By Jamie Brandel, 3 Generations Summer Intern
The vlogger (left) having fun at a North Korean water park
As a millennial, social media has been a powerful tool in the fight for human rights — whether it be the Arab Spring or the Human Rights Campaign’s equality logo. Whatever the cons of the Internet may be, it is without a doubt a profound force in raising awareness of global issues.
So when I saw the North Korean fun vlogs from Louis Cole, better known by his Youtube name FunforLouis, the first word that came to mind was “strange.” If the word North Korea wasn’t in the title, you may never know that Louis was vloging about one of the most frightening places on Earth. If you have ever turned on a TV before, you probably know this about North Korea. There’s quite a disconnect between this video and reality. You also probably know that getting into North Korea isn’t an easy task. We don’t know much about the country for a reason: It blocks out any “corruption of its society” from the outside world. So it seems pretty obvious that Louis must have agreed to some guidelines, also evident by the controls set up in his visit, like Ms. Kim – one of his “tour guides.”
Whether he was paid by the North Korean government or not, as some media outlets are reporting, he is clearly complicit. Like Shane Smith said, “You’re not a tourist — you are on a tour.”
Going to visit the monuments that pay homage to North Korea’s authoritarian leaders, visiting a waterpark and schools while remaining silent on reality, these things make him just as guilty in recreating a very orchestrated image. The secretary of Joseph Goebbles, who is now the subject of a new documentary A German Life, claims she had no idea what the Nazi regime what really up to. Just another job. She says she had no idea what happened when her friends disappeared; this obliviousness is one in the same. Under the guise of some cultural relativist argument, Louis says that the Western media only portrays this horrible image of North Korea, and it’s his job to show the culture and focus on the positive. At one point he tells the camera that it would cost him 200 US dollars, even as a visitor, to get probably a couple minutes worth of data. But no problem there. So does passive acceptance and willful ignorance equate to innocence? No, not really.
Louis responded with another vlog after he received a large amount of backlash. Two things struck me: One is his mention of his two favorite places he has visited, Rio and Cape Town. He mentions that Cape Town has one of the largest wealth disparities in the world. And yet, anyone who has visited Cape Town will tell you that no one, absolutely no one, would visit Cape Town and not include the images of apartheid-era settlements and racism. It is inherent in their culture and in every South African’s identity. So, quite the opposite of showcasing North Korean culture.
Secondly, Louis talks about how he just left out the clips of him talking to people about their realities and how bringing happiness to people, like when they surf, was a means of change.
Now, no one is asking FunforLouis to be an investigative reporter, but purposely leaving out the truth of North Korea is the ultimate bystander effect. If you act as if the people around you aren’t under constant threats of violence, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Well, it does.
Change won’t come from momentary “happiness” like Louis says but when silence is broken.