Southern Teletubbies vs. Northern War Songs: Korean Media Dualities

By | March 20, 2013 | No Comments

Characters of the SNL Korea’s “Global Teletubbies” | Image via Chungang Daily

Depicting politics on either side of the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) rapidly becomes an exercise in cognitive dissonance. In South Korea, humor remains a key means of dealing with political tension, whereas in North Korea, a strenuous and urgent call by the state mobilizes youth around the tried-and-true Korean War platform.

In the South, television remains an abundant source of humor and politics.  SNL Korea’s Season 4 premiered last week on 2/23, and included a segment called “Global Teletubbies” (formerly “Yeouido Teletubbies”). Only the character representing Park Geun-hye—named “Ddo” (또)—was carried over from the previous version of the sketch. “Yeouido Teletubbies” had focused on domestic issues, where each character represented a candidate for the 2012 South Korean presidency. According to SisaIn Live, SNL Korea’s Season 2 and Season 3 could be respectively characterized by adult humor and political satire, and Season 4 is now handling social issues with an emphasis on satire of current events.

“As the election season is over, the political issues to be handled are vague. More than anything, the characters that confronted Ddo aren’t there,” said SNL Korea Executive Producer An Sang-hwui in an interview with SisaIn.

The new characters include a neighboring hill leader Yamae (Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe), the leader from a big hill Shi-ping (Chinese President Xi Jinping), the leader from a far-away hill O-ba-dolee (US President Barack Obama) and leader of the upper hill Jung-eu-ni (Kim Jong-un). “Jung-eu-ni reveals his identity by carrying a bomb in one hand.” O-ba-dolee whispers sweetly to Ddo, “Trust only me” (“이제 나만 믿으라”).

The latest installment takes jab at the current situation on the peninsula, spurred by joint military exercises—here called Ddo’s “Rocky Resolve Training,” to which Jung-eu-ni objects. It even makes reference to the North Korean press’s mention of Park Geun-hye’s swish of the skirt, but Ddo’s aggressive “Swish of the skirt? But I’m wearing pants!” only deters him a little.

“In the name of songun, I’ll strike with an iron hammer!”

The end of the clip ends with the reappearance of An Chyeo-seo (who appeared in the Yeouido Teletubbies to represent Ahn Cheol-su, 2012 independent presidential candidate) who has recently returned to Korea to run for a seat in parliament to represent the Nowon District (seen on the water bottle he proffers to Ddo).

The tone of the video seems to represent the general attitude of South Koreans to both the current domestic political situation as well as their attitude toward the inter-Korean tensions. While North Koreans may be fearful of nuclear strike, for Seoul citizens life goes on as usual. In fact, as we see in the SNL clip, South Korean civilians find it to be analogous to a childish fight between leaders of little hills in a children’s television program.

Mobilizing for a Patriotic Song Contest in Pyongyang | Image via Rodong Sinmun, March 18 2013

Mobilizing for a Patriotic Song Contest in Pyongyang | Image via Rodong Sinmun, March 18 2013

Such humorous depictions of ostensible national rivals appear to be absent in the DPRK today, where the media environment has taken a distinctively retro turn. North Korean youth in and around Pyongyang were mobilized last week to do the following:

Pyongyang, March 17 (KCNA) — A contest of singing wartime songs in chorus while marching in array took place at Kim Il Sung Square by students here on Sunday.

More than 10 000 students from 14 universities including Kim Il Sung University and 11 districts including Mangyongdae, Pothonggang and Tongdaewon districts gathered at the square.

They marched past the square, loudly singing songs on defending the leader and pledging revenges on the enemies and patriotic songs.

Music played by the brass bands, footsteps of students and songs sang in chorus seemed to shake the square.

Wartime songs including “Song of National Defence”, “Advance” and “Song of Coast Artillerymen” touched the heartstrings of citizens.

The contesters loudly sang such songs as “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order” and “Death to U.S. Imperialist Aggressors”.

The contest fully demonstrated the revolutionary spirit of the young people of the DPRK determined to turn out in the sacred war of justice and achieve a final victory if they receive an order from the dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un.

But the musical scene for North Korean audiences is not entirely retro: The Moranbong Band’s missile-associated song, “At a Go!” has been grafted on to new mobilization videos, such as this Uriminzokkiri mash-up (which includes assertions that North Korean paratroopers could move into Seoul) released on March 21.

While North Korean media make noise about “liberating” Seoul by force and the U.S. makes a “tactically smart, strategically stupid” decision to fly B-52 bombers over the peninsula, the Teletubbies in the South Korean capital will continue their cooing and their jokes. This ought to be a very interesting season indeed.

Blog by: Darcie Draudt 

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