R.O.C.K. in the D.P.R.K.

What can we learn about the Hermit Kingdom from the amazing music videos it has on YouTube?


Pop quiz: name one North Korean song. Fair enough, it’s not the easiest country to get to know. And vice versa. Between the country’s self-imposed isolation and an outdated communications infrastructure (not to mention one of the world’s most autocratic regimes calling the shots), residents of the Hermit Kingdom probably aren’t watching a lot of MTV. Pyongyang Shore, anyone? Yet, even North Korea can’t completely avoid the Internet. Last year, foreign affiliates of Kim Jong-Il’s regime set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for North Korea. As Foreign Policy explained last year, a very small contingent of North Korean citizens, most of them government officials, are able to access the Internet.

Yet, over the past year, a number of music videos apparently made in North Korea have surfaced on YouTube. As Isaac Stone Fish explains, Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il Sung have fostered a nationwide enthusiasm for music. "It is music that truly permeates North Korean life, at least the parts that have been approved for foreign consumption," he writes. "Songs communicate political messages, sometimes specifically and sometimes a general reminder of the superiority of the Koreans and their society."

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