Moranbong Rocks "Without a Break" (단숨에) Satellite Launch



An unfortunate theme of several recent posts (for example on the 70th KWP anniversary speech) is what political scientists call “authoritarian resilience”: the fact that dictatorships can survive not only through repression but by courting particular constituencies and even mass publics. Martin Dimitrov’s Why Communism Did Not Collapse draws a number of interesting parallels between Russia and Eastern Europe and the Asian and Cuban cases in this regard.

Thanks to Joe Terwilliger, I learned about a Moranbong band performance on YouTube that exemplifies how popular culture and propaganda can be joined.

In a New Year’s performance, the girl band—with its Eurovision Song Contest instrumentation (four lead violinists fronting a rock band)—rocks out an instrumental version of the song "단숨에" (dan soom eh), a popular number sung by the band at almost every performance. The song title can be translated as "in one breath,” "without delay" or “without a break” as it is translated in another amped-up more militarist YouTube variant. Yet another version—also Moranbong—plays the song against clips emphasizing the country’s economic and technological progress. The phrase "dan soom eh" is used as a rallying cry of Kim Jong Un's variant of his father's "strong and prosperous nation" theme.

But this particular live performance takes the prize. At 4:30, the lead guitarist shreds a little solo and the December 2012 North Korean satellite launch appears in the background. The crowd—no doubt from the Pyongyang elite—goes wild. As the music swells to a crescendo, the satellite is shown on what looks like a trans-Pacific trajectory and then blows up. So much for this being a “satellite.” The crowd goes wilder. It is easy dismiss these sorts of stage shows, but they reflect a deeper truth: that the propaganda of the regime taps into nationalist tropes much more successfully than its Eastern European and Soviet counterparts could. Until Putin, that is.

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