Propaganda (2012)

HOLY SHIT A NEW RELEASE! And you thought I only covered old crap no one else cares about! But it’s a rather special new release, there’s an intriguing backstory to this one that you should read before going on, and you can read it here: that’s where I first read about it, and you can also watch the film there too if you feel so inclined. Before you do, of course, be aware that it does contain some hugely fucked up news images. I’m not kidding, there’s some images here you’ll struggle to block from your memory.

Back? Good.

Anyway, I’m willing to concede the fact that I’ve never heard of “Sabine Program”, or that I can find no reference to her online not connected with this video, is possibly meaningless. It’s not like I actually know people who translate/interpret for a living, and she may well have an outstanding reputation in that field as she claims. The name sounds too false to not be a pseudonym, and she may well have good reason to cover herself. Her Twitter identifies her as living in Australia, and the accent of the female voice overdubbing the video is obviously Australian. Why her, though? Because that’s the oddest detail, in my opinion. “Sabine” being given this DVD by these supposed defectors has a whiff of William Cooper being shown secret US Navy documents about alien contact, and it makes about as little sense. Why did Cooper get to see these things and write a book about them? Why was “Sabine” given this DVD to propagate?

There’s a fairly extensive discussion at Something Awful where the consensus seems to be “hoax”. And that would certainly make sense. I don’t know if it’s as un-“North Korean” in its technique as some of the SA people reckon, but I was struck by the video’s choice of film clips and frequent quotations from Western intellectuals like Chomsky and Dawkins. I suspect few actual North Korean people have actually heard of those people (or the Roman Seneca, who also gets cited, along with Luis Bunuel), and I have no doubt the films sampled in the video would never be allowed in the country either. “Sabine” claims that the film was likely produced for a non-DPRK audience, and I suspect it’s also been made by a non-DPRK filmmaker (the video carries no technical credits). Or editor, I should say, because this isn’t a “directed” film, it’s a compiled one; it’s like some of those “documentaries” I used to see at Mu-Meson Archives where someone’s grabbed a load of video footage from Youtube or something and stuck it together with a voiceover and some captions. Technically, this really is about on that level, though I’ll grant that whoever did collate the thing has a flair for finding footage; as a piece of grand copyright infringement, it’s pretty spectacular at times.

Which leads to a consideration of the most jaw-dropping moment in the video: the “Celebration of a Nation” video for the Australian bicentenary in 1988.

WHERE THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM?

I mean, the bit where the video takes time to chide Australia for its treatment of the Aborigines struck me as odd enough; I had no idea North Korea bore us such specific venom. But it was the use of the 1988 video of various famous people with mullets clapping along to a jolly song with Uluru in the background to illustrate the point that really got me. For one thing it gave me a particularly horrible flashback, but it also made me realise I’d actually completely forgotten that ad until now. (Obviously I can’t get the fucking thing out of my head now.) And who would have ever known of it outside Australia? And then there’s the equally stunning appearance of the “chk chk boom” girl, Clare Werbeloff. I can’t imagine her being known outside of the great southern land (again, I’d actually forgotten she existed as well until a short grab of her appeared in the video.) Which leads me to suspect that, if this thing was produced outside of North Korea, this is the country where it was made. Cos I can’t understand why these “defectors” would’ve specifically chosen an Australian translator to spread this thing. The Internet is the Internet, yeah, so it probably wouldn’t matter exactly who did the job, but it’s an odd detail. I could’ve understood more easily if they’d asking an American translator. But if the video were made here, the Australian accent certainly becomes more comprehensible…

And yet, and yet. If it is authentic, then there’s a certain bleak irony in North Korea of all countries pointing the finger at the West for its use of propaganda and you can get a bit of a black laugh at many of the statements herein. But many of those statements aren’t really saying anything that hasn’t been said for decades by Western intellectuals, particularly of the Marxist persuasion; no wonder it’s drawn accusations of being a product of the decadent West (maybe even my particular corner of it). The thing really is rather a slog to get through on many levels, even when you agree with the criticisms it makes (and its points on the vacuity of American celebrity are hard to deny). But if it’s not authentic, then what was the point of presenting it specifically as a North Korean production? The video could’ve been bodgied up relatively easily by someone with a good video archive, but getting someone to do the Korean narration which is audible under the Australian voiceover would’ve required rather more specially directed effort. And, as someone said on the Something Awful thread linked above, “what is the objective of the hoaxster? If it’s to make the North look crazy, they do a pretty good job of that themselves, and most people in the west already believe this anyways”.

Robert Anton Wilson tells a story in Cosmic Trigger about a man who claimed he was visited by aliens who gave him pancakes. As he observes, the story seems too bizarre to be true, but the hoax explanation is equally unsatisying. Propaganda strikes me as the video equivalent of the pancake-bearing aliens: it doesn’t really make sense if taken as true or false.

EDIT (17/4/2014): So HERE’s the background story, apparently. Only belatedly discovered this. TL;DR—yes, the film is bullshit, it’s from New Zealand (so I wasn’t too far off with that), the director (one Slavko Martinov) seems eminently pleased with himself, and none of my questions about the reason for the thing’s existence have really been satisfactorily answered.

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One thought on “Propaganda (2012)

  1. DS October 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Very good job discussing the fishy nature of this film. It’s a fascinating film, but my guess is that it is made by an Australian or a South Korean living in Australia with a master’s degree in political science or “cultural studies.” Somebody – somebody not North Korean – put a lot of time and thought into this after reading a number of books by Noam Chomsky and related authors. Another basic clue to where this isn’t from: the North Korean Workers’ Party has a unabashed department of “Propaganda and Agitation.” Far from critically examining “propaganda” as a tool of mass manipulation, the North Korean state forthrightly and consciously *uses* propaganda as a tool of mass manipulation.

    There are three possibilities regarding this clever filmmaker:
    1. The alleged “North Korean” origins of this film are used as a titillation to entice intrigued viewers into considering Western capitalist/consumerist society critically from the purported vantage point of an ideologically pure North Korea. North Korea and purported North Korean origin are just vehicles.
    2. Beyond titillation, the filmmaker is actually (or also) a fan of the North Korean state, in which case it’s left up to us to note the ironic nature of the film.
    3. The film in intentionally ironic, forcing us to struggle with the question, “Well, what really IS propaganda?” Because the images and arguments in the film lead us to the conclusion that in the “West,” we are being manipulated. At the same time, knowing that North Korea also quite intentionally uses manipulative propaganda… well, will the real propaganda please stand up?

    If it’s #3, then kudos to this exercise in criticism and irony. If it’s #2, then we have one of those kind of fashionably Marxist Marxists who might have believed in Hoxha’s Albania or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or some other latter-day dictatorship as the “real” workers’ paradise back about 30 years ago. If it’s #1, then clever, clever, but not brilliant.
    (Did you notice a whiff of stylistics of the Zeitgeist series here? I thought I did.)

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