Trivializing Tragedy

I know I can't be the only one who finds this really, really creepy and nauseating:

Until the 1990's, South Korean schoolchildren were awarded prizes for drawing posters depicting diabolical North Koreans. Then the South's so-called sunshine policy of engagement transformed North Koreans into real human beings in the minds of South Koreans and in popular movies like "Joint Security Area."

Now, after more than half a decade of rapprochement, the North is all the rage, in a retro-kitschy fashion, and North Koreans are seen not as threatening aggressors but as country bumpkin cousins, needing an introduction to big-city life.

North Korean defectors and South Koreans alike are opening North Korean-themed restaurants, selling North Korean goods and auctioning off North Korean artwork on

Half a century of division has turned the South into the world's most wired society, as its consumer products and pop culture increasingly shape the tastes of youth across Asia.

North Korea, meanwhile, has remained frozen in time, a repository — at least to someone with a sharp nose for marketing — of an unchanged Korea.

"North Korea is retro," said Jong Su Ban, 42, a North Korean defector who plans to open a North Korean restaurant, Ok Ru Ok, in Seoul soon. "It reminds South Koreans of the 1950's and 1960's, before South Korea industrialized. They see handmade crafts that are not sophisticated, and they think, 'It's like us before we developed.' "

Well isn't that special. Retro. Kitsch. Bumpkins. Aren't they so chic, all those starving people with boots on their throats?

Excuse me, I have to go scream into my pillow now.

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That's how the hipsters of

That's how the hipsters of Berlin, nowadays, think of East Germany. It was less fun, a bit drab, but really just a different way of life - slower, more bookish perhaps, but not really any "worse". Old East German bloc housing in all it's Le Corbusierian glory is all the rage right now. Crazy.

Don't knock it. Short of

Don't knock it. Short of military action (either external or internal), the downfall of the guy wearing the boots is going to come through slow dissolution and eventual collapse - like the Soviet Union and East Germany. Anything that draws the two Koreas together culturally is good.

It's a step up from the way

It's a step up from the way they were villainized in the '90s, but don't you think this is a swing too far in the opposite direction? I'd rather see a genuine sense of concern for the wellbeing of their Northern neighbors than this disturbingly crass admixture of patronizing them and romanticizing life up there at the same time. I hope you're right Eddie, but it still leaves a really bad taste in my mouth (for similar reasons that Che Guevera T-shirts do, but this is much worse)...

I'm reminded of the

I'm reminded of the nauseating fad in the US for Che, Mao, etc. kitsch.

I don't see how West Germans

I don't see how West Germans could have romanticized East Germany. There was none of the old world charm there. There was nothing charming about it. Add to that the block in the flow of goods and services, I don't see how it could happen. I suppose anyone can romanticize anything.

Anyone see that great movie, "Goodbye, Lenin?"

“North Korean defectors

“North Korean defectors and South Koreans alike are opening North Korean-themed restaurants, selling North Korean goods.”

Oh goody, I wonder if they are selling any of those special radios
that every North Korean family has at home, which has the dial soldered to one station and that you can’t turn off. You get jail time if you get caught with a movable dial radio. You can get all of “ Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il’s speeches and the latest news, martial music and reports of industrial production.
Also, when can we get our copies of dear leaders central planning manuals and exercise CDs for his Weight Watchers program?

Oh brighten up. It was when

Oh brighten up. It was when overseas Chinese and Taiwanese started to visit China again and think of it less as an evil empire to be overcome that a degree of liberalization actually took place in mainland China. Yeah, it's a little crass but it might all work out for the better.

Ben, are you positing a

Ben, are you positing a causal explanation there? Isn't is equally possible (and maybe more likely) that the causal arrow goes the other way -- that they started coming back because of the steps toward liberalization? I don't know that much about recent Chinese history, but I think that kind of assertion needs a little backing up.

In any case, I still don't see how this sort of awful crassness is necessary.

I tend to agree with

I tend to agree with Benjamin. I don't think it's a matter of causation. It's just people trying to come to terms with some really, really sore subjects in their history. The bottom line is that for all NK represents, NK is just a symbol. People playing with their own mythology - even trivializing it - is a way to start to integrate an (admittedly horrid) experience that no single human can really wrap their minds around. The bottom line is that it works, and it starts to get people thinking about things that otherwise they'd have other people think about.

In other words, I don't grant the capitalist detractors of all this any superior, alternative ability to judge NK. Culture is what happens when the economists are off theorizing, the moralists are off moralizing, etc. Far be it from me to sound anti-intellectual, but let's leave fashion to the designers, who know much more about irony, it seems, than we do.

"In other words, I don’t

"In other words, I don’t grant the capitalist detractors of all this any superior, alternative ability to judge NK."

Do I have your permission to make basic moral judgements?