How a Famous American Cartoon May Forever Change North Korea

November 02, 2017Nov 02, 2017

"Kim Jong Un's iron grip on the North Korean people is weakening," writes Carol Morello for the National Post. "And an information campaign rooted in soap operas and dramas could help advance a civilian uprising, a prominent defector told a U.S. congressional panel."


According to Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat in North Korea's embassy in London, great and unexpected changes are currently taking place throughout North Korea. In Thae's view, free markets are increasingly popular. The welfare state is currently collapsing under stiff sanctions. And state propaganda is being shunned by more people as South Korean television programs become popular among the people — often with fierce opposition by the official regime. 

The desire for greater increased access to movies and television has forced the regime to permit the sale of Soviet-era films and American cartoons such as "Tom and Jerry," "Lion King," and "Beauty and the Beast." 

“The changes make it increasingly possible to think of a civilian uprising in North Korea as more people are gradually informed of the reality of living conditions,” said Thae. “The North Korean government will either have to change and adapt in positive ways for its citizens or face the consequences of their escalating dissatisfaction."

Thae's presence in the United States, especially in front of a congressional panel, would have been unthinkable only several years ago. But the man has recently dedicated his time to inform the West about the condition of Kim Jung Un's iron grip on the country — it's loosening, says Thae, and there is nothing that the North Korean regime can do about it.

“Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong Un at least once to understand his thinking and to try to convince him that he would be destroyed if he continues his current direction,” he said. 

So how will "Tom and Jerry," along with other cartoons forever change North Korea? Thae believes that it will awaken the citizens to the reality of their living conditions, particularly to what inhumane poverty a vast majority of the country currently endure. Thae also believes — and hopes — that the introduction of these cartoons will cause an uprising, in part because the citizens want freedom, which they will be in part introduced to through these American films. 

NPR has documented that despite many movies being illegal in North Korea, citizens still find a way of watching them through the black market. As an example, NPR tells the story of Yeonmi Park, who once lived in North Korea as a young girl near the Chinese border. While visiting her uncle's house, she would often watch illegal movies. 

In order to hide what they were doing, they would cover the windows with blankets, turn the volume down, and huddle very close to the television. One of the movies that she remembers watching as a little girl was a pirated copy of Titanic. Park, now 24, escaped North Korea in 2007. By the time she was able to escape from the country she had already seen movies such as the James Bond films, South Korean dramas, and American wrestling matches.

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