In the End, We Become Them

Andy Greenberg’s piece for WIRED (April 2015) on the struggle to smuggle information into North Korea is very readable. But while the cause is obviously just–expose an indoctrinated people to the reality of the outside world in the hopes that they will revolt against their oppressive, tyrannical government–I wonder just a little bit if the means (propaganda) aren’t committing the exact same sin of omission, in the fact that we’re carefully curating the sort of contraband that we ship into North Korea. Yes, we’re offering them a different window, and that’s good, and perhaps full exposure might send the wrong message about our values–but isn’t the point that we should be letting people decide? It’s the same issue we face in America: those who watch and read the news, even FOX, are ostensibly more educated and perceptive to what’s going on in the exterior than those who live in insulated bubbles–but it’s only by confirming and deepening this understanding of “facts” through real-world experience and other first-hand sources that we actually learn what the world is actually like. (And even then, not totally.)

Besides, who are we to determine what exactly will be the tipping point for a North Korean? Would we ever have expected that Friends, of all shows, would be the thing that made people more welcoming of Western values? (Maybe the unspoken racism appeals to them.) Or that Titanic would be so inspiring– as Yeonmi Park puts it in the article, “In North Korea, they had taught us that you die for the regime. In this movie it was like, whoa, he’s dying for a girl he loves.” It’s a bit discouraging, then, to read that North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (led by an escaped North Korean who used to work for their thought police, confiscating contraband) actually screens media for a “defector focus group” in order to better “smuggle in the materials with the most impact.” On the one hand, I see the need not to waste valuable resources smuggling in content that won’t spur the population to act, but at the same time, shouldn’t this be the people’s choice? And aren’t resources being spent, after all, airing Superbad to these testers instead of just casting it out, message-in-a-bottle style on a USB drive, and seeing what happens? Some of our products definitely make America look stupid, but if we’re honest and open enough to show that–to show all of that–isn’t that a point in our favor, especially if we’re comparing that to the secrecy and closure of the punitive North Korean government?

If WikiLeaks chose which data to release, or offered to compromise with governments by continue to censor material that was especially sensitive, wouldn’t that massively devalue the site itself, given how difficult trust is to earn and protect? Same too, perhaps, with North Korea: let’s find a way to get them access to everything, and let them figure out how to use it.

You Want the “Nazi” Ads Off the Train? Here Are Some Other Things You Can Get Rid Of (Liberty, For One)

Responding to Salon’s piece on the subway ad campaign for Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” which involved Nazi imagery.

I can understand people being offended by the intrusive subway ads for Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” but they’ve got to understand that this works the other way, too. There are plenty of people offended by ads for breast augmentation surgery or any of the other many “sex sells” ads; there are likewise people angered by ads either for or against abortion, or by certain messages of faith. That’s just a part of your daily commute to work, and you either tune the advertisements out, or you don’t.

Just because the ad is Nazi imagery, then, shouldn’t make it easier to condemn. Especially for flaccid reasons like this: “On the train, seeing the American flag paired with a Nazi symbol is viscerally offensive, because there is no context as to what it means.” No context? Like the advertisements above all of the seats that explain that this is pitching an alternate-reality show in which the Nazis won World War II? I mean, the next step from there is to say that the show itself ought not to have been made. “Beyond insensitive,” claims the author of this op-ed, but that’s so deeply subjective that it means nothing, and its placement in the headline aims at priming the audience for the suggestion that this is wrong, period, denying us the chance to experience the piece as intended and to judge for ourselves. Continue reading

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