By Adam Taylor
December 11, 2017
North Korea’s new propaganda tool: Soap operas
North Korean state media is often known for its bombast and fiery rhetoric. But spend some time watching North Korea’s televised dramas and soap operas, and you may be surprised to see that the country acknowledges some of its weaknesses, too.
For example, the family sitcom “Our Neighbors” is set in a splashy high-rise building in Pyongyang’s Changjon Street neighborhood. The show seems designed to show off how far life for North Korea’s political elite has come over recent years, with many of the scenes centered around the building’s elevator — still a high-tech novelty for most North Koreans.
However, “Our Neighbors” doesn’t ignore North Korean hardships, either. In one episode, the power goes out in the neighborhood. These well-heeled North Koreans are forced to lug buckets of water up the stairs. One resident jogs on the spot outside, cheerily telling his neighbors that “my heart has to be strong if I’m going to walk up all these stairs.”
The message seems clear: North Koreans need to be resourceful and strong in the face of problems.
This moment and others like it were highlighted by research by Jean Lee, formerly the Associated Press bureau chief in Pyongyang and now a fellow with the Wilson Center in Washington. In a report published last week with the Korea Economic Institute of America, Lee examined four television shows that aired in North Korea between 2012 and 2016.