Gianluca Spezza takes news outlets to task for coverage of North Korea that he argues falsely portrays the nation as secretive and strange. Noting a number of recent stories and photo journalism pieces offering a "rare glimpse" into the "highly secretive" state, Spezza argues that modifiers such as these have become a lazy shorthand that no longer holds water.
"Would a truly 'secretive' state allow so many tourists in to take and publish these 'rare images from the Hermit Kingdom?' " he wonders. "These 'sneak peeks through the keyhole' are really showing us that North Korea is making a huge effort to bring foreign investors and tourists in."
Similarly, Spezza questions whether the common meme of covering North Korea as strange and unpredictable holds any validity given that we've seen the same "unpredictable" behavior for so long and can easily surmise that it all boils down to one thing--propaganda.
As he puts it, "everything the country does can be considered primarily a propaganda project, from the Ryugyong Hotel to the smallest anti-U.S. leaflet. One may divide the leisure-oriented projects from the serious ones, but they’re all done to appease the most important sectors of the population and the army, to preserve domestic legitimacy."
Building on these points, Spezza closes by attacking the myth that anyone who doesn't openly oppose North Korea is supporting the regime. Instead, he maintains, we could better understand the country and help spur positive reforms by engaging it honestly and openly.
Aside from the political import of Spezza's argument, what's interesting to me is the way the piece highlights how certain popular modifiers in the news can operate as memes, spread, and become an almost irresistible shorthand. Just as it seems nearly impossible to write "North Korea" without attaching "secretive" or "strange" (I actually had to resist the urge several times in this post), certain celebrities, policies, politicians and other nations seem to carry with them their own baggage of preconceived notions that unpack themselves in lazy modifiers.
Take for instance, the way Russia is commonly portrayed in popular media these days. It seems almost impossible to read about the country without some reference to it or its population as corrupt, dangerous, or borderline psychotic. Regardless of the truth, from a writer's standpoint, it's interesting to step back and look at these things and consider how prejudice becomes cemented in cliche.
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