The Mystery That is North Korea

North Korea today constitutes one of the most isolated countries in the world. Precious little information is known about the regime; people do not come in, people do not come out. Until recently, there was only one known photo of Kim Jong-un, the purported successor to Kim Jong-il – and even today the most recent photo of the man is decades old.

North Korea is also supposedly a living hellhole. To live in North Korea is to reside in one of the poorest countries in the world. North Koreans are raised to believe that Kim Jong-il is literally a God. They live in perpetual fear of the secret police. Millions are starving from the failed economic policies of the authoritarian government.

Wait a second – if North Korea is such a mystery, how do we know all this?

The answer is that we read this in American newspapers. There is reason, however, to carry a bit of skepticism when reading the newspaper accounts of North Korea. Think about it. Most North Korean reporters have probably never set foot in the country itself, let alone talked with an actual North Korean. They file their stories from Seoul. For research, they speak for North Korean “experts” who likewise have never been in the country. If lucky, they might meet with a few exiles – but the very nature of an exile may lead to distorted information, as the United States unfortunately found out with Iraqi exiles.  One enterprising journalist from the Economist literally went to the North Korean-Chinese border and spent several hours waving at North Korean farmers (who did not wave back), before writing a 2,900-word special report on the country in Seoul.

So reporters turn to previous stories about North Korea, written by similarly clueless journalists. These accounts contain the same narrative that most of the media uses when referring to North Korea: a brainwashed populace, a ruthless and authoritarian regime, an economy in chaos, famine and deprivation. And this is what ends up on said reporter’s brand-new story – and thus on the newspapers Americans read and televisions Americans watch.

All this is not to defend North Korea, but rather to say that much of the news reported about it may not be fully sound. Hard evidence does exist of North Korean poverty; satellite pictures, for instance, indicate that much of the countryside lacks electricity (although before the Soviet Union fell and its subsidies ended, this was not the case – a fact few people know). Reports of the public shaming dealt to North Korea’s World Cup team probably constitute the truth. So does analysis of the failed currency reform this winter, which ended with a government apology (!) and the execution of a scapegoated official.

But when you read yet another newspaper account of abhorrent conditions in North Korea, check out where the story was filed from. Chances are that it comes from Seoul. Take the reporting, therefore, with a grain of salt.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

The Mystery That is North Korea

North Korea today constitutes one of the most isolated countries in the world. Precious little information is known about the regime; people do not come in, people do not come out. Until recently, there was only one known photo of Kim Jong-un, the purported successor to Kim Jong-il – and even today the most recent photo of the man is decades old.

North Korea is also supposedly a living hellhole. To live in North Korea is to reside in one of the poorest countries in the world. North Koreans are raised to believe that Kim Jong-il is literally a God. They live in perpetual fear of the secret police. Millions are starving from the failed economic policies of the authoritarian government.

Wait a second – if North Korea is such a mystery, how do we know all this?

The answer is that we read this in American newspapers. There is reason, however, to carry a bit of skepticism when reading the newspaper accounts of North Korea. Think about it. Most North Korean reporters have probably never set foot in the country itself, let alone talked with an actual North Korean. They file their stories from Seoul. For research, they speak for North Korean “experts” who likewise have never been in the country. If lucky, they might meet with a few exiles – but the very nature of an exile may lead to distorted information, as the United States unfortunately found out with Iraqi exiles.  One enterprising journalist from the Economist literally went to the North Korean-Chinese border and spent several hours waving at North Korean farmers (who did not wave back), before writing a 2,900-word special report on the country in Seoul.

So reporters turn to previous stories about North Korea, written by similarly clueless journalists. These accounts contain the same narrative that most of the media uses when referring to North Korea: a brainwashed populace, a ruthless and authoritarian regime, an economy in chaos, famine and deprivation. And this is what ends up on said reporter’s brand-new story – and thus on the newspapers Americans read and televisions Americans watch.

All this is not to defend North Korea, but rather to say that much of the news reported about it may not be fully sound. Hard evidence does exist of North Korean poverty; satellite pictures, for instance, indicate that much of the countryside lacks electricity (although before the Soviet Union fell and its subsidies ended, this was not the case – a fact few people know). Reports of the public shaming dealt to North Korea’s World Cup team probably constitute the truth. So does analysis of the failed currency reform this winter, which ended with a government apology (!) and the execution of a scapegoated official.

But when you read yet another newspaper account of abhorrent conditions in North Korea, check out where the story was filed from. Chances are that it comes from Seoul. Take the reporting, therefore, with a grain of salt.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Analyzing The Last Airbender’s Casting Controversy

Summer is in full swing, which means that Hollywood has come out with the usual set of summer blockbusters. This year’s summer movies – from Inception to Despicable Me – have generally been good quality, well-done things. Indeed, the film Inception may become one of the great classics of movie fame.

Then there was The Last Airbender, by M. Night Shyamalan – a movie which may earn the title as the worst movie this year. From its inception (pardon the pun) to its sorry release, Airbender has been dogged in the wake of controversial casting decisions.

Shyamalan has also been criticized for yellowface – casting white actors to play Asian main characters, although the TV series Avatar, upon which the movie was based off of, puts itself in an East Asian setting. The evidence for the latter claim is fairly strong. Take, for instance, the following six battles: the Siege of Ba Sing Se, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Battle of Han Tui, the Hu Xin Provinces Campaign, the Battle of Jinyang, and the Battle of Kapyong. Some are from Avatar and some constitute real-life events in Asian history.

It’s fairly difficult to tell which is which. As it turns out, the first, third, and fourth events are from Avatar; the rest are actual historical battles (congratulations if you recognized the second name, and even more congratulations if you recognized the last name).

The puzzle, then, is why Hollywood does things like this – why it, for instance, continues the practice of yellow-face more than half-a-century after blackface was rightfully ended.

Simple old-fashioned racism does not fully answer the question. Shyamalan himself is Indian, yet cast an Indian actor as the villain. Most people in entertainment are not racists in disguise, although their pool of friends may lack diversity (in this they are not much different from most people). The vast majority probably voted for President Barack Obama, for instance. Most probably view segregation or Japanese internment as tremendous wrongs in American history. Some even go all the way and marry interracially (often, ironically enough, with an Asian-American women), before casting a white actor to play an Asian lead.

The answer, rather, seems to involve economics and the faceless forces of the market. Take supply and demand. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the vast majority of Hollywood’s available labor pool is white. Becoming a Hollywood superstar is something that appeals to a very specific demographic, and that demographic is probably paler than America itself. There are, moreover, not many Asian-Americans in entertainment. Choosing the white actor to play a non-white role may simply be the easier path.

Hollywood’s writers and producers also have families to feed and ambitions to make it big, ambitions to which some principles can be sacrificed. Shyamalan and others of his industry want to make productions that sell; that constitutes the purpose of their job. And they think that a show without a white male lead would be less popular – which is often true. So they set white male leads because they think only those types of shows will sell. They make what they think the audience will accept.

Ironically, this probably causes the audience to become even less accepting of non-white, non-male leads since they’re so used to the traditional version. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Yet for all this, practices like yellow-face do not seem entirely justified from a purely financial perspective. Shaylaman’s movie, after all, turned out into a disaster despite his best efforts to appeal to white America. Americans have proved willing to watch movies with black male leads, despite early fears. Movies such as Despicable Me and District 9 have cast main characters who speak in accented English; those movies also did well.

Finally there is the international market to factor in. Rich Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan constitute an increasingly important audience. Then there is the growing market in China. China allows only twenty Hollywood movies a year; because of Shyalaman’s controversial casting, The Last Airbender will almost certainly not make the cut.

If Hollywood and the American entertainment industry wake up to these facts, they might realize that a change in practices such as yellow-face would probably gain them sales – and besides, it’d also be the right thing to do.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

A Lighthearted PR Tip for Combatants of Global Warming

With the death of the Senate energy bill, efforts to combat global climate change have reached a standstill. It does not appear that a cap-and-trade scheme is anywhere in the near future.

A number of factors killed the energy bill. Democrats from states dependent upon traditional energy, such as West Virginia, did not support the bill. Neither did previous cooperative Republicans, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Perhaps most importantly – and least mentioned – was the economic recession, which shifted the public’s concern from the environment to the pocketbook.

There was also another factor, a factor which should not have – but did – increase skepticism. This was the unusually cold winter from 2009 to 2010. A fair number of people must have thought something along the lines of “It is very cold right now – therefore global warming does not exist.” This type of attitude will continue to plague combatants of climate change as long as unusually cold winters continue to exist – which they will, given that even the worst case global warming scenarios posit an increase in temperature of less than five degrees Fahrenheit this century, far too little to end winter.

This blogger therefore has a PR suggestion for folks drumming up support to fight global warming. Instead of emphasizing the increase in temperatures, they ought to focus upon the increasing occurrence of extreme natural disasters resulting from climate change, such as Hurricane Katrina. Extremely cold winters could be used not as proof that global warming doesn’t exist, but as yet more evidence of disturbingly extreme weather caused by climate change.

A new name would help. Global warming doesn’t work, for obvious reasons. Climate change is too boring and non-attention grabbing. Adding an adjective – “extreme” climate change, for instance – would improve things. Something with words such as “intensified” and “disruptive” might work too.

This type of name-changing is harder than it initially sounds. After around an hour of thought, this individual could not come up with a non-ridiculous but adequately scary-sounding name. Scientists would eventually figure out something, however. They’re a smart bunch.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

A Lighthearted PR Tip for Combatants of Global Warming

With the death of the Senate energy bill, efforts to combat global climate change have reached a standstill. It does not appear that a cap-and-trade scheme is anywhere in the near future.

A number of factors killed the energy bill. Democrats from states dependent upon traditional energy, such as West Virginia, did not support the bill. Neither did previous cooperative Republicans, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Perhaps most importantly – and least mentioned – was the economic recession, which shifted the public’s concern from the environment to the pocketbook.

There was also another factor, a factor which should not have – but did – increase skepticism. This was the unusually cold winter from 2009 to 2010. A fair number of people must have thought something along the lines of “It is very cold right now – therefore global warming does not exist.” This type of attitude will continue to plague combatants of climate change as long as unusually cold winters continue to exist – which they will, given that even the worst case global warming scenarios posit an increase in temperature of less than five degrees Fahrenheit this century, far too little to end winter.

This blogger therefore has a PR suggestion for folks drumming up support to fight global warming. Instead of emphasizing the increase in temperatures, they ought to focus upon the increasing occurrence of extreme natural disasters resulting from climate change, such as Hurricane Katrina. Extremely cold winters could be used not as proof that global warming doesn’t exist, but as yet more evidence of disturbingly extreme weather caused by climate change.

A new name would help. Global warming doesn’t work, for obvious reasons. Climate change is too boring and non-attention grabbing. Adding an adjective – “extreme” climate change, for instance – would improve things. Something with words such as “intensified” and “disruptive” might work too.

This type of name-changing is harder than it initially sounds. After around an hour of thought, this individual could not come up with a non-ridiculous but adequately scary-sounding name. Scientists would eventually figure out something, however. They’re a smart bunch.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

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