly impossible with modern communications technologies. Globalization has indeed made the world a smaller place. While the internet, or even electricity for that matter, may not be widespread in North Korea, other forms of electronic media are.
My contact told me people in North Korea love to watch bootleg copies of South Korean soap operas, which are technically illegal under North Korea’s draconian laws. But when the lights go out at night, many North Korean families gather around their television sets to watch the melodrama on smuggled DVDs.
According to the DailyNK.com:
The North Korean authorities are focused on preventing the spread of foreign media throughout the country, but North Koreans continue to sidestep the crackdowns in order to watch South Korean dramas. ‘Almost everyone watches foreign dramas, and they watch them repeatedly—10 to 20 times,’ said a South Hwanghae Province-based merchant. ‘The young and old watch dramas even if they’re not getting enough to eat.’ The source reported that the most popular South Korean dramas these days include: “The Three Musketeers,” “Autumn in My Heart” and “The Wang Family.” ‘People will hum the theme songs to these dramas without even knowing it sometimes,’ he said.”
Soap operas aren’t exactly the reality of life in the South, but they give people in the North a much more accurate vision of what life is like in the other half of their divided country than ever. With this truth increasingly exposed, it makes it far more possible for North Korea to eventually transition to a democracy. This presents an interesting opportunity for information dissemination.
For decades, American organizations like Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors participated in information sharing throughout parts of the world not necessarily friendly to the United States. One such endeavor saw American news clips burned onto DVDs and then smuggled into Cuba.
Hopefully, opportunities like this aren’t being overlooked regarding the so-called hermit kingdom.