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North Korea's Dangerous Deceptions

On the latest Global Pulse episode, Korea Family Feud, host Erin Coker reviews world reaction to rising tensions between North and South Korea. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!

With a simple YouTube search you can find hundreds of North Korean karaoke videos featuring catchy pop tunes. Some show scenes of young couples on dates eating ice cream. Others highlight hydroelectric dams. Oddly, some mix both in the same video. The most popular of these videos is "Pangapsumnida." It displays scenes of naval and air prowess spliced with images of families reuniting under North Korean flags. The bizarre imagery plays out as a sort of Northern fantasy in which Korea is once again reunited -- as a socialist Korea, of course. Watching "Pangapsumnida" is both fascinating and eerie. Who knew a song sponsored by a brutal dictatorship could be so catchy? It's eerie because the video allows the viewer to temporarily forget the horror that is modern North Korea.

That suspension of reality is perhaps North Korea's biggest export. Desperate to sugarcoat the bleak reality of successive famines and international scorn, North Korea's propaganda machine pumps out some of the most elaborate deceptions on earth. Consider for example, the Arirang Mass Games. Imagine an Olympic opening ceremony in which every reference to sport is replaced with odes to the Great Leader and scenes of the industrial and technological wonders possible under socialism. Regardless of the contrived message, Arirang is quite possibly the most spectacular show on earth. It features up to 100,000 gymnasts and performers moving with razor-sharp precision.

North Korea's deception machine doesn't stop at catchy songs and gymnastics routines. It extends all the way to its own Potemkin village, Gijeong-dong. Gijeong-dong is the only urban area in North Korea visible from the South Korean border. It features a small assembly of concrete buildings and the world's largest flagpole. What it apparently does not include are actual residents. Although no one can be entirely sure what happens at Gijeong-dong (commonly called Propaganda Village), many believe the village is actually unlivable and that the buildings are hollow. Electric lights turn on in unison as if by a flip of a switch, and few people walk around during the day.

Luckily, very few outside of North Korea are fooled by the deception. North Korea's belligerent behavior and abysmal human rights record continue to earn it well deserved scorn from around the globe. While it's difficult for a westerner to swallow any of the outlandish propaganda North Korea feeds us, it might amaze us that we too might be influenced by more subtle propaganda every day, whether by advertisements or our own societies. Propaganda can be powerful. Images and sounds stick to the mind easier than words do, regardless of how odious we find the message. If you don't believe me, try watching “Pangapsumnida” a few times. I guarantee you’ll start humming it when you least expect it.



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