There’s a lot of reasons that this is the most durable Stalinist regime in the world and why they’re still there. But change is happening and it’s coming through technology. Park Sang-Ha is floating balloons with DVDs into North Korea. Ken Cho Wan is smuggling in thumb drives and DVDs. So North Korea is kind of getting flooded with movies, especially soap operas from South Korea, which are popular with everyone (go watch some!). Things like South Korean Wikipedia: imagine the knowledge of a nation made by its people, editable by its people, and it’s not an official version.
One of the things I discovered (and I say this because we’re in a room full of book people) in writing my book, was that there isn’t literature in North Korea. The Japanese begin their occupation in 1910, and in the colonial period not only were you not allowed to have Korean names (eventually everyone had to be renamed with Japanese names), not only did they take 800,000 slaves to the mainland to run the factories (and comfort women and all those things), but the Daegeum became illegal, the taegum flute became illegal, and you had to read Japanese literature. And then there was no literature! They lost connection with their own stories. A century ago.
I’m not one for country music. Sure, I bought that Faith Hill album, I enjoyed Taylor Swift’s Red. And we all have that one friend who makes country more than a little acceptable. So on the invitation of a friend, I attended the dress rehearsal / soft opening of Always… Patsy Cline at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and can easily recommend it as an evening well spent. #mydayinla #alwayspatsycline
I often remark to friends, in the course of conversation, that Americans always look for a happy ending. These conversations typically turn about some cultural reference, usually a movie or story, and somewhere in there is an expression (by one of us present) of a preference for a narrative to have a certain outcome, in other words, to have a happy ending.
Like many people, I’ve gotten myself sucked into Serial, the new spinoff podcast from This American Life. I hesitated to do so at first, partially because I did not want to be manipulated on this grand drama that would arc out over months and then fizzle. I’m not one to normally go in for a murder mystery or a procedural thriller (there are exceptions, as we’ll later see). Basically because there’s only so many ways to tell a story of mistaken innocence or unpunished guilt, so many twists that you can add, I was sure that Sarah Koenig was simply going to give us a longer version of a story from her normal show, This American Life, a normal story that just had all the extra details put back in. And maybe some emotional manipulation of the audience. And then I listened to that first podcast episode. And I was hooked. Continue reading →
So there was a lot of press last month about new laws to try and limit rape on university campuses, particularly a new rule that emphasizes the need for, “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement,” to continuously exist between partners. And while this is and should be a basic principle of law, perhaps we should re-examine how our tacit endorsement of “free love” in universities is used as a licence by power-hungry and sexually aggressive men to coerce women. Once upon a time, the institution of marriage was used to regulate these sorts of things, treating any sexual contact between non-married parties as not just taboo, but semi-coercive. (Granted, I’m skipping over the really ugly problem of “marital rape” that existed, but only for the moment.) The sexual revolution has burst apart all but the darkest of taboos in our culture. And yet it has coincided with a perverse rise in the sexualization of young girls, of a (continued) failure to teach boys how to treat women, and a system of higher education that throws teenagers into under-regulated environments with far too few ways to protect their own bodies from exploitation.
We easily forget how fascism works: as a bright and shining alternative to the mundane duties of everyday life, as a celebration of the obviously and totally irrational against good sense and experience. Fascism features armed forces that do not look like armed forces, indifference to the laws of war in their application to people deemed inferior, the celebration of “empire” after counterproductive land grabs. Fascism means the celebration of the nude male form, the obsession with homosexuality, simultaneously criminalized and imitated. Fascism rejects liberalism and democracy as sham forms of individualism, insists on the collective will over the individual choice, and fetishizes the glorious deed. Because the deed is everything and the word is nothing, words are only there to make deeds possible, and then to make myths of them. Truth cannot exist, and so history is nothing more than a political resource. Hitler could speak of St. Paul as his enemy, Mussolini could summon the Roman emperors. Seventy years after the end of World War II, we forgot how appealing all this once was to Europeans, and indeed that only defeat in war discredited it. Today these ideas are on the rise in Russia, a country that organizes its historical politics around the Soviet victory in that war, and the Russian siren song has a strange appeal in Germany, the defeated country that was supposed to have learned from it.
“I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, ‘I was there.’ What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future. After all, God is God because he remembers.”