Last week I told you about a CNN story about North Korean defector Lee Min-bok, who had reportedly used balloons to drop 80,000 copies of The Interview over North Korea. This week, The Hollywood Reporter published a new piece from Paul Bond, who was actually embedded with some of the balloon droppers. Among other things, he corrects the 80,000 number, saying his sources put the number at more like 200.
Meanwhile, a rival balloonist (yes, those exist) THR spoke to claims Lee’s balloons probably never even made it to the north because of winds. Park Sang-Hak was a Pyongyang elite (as Paul Fischer noted, almost every defector you hear from are either elites with enough freedom of movement to escape or people who lived in the border regions) who escaped across the Yalu river with his mother and sister. The North Korean government responded by beating his uncle to death, and now that Park is a high-profile propaganda smuggler, he’s been the target of numerous assassination attempts, including a foiled 2011 plot that involved a poisoned needle disguised as a pen and a gun that looked like a flashlight. Poor North Koreans, here in the good old US of A, we use our fake flashlights to have sex with.
Interestingly, the copies of The Interview Park risks death to smuggle past censors are themselves censored:
Now, Park uses the helium-filled balloons to distribute DVDs and USB drives that begin with five minutes of typical North Korean propaganda before switching abruptly to a 12-minute subtitled edit of Interview — a bit from the beginning, middle and end, with the more vulgar parts removed. For those who risk prison and death to view the video, the revelation is seeing Kim portrayed as a source of ridicule and not, as propagandists insist, a deity sent from heaven to rule North Korea like his father and grandfather before him.
The report also sheds some light on how the true numbers end up getting distorted.
It is major news in South Korea, repeated several times during the next few days — usually with exaggeration. Park was trying to deliver 100,000 complete copies of The Interview, according to local media reports, but in truth he had 2,000 copies of his 12-minute excerpt. [HollywoodReporter]
And international media end up picking up the reports, since most don’t have their own reporters on the ground.
While defectors and defector groups risk it all to do the balloon drops, lots of South Koreans have their own issues with the effort, from the idea that it’s “needless provocation” to the danger of bullets fired at the balloons from the North landing in the South. Lots of folks commenting on our last post about the drops wondered how many people could even watch these DVDs, assuming they even got to them. On that note, THR writes:
By some estimates, 74 percent of North Koreans have access to a TV set, 46 percent to a DVD player, and there are about 8 million PCs and tablets among a population of about 25 million.
To elaborate further on that, I recently read historian Andrei Lankov’s The Real North Korea, which came out in 2013, and made sure to bookmark the DVD section:
From around 2000, VCRs and soon afterward, DVD players, began to spread in North Korea in large numbers. These machines are cheap and perfectly legal. It was assumed the North Koreans would use them to watch officially approved and idealogically wholesome fare, like, say, biopics of the dear leader and his extended family. However, North Koreans usually prefer to watch something different, and rather ideologically suspicious: smuggled foreign movies and TV dramas, often those produced in South Korea.
As always is the case with North Korea, statistics are highly unreliable. According to Chinese customs, 350,000 DVD players were brought to North Korea in 2006 alone. A large number for a country with a population of some 24 million. It seems that in border areas and major cities, one out of every three or four families has a DVD player nowadays. A study by the InterMedia research group concluded that in 2009, the penetration rate was 21% and 5% for VCD and DVD players, respectively. From my own research, it seems that in the borderland areas of the country, some 70 to 80 percent of all households were in possession of DVD players by early 2012.
That figure also doesn’t include computers, which Lankov estimates “the number of privately owned computers, or comptuers that can be accessed with relative ease, now definitely exceeds 100,000 and is likely to reach a few hundred thousand.”
And then there was this:
[…] A Western diplomat recently related to the present author that USB memory sticks have become a popular fashion accessory among the privileged Pyongyang youth. The message is unmistakeable: by sporting a USB, an individual demonstrates that he/she has access to a computer, one of the important status symbols in present-day Pyongyang.
USB jewelry! Take that, pointy boots. Man, I hope we start to get some news reports out of North Korea as the regime collapses, because the absurdist, Mad Max sh*t that goes on there is going to put any movie to shame. Oh, and yes, according to the THR piece, plans are in place to include Team America in the next DVD drop.
[Check out the full Hollywood Reporter piece here]