Monday, May 02, 2005

We Both Speak "Tom & Jerry."

Anyone who says that U.S. pop culture can't penetrate the most benighted corners of the world should read today's Wall Street Journal, which has a Gordon Fairclough article about Exclamation Point. This is a South Korean children's game show that combines freshly shot South Korean footage with found North Korean footage. The result is a seamless spectacle of schoolchildren from both Koreas vying to answer questions, apparently in competition with one another:

The North Korean contestants—models of socialist propriety, with identical white shirts and red kerchiefs knotted around their necks—regularly beat their more-fashionable rivals from the capitalist South. The North's kids are good at math, nature and history. They know Korea's first capital was Pyongyang, not Seoul. They also can tell you that a cut-up sea slug will regenerate if you throw it back in the ocean. The South Korean kids are stronger in astronomy, and did better naming famous inventors, explorers and musicians.

The show is a hit in the South, which has shown a marked softening toward the North lately in its politics and its pop culture:

A recent hit film, for example, follows the comic adventures of two North Korean marines accidentally blown ashore in South Korea. As the pair desperately try to get home, they befriend a girl in trouble and rescue her by outfighting South Korean hoodlums.

Shades of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!. But the most striking quote comes at the end, when a South Korean boy, Han Su Kyo, says of his North Korean counterparts:

"I thought the people from the North would be very different." Now, he says, "I can see that we're similar. I feel like we are one people."

That message is clearly a focus of the questions for the special [Exclamation Point] episodes, which point out that North Korea, like the South, has a lottery and celebrities. Kids there also watch "Tom & Jerry."

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