Kim Jong-un’s heart so overflows with love for the Korean people that he has given to them a new method of relaxation—and no, it isn’t meth this time. When all eighteen hours of your duty to the Supreme Leader are complete, you will be able to return to your workers’ barracks, and have a nice, long Manbang session.
Yes, you read that correctly. No, that is not an off-color joke.
“Manbang,” which in English translates, rather creepily, to “Everywhere,” is North Korea’s new, government-sponsored version of Netflix. It offers the average North Korean viewer access to over five different channels anywhere, anytime. If by “anywhere” you mean “three cities in North Korea.” And by “anytime” you mean “any time you are not incarcerated in a forced-labor camp.”
It makes a perverse kind of sense that North Korea has developed this platform. The regime is deathly afraid of its citizens being exposed to Western film; in fact, dissidents and expatriates risk their lives crossing into North Korea with packages full of flash drives containing Western movies and television shows. The British documentary Chuck Norris Versus Communism shows why: even a glimpse at the kind of life depicted by art from free societies shatters the isolation tank in which communist regimes incarcerate their subjects. Communism is a suffocation of the mind, and art is oxygen.
As you might expect, the Internet is already rippling with Manbang satire. In fact, the internet always appreciates a good chortling look at the absurdities of North Korean life. Indeed, there’s quite of a bit ridiculous nonsense to poke fun at when examining North Korea. It is regime orthodoxy, for example, that none of the Kim family needs to void their bowels as a regular human would. It is taught that Kim Jong-il invented the hamburger and could control the weather with his moods.
But, alas, satire is cutting because it contains a grain of truth. At the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, we wish North Korea were just a joke. It’s not.
Forced labor camps are real. Public executions are real. Extrajudicial imprisonment of entire families is real. The kidnapping of foreign nationals is real. Regime-sponsored terrorism is real. The thousands of artillery guns pointed at South Korea are real. Famine is real. Cannibalism is real. Totalitarian communism is real. The people of North Korea need more than our jokes—they need our help.