Global Politics

South Korea turns K-Pop up loud in its propaganda war with North Korea

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North Koreans dance to celebrate what the country claims was a "successful hydrogen bomb" test at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. January 8, 2016. South Korea unleashed a high-decibel propaganda barrage across its border with North Korea on Friday in retaliation for its nuclear test.
Credit:

REUTERS/Kyodo

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ramped up political tensions earlier this week with a nuclear test. South Korea has responded by turning up the volume on its propaganda broadcasts.

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“I would like to imagine that North Koreans are on the other side dancing, getting down to that music,” says North Korea watcher Jean Lee. She opened AP's news bureau in Pyongyang in 2012 and is now teaching at Yonsei University in Seoul. “But just a couple seconds of that and you can really hear that it is an annoyance frankly.”

The blasting of catchy K-Pop tunes by the likes of girl group Apink and folk singer Lee Ae Ran as well as loud commentary that’s critical of Kim Jong Un’s regime and North Korea’s alleged human rights abuses is all basically intended to send a political message that life is good in South Korea. It’s like rubbing their face in it, says Lee.

“Really what it is, is noise pollution to be honest. Blasting this music at full volume, day and night, is just an old Cold War tactic that they're employing here.”

Music as propaganda takes many forms. The US military has used bad, annoying, loud, repetitive music in different situations, including during interrogation of torture suspects.

The Barney theme was played to Iraqi prisoners of war. US troops blasted Guns N' Roses outside dictator Manuel Noriega’s stronghold during the Panama invasion. Also played: Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good." 

But one wonders if this latest cross-border cultural exchange, if you can call it that, is effective? What’s achieved?

“I think what it will do is raise tension at the DMZ,'' Lee says. "The South Korean military reportedly is preparing for the possibility of retaliation from the North Korean side and that could mean North Koreans firing at these loudspeakers.”

Just how bad and annoying and loud does this music have to be for hostilities to break out?

Lee says there’s already been some criticism from the opposition party in South Korea of this psychological warfare tactic.

“This is only going to intensify tension, it’s not really going to be much of a solution to this issue, so there’s certainly some debate here in South Korea about whether or not it's really the right response.”

When South Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts last summer after more than a decadelong break, it was reported that the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire, and issued threats of war.