Supress 'em all!

Whenever news of the weird trickles in from the hermit kingdom of North Korea, the commentary that follows is almost always informed by a darkly comic portrayal of the West’s  last remaining “enemy” ( look no further than the tumblr blog “Kim Jong Un looking at things”). With the recent passing of the “great leader” Kim Jong Il and the ascension of his son, Kim Jong Un, to the seat of power the visual culture of the renegade power is beginning to shift in ways that are markedly dissimilar to the propaganda philosophy that has made the country an object of ridicule in the free world.   The parting of ways has been building in recent months and reached a watershed moment in early July when North Korean state television released footage of gala concert that featured costumed Disney characters, clips from Sylvester Stallone movies and Frank Sinatra standards, performed by an all-female rock- orchestra that, according to the show’s program was assembled by the young autocrat himself (there are even growing reports that Kim’s over sight is making the DKRP more fun than ever).  It was a complete departure from the puckish, retro thought-control propaganda that was a hallmark of the Il regime and the political intent of the broadcast seems to have evaded definition in the media coverage following the event.

The initial response that raised the attention of the outside world to the concert was the explicit denial by the Disney Corporation of any sanctioning or affiliation of the Disney brand with the totalitarian regime (the very fact that Disney anticipated or even felt the need to expressly distance itself from North Korea formally is another object of fascination).   At first glance, the appropriation of Disney characters is construed as an issue of property, even piracy given the “unsanctioned” use, which not only included Disney characters but clips of all four “Rocky” films and an orchestral version of Sinatra’s “My Way”.   Most articles downplay the performance as state-theatre or focus entirely on the ironic undertones of showing such undeniably slices of Americana in center of the axis of evil.   The irony of the performance is obvious but the structure of the event is what is vitally important and is a more crucial indication of this regime’s modernist ambitions.

In this pre-mix, there is no attempt to retell the story of Belle and the Beast, or recast the role of John Rambo or Rocky Balboa, they are as they are, therefore there is no appropriation, mis or otherwise in re-presenting these characters on stage.  Merely displaying them to a global audience on a specifically North Korean  stage is sufficient to remix their symbolic strength.  If the studio conglomerates feel slighted in seeing their beloved creations hijacked by a tyrant looking to make-over his image they should see it  not as unlicensed use, Kim Jong Un is not claiming his ownership of  Mickey and Minnie but denying the  very ownership of the creators themselves – another tenet of remixology.

It should not come as a surprise that the effort to bring North Korea into a more meaningful dialogue within its’ own borders and with the outside world as well should come in the form of a remix.   It is an indication of the remix culture finally bridging the gap between the remix as online meme and remix as a concept of the cognitive mind.  Where before the remix was relegated to a life cycle contained solely online, the gala concert, filmed for state television was a product born in the real and reached its culmination only after it was uploaded online, in it’s entirety.  This development, maturing as a remix in utero, indicates a new stage in evolution of the meme as it begins to colonize the world off-line.

Judging by this national foray into remix, it would seem that the point to be made is this:  ownership of meaning or character no longer belongs to the creators but the consumers – the core belief of the remix.  Whether or not the West decodes the meaning of the concert itself is irrelevant, what matters is that these characters have a symbolic meaning to North Koreans that is completely independent of the native experience of seeing “Rocky” in Yourtown, USA.  The impression created; befuddlement, curiosity, the affront to Mickey Mouse is further indication of it fulfilling the purpose of a remix to challenge narrative and refocus dialogue.  Compared to the blundering humiliation caused by Wiley E. Coyote missile launch in the spring, in this cool rebuff of Western culture the North Korea, and more importantly young dictator Kim Jong Un, have finally connected with the exposed chin of United States by tapping into shared consciousness.


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