*The Cleanest Race*

This is a very interesting book about the ideologies behind North Korea.  The author is B.R. Myers and the subtitle is How North Koreans See Themselves — and Why it Matters.  Excerpt:

One searches these early works in vain for a sense of fraternity with the world proletariat.  The North Koreans saw no contradiction between regarding the USSR as developmentally superior on the one hand and morally inferior on the other.  (The parallel to how South Koreans have always viewed the United States is obvious.)  Efforts to keep this contempt a secret were undermined by over-confidence in the impenetrability of the Korean language and the inability of all nationalists to put themselves in a foreigner's shoes.  The Workers' Party was taken by surprise, for example, when Red Army authorities objected to a story about a thuggish Soviet soldier who mends his ways after encountering a saintly Korean street urchin — another child character symbolizing the purity of the race.

I  liked this bit as well:

The lack of conflict makes North Korean narratives seem dull even in comparison to Soviet fiction.  Rather than try to stimulate curiosity about what will happen next, directors and writers try to make one wonder what has already happened.  Films introduce characters in a certain situation (getting a medal, say), then go back and forth in time to explain how they got there.  Nowhere in the world do writers make such heavy use of the flashback.  But we should beware of assuing that people in the DPRK find these narratives as dull as we do.  The Korean aesthetic has traditionally been very tolerant of convention and formula.  (South Korean broadcasters rework the same few soap-opera plots every year).  According to refugee testimony, however, most North Koreans prefer stories set either in the "Yankee colony" or in pre-revolutionary times, with real villains and conflict.

I also recommend the new book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick.  Excerpt:

North Koreans have multiple words for prison in much the same way that the Inuit do for snow.

From the WSJ, here is a joint review of the two books.


The claim that the Inuit have many words for snow is a myth:

Americans have multiple words for prison, too. As well as multiple words for snow.

South Korean broadcasters rework the same few soap-opera plots every year
so they are like Hollywood? Star Wars and the overvalued copy Galactica. CSi, New York, Las Vegas , Florida, Ncsi, ncsi Los Angeles.
400 hundred version of the Three Musketeers and of Dracula.

k, you should watch some South Korean TV. There's a lot of garbage on American television but they do occasionally turn out some new, innovated, and quality programs - South Korea, by contrast, really does run the same old soap opera in slightly different packaging over and over.

The North Koreans saw no contradiction between regarding the USSR as developmentally superior on the one hand and morally inferior on the other

Can anyone think of ANY culture, that was developmentally inferior at any point, that didn't reach exactly this conclusion?

Are there any cultures, developmentally inferior or otherwise, that consider themselves morally inferior to their neighbors?

It would seem that considering yourself morally inferior is a luxury you have when you are "developmentally" or otherwise superior in some other tangible way, such that your culture or national identity is not threatened.

When you aren't dominant, you either create a myth of some intangible superiority, or you get assimilated into the dominant culture.

To use what Careless said as an example, Americans can largely complain about their own moral inferiority, because they have a national identity and sense of self-determination that is unassailable. Americans believe they are the center of the universe, and from a certain economic and geo-political standpoint they are correct. In fact, the people who complain about the moral inferiority of America also usually complain about its power and influence. Where as, Canadians need a sense of moral superiority to Americans (as an example), because without a sense of national moral superiority to Americans, they would be Americans... without a sense of moral superiority to unite them and give the concept of "Canada" with a meaning beyond geography, they would largely be assimilated into American culture.

"North Koreans have multiple words for prison in much the same way that the Inuit do for snow."

I doubt they have more than we have in English. Here are the ones that come to my mind without much thought: jug: clink ;nick; big house; up river; prison; jail; stir; doing porridge; calaboose; inside; doing time; sing sing; pokey; the hole; sent down.

I bet there are loads more. I wonder how many the N Koreans have.

When I taught at alternative school I quickly learned the difference between prison, jail, detention, treatment, ju-vee and lock-up. I always like saying, "Hey, you're over 18, if I have to call your PO it'll be big boy jail." Made me feel like I was on The Wire.

Also, that snow thing is a long debunked myth. Every culture that deals with snow has many words for snow.

Actually, it's not a "double blind" urban myth.

First and foremost, the Inuit have no more roots pertaining to the concept of "snow" than we have snow-words in English, so it's a bit of a moot point.

Secondly, if you really intend to go "well, you're defining "word" too narrowly!" that's your business, but then you must also accept that the Inuit have a bazillion words for UFOs, water, fir trees, dirt, and summer, making the whole "umpety words for snow" argument incredibly irrelevant.

The idea is that they have lots of words for snow (if you accept this as true, you also have to accept it as meaningless), more than English (not true), and that this says Something Important about their culture (not true, because of the first two points).

Actually English has many words for prison too:

-penal colony
-the big house

English has many words for snow too.


How many words for "snow" do monolingually English-speaking skiers have?

I wonder how the North Koreans view the Chinese next door. Supposedly, China and North Korea are close as "lips and teeth." However, I've read enough travel and photo blogs by Chinese tourists who visited North Korea that point out that their scrutiny by the guides and isolation from the locals is no different than that of Western tourists.

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