It’s pretty clear that, in a sense, all of the time lapse videos I’ve featured here are marketing tools. They market both the film makers who created them, and the cities featured. Clearly the genre is all about making places just seem jaw-droppingly cool.
But at what point does marketing become propaganda? That is, at what point does the sales job cross the line from legitimate to illegitimate activity? I’m not sure where that line is, but a recent time lapse video of Pyongyang, North Korea by JT Singh and Rob Whitworth (who have produced other videos I’ve featured here) is on the wrong side of it.
I’m not going to embed this video on my site, but if you want to watch it you can click to Vimeo.
As you can see if you watch it, this video treats Pyongyang as just another cool emerging world global city, complete with lavish reclaimed waterfront parks, subway commuters, neon lit skyscrapers, a thriving bike culture, smiling happy kids, international brands (DHL), and more. It’s a consciously normalizing portrayal. But beyond that note elements designed deliberately to humanize the world’s most barbaric regime, ranging from using the official name of “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” instead of North Korea in the title and splash screen to eliminate negative associations, to a preponderance of very non-threatening looking female (or androgynous) police officers who help mothers with strollers cross the street and such.
For the record, North Korea is a brutal communist dictatorship that’s likely the world’s most evil regime. You’ve no doubt seen the widely circulated satellite imagery of a completely dark North Korea at night:
Image via NBC News
Oddly enough, Singh and Whitlock didn’t show us any pictures of Pyongyang’s thriving nightlife scene…. (The lack of nighttime scenes is telling given they are a standard part of the genre and feature heavily in Singh and Whitlock’s previous work such as their Shanghai video that actually playfully shows all the lights of Shanghai going out! Apparently the real deal is too much for them).
But that doesn’t even scratch surface of the inhumanity of the North Korean regime. Famine is a recurring reality in the country in which an estimated million people died during the 1990s alone. The country also runs a network of concentration camps in which even children are brutalized. Consider this report from a former guard:
Children were savaged to death by guard dogs in a North Korea concentration camp, it was revealed today. Three youngsters died straight away under the snarling jaws of the prison camp dogs, defector and former prison guard Ahn Myong-Chol said. But two others were still breathing when guards buried them alive.
Myong-Chol,45, spent eight years as a prison guard in the gulag camps before he fled to South Korea in 1994. But he is still haunted by the dog-attack on the children as they left the camp school. “There were three dogs and they killed five children,” he recalled at a Geneva human rights hearing. “They killed three of the children right away. The two others were barely breathing and the guards buried them alive.”
But instead of the dogs being put down, their handlers petted them and gave them special food “as some kind of reward.”
A recent United Nations report described the horrors that exist in the country. As CNN reported:
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday…North Korea is a state, it concluded, “that does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule of a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them from within.”
Why in the world would anyone want to have anything to do with making the North Korean regime look good? It isn’t like the filmmakers simply provided a portrayal that attempted to be nuanced and acknowledging complexities or something. Rather, this is a pure play work of propaganda.
They claim not to have been paid for their work. So what? That doesn’t change the reality of what it is. But even their own accompanying text raises troubling questions about the financing behind this. Their expenses were paid by a tour company that they claim is the market leader in North Korean tourism. Certainly at a minimum this company can’t be in that business without staying on Kim Jong-un’s good side, much less help the filmmakers “gain special access to locations.”
But that’s not even worth investigating since regardless of where the money came from, they created a video that serves the propaganda aims of the North Korean dictatorship. Without a doubt it’s “cool,” but that only makes their decision worse, not better. If in fact “Amazingly, we were given complete editorial control in the making of this piece,” that only adds to their shame in giving propaganda assistance to North Korea’s dictatorship of their own free will.