In the age of globalization, the northern Korea feels as foreign to us as some remote tribe in the Amazon. The images that we’re being flooded with since the the death of the Supreme Leader reinforce our notion of this fairy tale-like kingdom in a corner of the Earth that technology has forgotten. The images of Kim Jong Il embalmed also have a Snow White feel to them. Of course, North Korea is nothing like a fairy tale though there certainly are similarities with the genre, including the autocratic familial dynasty and the prevalence of poor citizens/serfs, but nowhere is a benevolent monarch/dictator which rules our ideas of who would govern a good fairy tale. Of course, not all fairy tales are good but usually they do have some type of moral or lesson, North Korean appears to lack that as well.
Some of the most curious photos coming out of North Korea are those that portray childhood indoctrination. Tomas Van Houtryve’s image of nursery-school children being instructed to love their dictator is in a dream-like setting even if it is staged in front of a chintzy veneer. He has framed the image to emphasize the sense that this is their world, surrounded by painted rainbows, manmade landscapes and adults giving them direction, the dictator is clearly at the center of their world. Gone is the disorder and diversity we’re accustomed to seeing in our own nursery schools.