March 31, 2016

The Propaganda Game: Who's Lying Now?

I'm going to assume going in to this movie that you already know that North Korea's population has a cult-like devotion to its leaders as a direct result of the country's constant and inescapable brainwashing machine. But what you may not know is that propaganda related to North Korea goes both ways. Since the country has nearly impenetrable borders, the information we get about what's going on North of the DMZ is necessarily fragmented, piecemeal, and easily misinterpreted. I'm not disavowing the existence of the prison camps or the famine that ravaged the country in the 1990s (despite Spanish defector Alejandro Cao de Benós strangely sunny disavowal of any negativities), but you do come away from Álvaro Longoria's documentary The Propaganda Game with a sense that the Western press has its own agenda and its not simply to tell the honest truth.

What we see is certainly strange enough: city streets with relatively few pedestrians, computer labs with no students, a museum that feels like a stage set. When we're told that the sample church that Longoria visits is a fake, you've no way of knowing if it's really an elaborately staged hoax, a cultural aberration, or a prime example of a reality the West refuses to admit exists. Is there anyway to truly know? I'm not that sure. But, as one journalist points out, it does seem a bit crazy to think that the nation is employing a bunch of actors to populate an elaborate theme-park experience for journalists and tourists. What seems more likely is that there's a hierarchy here and some people have it good, more have it less good, and many have it very, very bad. The country boasts free education and housing with a catch: You don't decide what you'll learn or where you'll live.

My fascination and wariness continue.

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