Saturday, March 26, 2022

Aim High in Creation!: A One-of-a-Kind Journey inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine by Anna Broinowski


Even though this is basically a publicity stunt masquerading as a book, I was so intrigued by the premise. I love reading books about North Korea because I find it such a fascinating country. Do I ever want to go there? No, absolutely not. But would I like to learn more? Yes. And Anna Broinowski is an interesting woman. Apparently she is a fairly well-known Australian documentarian well-known for debunking the book published by the Jordanian author, Norma Khouri, which proved to be a hoax about the frequency of honor killings in Jordan.

AIM HIGH IN CREATION! is her memoir/journalism piece about traveling to North Korean to learn about propaganda from North Korean filmmakers. When fracking came to her city, she wanted to produce a movie about its dangers and thought what better way to learn to manipulate an audience than from the country that makes propaganda one of its primary focuses? It sounds like a stunt and I kind of wonder if it was. Especially since this idea came to her after her husband left her for a younger woman (by her own admission in the text) and the decision seemed irresponsibly impulsive.

Luckily, the journey ended well. Most of the people she met with were kind and she learned a lot about how and why they make the films that they do, as well as what the modern North Korea looks like, post-famine, under the rule of Kim Jong Un. I was a little on the fence about reading this book, but the negative reviews for it ended up selling me on the concept. First, people said that this book was too critical of capitalism. I personally think capitalism has a lot to answer for, and a truly capitalistic society can end up looking and feeling rather cold-blooded and sociopathic. There is definitely a lot to criticize and I think people who staunchly defend that structure are probably part of the problem.

Second, they said that she was too nice to the North Koreans. I think a quote from one of her Western contacts sums it up best when he said that at the end of the day, they're people like us, who are trying to take care of their families and survive the day. No country is truly evil. Its leaders might be, but the people make up all kinds, and I think villainizing countries as a whole ends up leading down a slippery slope of dehumanization and bad foreign policy. Would I categorize North Korea as a hostile nation? Yes. Does that mean that no good people live in that country? No. Even though I had some issues with Broinowski as a journalist, I really do feel like she came to DPRK from a good place and she really tried to portray her subjects from a uniquely humanistic perspective, so props for that.

I do feel like the memoir was a bit unevenly paced and I wish there were more pictures (I loved that she included photos of the people who worked with her, and of some of the DPRK scenery), but I feel like a lot of the criticism this book received was excessively harsh. At the very least, it was an interesting read.

3 out of 5 stars

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