Hybridization of Performance Scale: Missile Launch

By | May 03, 2012 | No Comments

We may never know what has transpired behind the curtain — or the growing wall of statues — in Pyongyang, but we can appreciate very much being treated as the audience to a great performance. The intermingled leadership of the Korean Workers’ Party and the Korean People’s Army has been putting their new auditorium in Mansudae to regular use, displaying for all to see which members of the leadership appear to be in the good graces of the Respected General.  On May 1, it was Kim Jong Un’s powerful aunt Kim Kyong Hui and her husband Jang Song Taek who made a rare joint appearance at an Unhasu Orchestra concert.  (Just in case anyone missed the fact that their partnership continues, Rodong Sinmun included an item about a working class couple who, like Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui, met at a singing event.)  Kim Kyong Hui, who for all we know is the most powerful woman in East Asia, looks as gaunt as ever , and appears to have broken a finger on the very hand which might twitch above the detonation button of a certain nuclear weapon. But anticipation, after all, is what performance is all about, and the possibility even of audacious failure can serve to stir the assembled mass.  — Adam Cathcart, Chief Editor 

Hybridization of Performance Scale: Missile Launch

by Jimin Lee

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket, April 8, 2012, courtesy Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images. | Link to Destination Pyongyang, “Too Many Conspiracy Theories, Too Little Time”

North Korea is on stage. A 32-meter height of Unha-3 rocket propelled the performance. Embarrassingly, the Reuters reports the rocket flew for just a few minutes covering a little over 100km to explode over a sea separating the Korean peninsula and China. It is far less than the last rocket in 2009 that traveled 3,800km, alarming Japan which it over-flew.

This controversial act of performance which breached United Nations Security Council sanctions provides a provocative and alerting scene to the spectators. Provocation against invisible outside forces becomes one of the key elements of live performance which can be found in the everyday lives of the people in North Korea, who strive to practice the state-imposed doctrines through daily behaviors. Thus the North Korea’s latest rocket launch becomes a conduit to look into the DPRK social system.

The Spectator-Performer Matrix |  The mighty status of the rocket as a tool for international threat brought about an intriguing reversal in the roles of spectators and performers: while the usually anonymous spectators watching the event had to become performers of politically aggressive acts under constant military attack, the role of the spectator with all-seeing privileges was reserved due to the regime.

Through an ephemeral violent attack, North Korea’s performance anticipates the incremental regeneration of international attention as a hostile fuss above the sea of South Korea. This rocket test revolves around a fatal performing object whose operation attributes render it transient and mutable, hence time-based. Being time-based, the missile is a performative object, not only because it changes the material state ceaselessly during public display but also because it functions as catalysts to incite the viewers’ interactive performances that leads to fear and distrust.

Performing Songun |  As a performative object, the missile pointedly references what can only be called Kim Jong Il’s postmortem push for stability, strength and military reform. North Korea’s spectacular rocket test appears as a translucent display case for the fruits of years of military investment, exemplifying North Korea’s unbalanced and ill-planned notion of economic development. North Korea’s choice to unleash the rocket launch right before the celebration of Kim Il Song’s 100th Birthday celebration, along with the missile’s massive scale, express North Korea’s desire to extend the duration of the regime’s glory as a physical and symbolic trophy.

In addition, North Korea constructs their performative rocket trial in a scale larger than that of a peace talk with a human individual, thereby highlighting the regime’s pride only comes from a military action. Yet, mindful of the rocket’s symbolic status, North Korea refrains from mounting a mutual negotiation that would reduce inordinate starvation of the citizen, as described in the Hankyung newspaper.

Performing Friendship, Anticipating Pain |  North Korea’s approach toward performing for the international community clearly includes China as an audience member; therefore, it is responsible to be cautious in watch ingNorth Korean exchange with China.

When North Korea nominated Kim Jong Un as the first secretary of the Workers’ Party to follow Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Song on April 11th, the successor received congratulations from Hu Jintao as below.  The message said:

I accepted happy news that you were elected first secretary of the WPK at its Conference.

I, on behalf of the CPC Central Committee and on my own, would like to extend warm congratulations to you and the WPK Central Committee.

It is our pleasure to see the Korean people, closely rallied around the WPK, strive to build a thriving socialist nation under your leadership, true to the behest of Comrade Kim Jong Il.

The letter continues through a series of comforting bromides: China and the DPRK are friendly neighbors sharing the same mountain and rivers, etc. However, the Korean news reported recently indicates that the Chinese-North Korean friendship is not likely to stay in in constant equilibrium of lasting peace and stability. Kim Jong Il’s “last testament” letter is revealed by North Korea Strategy Information Service (NKSIS), and the letter warns that Chinese-North Korean relations can go wrong. In this light, the quest for North Korea’s attack into space splits even the hegemonic pressure even between North Korea and China.

Malevolent Shades of a Would-Be Savior: Kim Jong Un’s “New Reign” on the Cover of 南部周刊 / Southern Weekly Magazine in the PRC, April 23, 2012

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