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21. Igor and Gleb Aleinikov's Revolutionary Sketch (1987)
I'm reading B.R. Myers' The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, a study of the DPRK's self-image as projected by its propaganda, internal and external. I admit to being intrigued by the self-promotional materials of communist or otherwise "closed" regimes. But who isn't? Maudlin, melodramatic, tone-deaf, irony-free, reality-blind, heavy on symbolism, low on abstraction -- this stuff's pure gold, and it's only getting rarer.
Myers argues -- and I've not yet finished the book, so I don't have all the nuances down -- that the Kim regime actually maintains just enough real popular support that they're desperate to retain it by any means necessary. One of the means is a whole hell of a lot of mythologizing about North Korea's international influence, the inherent saintliness of its people and the competence of it leaders. Interestingly, Myers notes that, in contrast to Soviet press releases about bumper crops in times of visibly widespread hunger, Kim's propagandists are pretty careful about not contradicting the populace's perceived reality too directly.
Maybe this is why, here in the non-North Korea world, we hear so many stories about a nonzero amount North Koreans sincerely believing these pronouncements from their high officials. And maybe it's why, by the late 80s, Soviet citizens weren't terribly pious about pronouncements from theirs. In Revolutionary Sketch, Igor and Gleb Aleinikov get up to their usual recontextualization tricks, this time with the sappy, force-fed media that proclaimed the glory of, I don't know, dialectical materialism or whatever.
I know these were glasnost days, but still, I'm a little surprised filmmakers were out there doing stuff like this. There's nothing overtly anti-communist in this piece, but it ain't what you'd call respectful, 'neither. The brothers Aleinikov lay turgid governmental speeches about "the rearing of a new man" under footage of dudes goofing around in space-alien costumes, they roll footage of apple-cheeked future Stakhanovites upside down and backwards, they crudely animate -- in a certain South Parkian way -- CCCP icons in a goofy manner. Good, clean fun.
I often wonder what North Koreans, should the remains of their state ideology crumble away, will do with their leftover agitprop. Will marginal teen and twentysomething filmmakers get ahold of it and perform Aleinikov-style cuttings and pastings? (Does North Korea have marginal teen and twentysomething gilmmakers? Will their cuttings and pastings make it to YouTube?) Or does the Kim dynasty's much stronger psychological grip, which will surely take its sweet time -- perhaps generations -- to fully loosen, preclude that?
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