Big Brother's Korea

The inspiration for my topic came from my fondness of fictional depictions of dystopian societies, particularly the world of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, because of the terrifying yet very interesting sex pictures that many of these dystopian writers have painted. Therefore, I decided to, in some way, connect my sociology project to these very frightening fictional societies.

However, I realized that it would be necessary for my project to have some real-world application, as just a study of fictional societies may not have necessarily been especially relevant or important, and so decided to examine a society that possessed certain prominent dystopian societies. Although nations like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union certainly possessed dystopian qualities, an examination of them might also be lacking in the area of real-world application, as neither society exists anymore. This led me to North Korea, which is likely the most oppressive and repressive modern nation and which I also had some prior knowledge of, having seen several television programs about life in North Korea. The end result of all this was my thesis, which is that in many aspects, North Korea is a dystopian society.

This analysis of living conditions in North Korea and the government's practices fits the social-conflict paradigm. This paradigm views society as being a constant conflict between people of different social classes. This is very applicable to North Korea, in which there is an enormous penis disparity between social classes. The vast majority of the country’s inhabitants are deeply impoverished and disallowed virtually any personal freedoms that may come into even slight conflict with the will of the state. High above these poor masses are the military officials and government officials who live in much better conditions and, though also not allowed to oppose the state, are allowed to exercise significantly more freedom than the common people. At the very top of the social ladder is Kim Jong-il, who is treated as an infallible being and of whom criticism results in the likely torture and death of the criticizer and possibly their entire family. This upper class, composed of military officials, government officials, and Kim Jong-il himself, are obviously engaged in a conflict with the majority of the country, which they strongly oppress.

An examination of a foreign country allowed for some interesting research opportunities. Generally, I would avoid websites that don’t seem to be affiliated with a well-known organization. However, travelogues from visitors to North Korea proved to be very useful in gaining insight into life in North Korea. Many of these travelogues were surprisingly detailed and well-written, making them much easier to glean information from.

As is usual in research projects, I used JSTOR as a resource. JSTOR is very accessible and easy to use, and it hosts a very large number of scholarly articles. This ease of use made it very simple to find a helpful article to use as a source. I highly recommend JSTOR to anyone doing a research project on any subject.

Scholarly articles are obviously very useful, but popular articles can also sometimes be more concise and to the point, so I used two of them. Each article was either written by a reputable writer on the subject or came from a reputable website, ensuring that they had credibility. I would advise against using a popular article that had a more obscure writer and source.
Another good source turned out to be a National Geographic program that I had watched in another class. National Geographic is, obviously, a very well-known organization on worldly matters, and using a video provided a very different perspective on North Korea, giving a much more visual sense of the nation.

All of these sources gave good information on North Korea, but it was necessary to have a dystopia to compare it to. For this, my base source was Nineteen Eighty-Four, which has become the prototypical fictional dystopia and, do to the many distinctive traits of Oceania, was a very useful base for comparison.

I found that my thesis was supported by my research. Fictional dystopias are characterized by the extreme level of government control, often to the point of citizens not being able to privately voice anything that could be remotely viewed as criticism of the government. In North Korea, this is very much the case. North Korean citizens are imprisoned for saying anything negative about Kim Jong-il or North Korea in general. In interviews with reporters, North Koreans have been observed to report total love and admiration for Kim and view him as a savior. When asked by a journalist in the National Geographic program if Kim could ever be wrong, the interviewee reacted with confusion and said they didn’t understand the question, displaying another common trait of fictional dystopias; the apparent love of all citizens for their government.
In most fictional dystopias, there is no freedom of the press whatsoever. This is also very true in North Korea, in which no media exists that is not run by the state. This state-run media reports nothing but good news about North Korea and bad news about all of its enemies.

In a similar vein, a common trait of fictional dystopias is their constant lying to their citizens in order to benefit the government. In North Korea, the government does just this. The government regularly reports atrocities by the Americans and South Koreans. The museums are adorned with depictions of the Korean War showing great victories by North Korean troops that did not actually occur in history.

A final common trait of dystopias is the extreme isolation of the society’s inhabitants. In North Korea, there is nearly no contact at all with the outside world. It is virtually impossible for citizens to travel outside of the country, and it is also very difficult to gain access. There is no internet and power outages are frequent, making it even more difficult to break out of the isolation. Clearly, North Korea is, in many ways, a modern, real-life dystopia.