New Emissary

The Art of ‘Pyongyangology?’

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New Emissary

The Art of ‘Pyongyangology?’

The study of North Korean propaganda may provide more insight into the nation.

That propaganda at its ‘best’ can involve campaigns that sweep across nations, subtly affecting hundreds of thousands if not millions, is mind-boggling. The difficulty of measuring its effectiveness only adds to the intrigue.

I’ve mentioned the phenomenon several times this year, including South Korea’s use of pop music as propaganda warfare against the DPRK and the Iranian state’s movie version of a real-life kidnapping case involving one of its nuclear scientists.

Now, Voice of America has covered the topic in light of all of the recent developments in North Korea, including speculation surrounding the country’s imminent leadership change.

According to the report, there exists a specific branch of study involving propaganda and the DPRK called ‘Pyongyangology’—the last known branch of Kremlinology, which was the ‘art of studying the Soviet Union's opaque central government during the Cold War.’

And Pyongyangology, though purely speculative, has been coming up with some thought-provoking insight into what might be happening in the Hermit Kingdom as of late.

First, it seems that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official news organization, recently went out on a limb with its coverage of Typhoon Kompasu, which swept through the nation mid-month, killing at least a dozen. Apparently, by simply stating the number of causalities caused by the disaster, it broke away from its usual format of never revealing death tolls.

VOA senior reporter Won-Ki Choi, himself now a Pyongyangologist, suggests that this unusual break from the standard reporting style by state media would have been noticed by North Koreans and may have been the regime’s subtle way of explaining to them the mysterious delays to a key party meeting that was held finally this week.

Pyongyangologists, who ‘slog through mountains of propaganda’ that is ‘very repetitive and full of clichés’ apparently also keep track of North Korean musical trends. ‘Footsteps,’ a song that’s been ‘blaring across the country’ this past year, highlights the qualities of Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un. This may have been a fairly unsubtle hint about the outcome of the leadership succession.

Of course, it’s unlikely that Pyongyangology—however dedicated its practitioners—will be able to ever fully unveil the inner workings of North Korea’s leadership. Still, these examples suggest it’s not without its value.