Don't confuse this with Panorama sending John Sweeney to North Korea in the imaginatively titled 'North Korea Uncovered' in which our heroic reporter destroys communism by dicking about. "This is an electricity factory" says Sweeney "But none of the lights are on." BOOM! Nice journalism, Sweeneyator. "Look, I've snuck out of my room after lights out and might try and climb over a fence. Aren't I the naughtiest boy in the dorm?" At one point he 'interrogates' a nurse in an empty hospital. "There's no one in this hospital is there? Come on! You can't fool us." I'm not quoting him directly here. I don't need to. You can imagine his voice: "BLAH BLAH BLAH!" That's probably the most accurate quote of all. Sweeney is a panicky, irksome, shit-stirrer. Plain and simple. It's quite incredible that he was able to interview the obnoxious, fraudulent and loathsome Church of Scientology and still somehow make them seem less revolting by comparison. He has all the subtlety and investigative instinct of a breeze block being hurled from the top of a flyover.
|John Sweeney: The arsey, loud-mouthed Just William
of investigative journalism.
In fairness to Sweeney, his team did manage to get some secret filming showing just how bad things had become (people scraping about in the mud for food, or maybe they'd lost their contact lenses. It's hard to tell), but 'A State of Mind' managed to hint at just the same thing whilst, presumably, satisfying the North Korean junta that they had nothing to fear from the film. One of the mothers of a schoolgirl talking about the 'Ardous March' (the euphemism for the terrible famine that is said to have killed millions in the 1990s) and how difficult things had been was particularly moving. More fortunate North Koreans had to live on one chicken and six eggs per person per month, plus anything else they could lay their hands on. Even though she could only talk about hardships in party-friendly terms of self-resilience and striving forward for socialism and the dastardly machinations of the American Imperialists, the strain in her eyes when papering over it all was painfully telling. Certainly more telling than Sweeney visiting a library and saying "Have you got 1984 by George Orwell?" and then giving the camera a look which said 'That's right. Bringing down communism, yeah?'
What was so majestically appealing about the BBC Four documentary was the ability of normal people to live almost normal lives under the most difficult conditions. This may seem vaguely patronising (after all, we capitalists manage it) but under the jackboot it seems that people can still laugh and relax and have close relationships. The propaganda may be relentless, the living conditions may be harsh, but you can't spell 'totally communism' without community, and there really did seem to be a great sense of that. Almost a 1940s Blitz mentality to it all; a glory in strife, a real sense of togetherness. That's probably no coincidence. The best way to spy on your neighbours is to share dinner with them.
|Bringing down America one
red ball at a time.
North Korea is a time-capsule, a Stalinist museum of a world fifty years passed its sell by date. Its inhabitants dress and look like they belong to a former age, right down to slender men with side partings and secondhand suits and soldiers in green fatigues from a by-gone era. It is a museum and its people are living exhibits, whether they like it or not. It is unsustainable, bleak and oppressive, and yet the spirit of its people and the fact that it exists at all is undeniably compelling.