Now it’s time for a conclusion.
What effect does all of this foreign media have on North Koreans? We’ve seen already that it can affect the way they run their businesses, the way they fill their free time, and even the way they speak. It also affects the way they think, although proponents of sending material specifically targeted at North Koreans should be aware that it might not have the same effect as, say, South Korean TV dramas. The study’s authors cite defectors who were appreciative of the lack of overt messages or careful selection of subjects in dramas, and note that “North Koreans are well-practiced consumers of heavy-handed propaganda and the absence of such propaganda in South Korean dramas increases their credibility in the minds of many North Korean viewers.” In other words, North Koreans aren’t that easy to fool; they are used to propaganda, and rather than brainwashing them, it has made them sophisticated and world-wise.
What do we conclude from this? First, we see a strengthening of horizontal bonds between North Korean’s citizens and a corresponding weakening of the top-down monopoly on information flow. The growth of trust between citizens is undeniably positive.
Second, increased exposure to outside media seems to increase positive beliefs about South Korea and the United States. In the words of one defector (though his circle of acquaintances might not be representative of the population at large): “Everyone thinks highly of South Korea.” This can only help the cause of unification with South Korea and harmonization with the world at large.
One of the most telling changes in belief is the use of sarcasm. North Korea’s well-known official government position on the U.S. is that it is the source of most of the problems on the Korean peninsula. In the past, citizens all agreed. Now, though, according to a defector in February 2010, people in North Korea “[would] comment sarcastically, ‘Blame it on the U.S.!’ when things were going wrong.” It seems similar to the old standby “the dog ate my homework”—it is only funny because it is patently untrue.
There are strong changes afoot in North Korea; this quiet groundswell of available, relevant information bodes well for the future of peaceful unification on the peninsula.
The report itself makes great reading for anyone interested; it is beautifully written, clear, and contains much more quantitative analysis than I’ve included here. Their summary forms a great conclusion for our series:
“Outside information and the activities North Koreans engage in to access it also are fostering the creation of horizontal connections between North Korean citizens. These horizontal bonds, facilitated by shared implication in prohibited behaviors, economic interactions, or simply curiosity about the outside world, and created outside the watch of the state, are a breeding ground for ideas that go beyond or run counter to the regime’s espoused reality. In these most nascent seeds of civil society lies the potential for continued change on the ground level in the lives of ordinary North Koreans.”
You can also read more here: