I want to write about this. But I also know it’s very controversial, and what I really want is to give another perspective to counteract the vehement criticisms lodged against Louis Cole and Lane Terzieff for their time spent and video content produced in North Korea.
For a little background information in case you’re completely new to this controversy. Louis Cole (FunforLouis), a popular travel vlogger on YouTube, and Lane Terzieff (Lancifer), a singer/songwriter and humanitarian, traveled to North Korea in July 2016. It was a state-sponsored trip and they vlogged about their experiences as well as created a music video titled “Surfin’ in the DPRK” which they claimed was the first music video from North Korea. They’ve received some pretty heavy criticism including claims that they were creating North Korean propaganda and that Louis (as the better known YouTuber) is naive in his positive outlook in the video.
What I’d like to suggest though is that you look at this situation not as a political analyst or an angry opinionated social media vouyer, but as a YouTube content creator.
There are different content cultures on YouTube. There is “Comedy-for-Comedy’s Sake” content where the videos can be inane and vapid but have a mass appeal to young audiences. There is “Glass Half Empty” content which incorporates ranters and skeptics and the social justice crowd. Generally people who tap into the anger and feelings of injustice we have and use the Internet as a place to air out grievances, make fun of or argue with people they disagree with, and find support in their frustrations. And then there is the “Glass Half Full” content. I’m a bit biased here because I consider my content to fall into this group most of the time, but I think this positive-focused content while not as popular as “Comedy-for-Comedy’s Sake” or “Glass Half Empty” is actually the most important content online right now. The world feels like a dark and scary and unhappy place right now, and people go to the internet to escape it. With “Glass Half Empty” you just end up wallowing in it, and “Comedy-for-Comedy’s Sake” ignores it completely. But “Glass Half Full” content addresses the issues we’re struggling with or worrying about and talks about it. It tries to find the positive outlook amid all this negative hubris.
So when Louis Cole and Lane Terzieff went to North Korea, I don’t think they were making propaganda or too naive to realize their positive tone of the video showing the “fun” things they were doing like visiting a waterpark or teaching kids to surf and skateboard seemed inappropriate. Positivity content creators are not stupid people. They know the realities of the world and want to do something to change it, but the only means they really have is through their attitude and their online content. It may not seem like much, but media has always been an incredibly powerful tool of influence. And online content is no different even if you still don’t feel like it’s mainstream. So I want to suggest that you look at what they did and what they created from it not as purposeful ignorance of the horrific reality that exists in North Korea. (Of course, they couldn’t show that. Not if they wanted to leave the country alive to tell any kind of story.) But instead look at the subtle context within the video. Their incredulity of Miss Kim not knowing who Justin Bieber is. The housekeeper who they thanked with flowers and was overwhelmed because no one had ever done something like that before. The children who when offered free skateboards wouldn’t take them. The roughly corralled children yanked away from the American group as they practiced skateboarding.
Their talk of loving on people and connecting with the people (that they were allowed to interact with) is not naivety, but a calculated outlook on life and a chosen presentation for their niche within YouTube. They are not investigative political journalists. That should not be required of them just because they were allowed to enter a mysterious and sinister country with video gear. They are a part of a smaller culture in media that wishes to pull out the positive while subtly acknowledging the negative (for you can’t have an authentically positive message without showing the negative place in which this reaction stems). Perhaps it’s a generational reaction to the negativity of the mainstream media. Or young people just want to try a different approach to understanding the world around them (is it really going to pot or are we just more aware of the awful things that happen now?) Whatever it is, I’m a fan of positive content even if it feels controversial for it’s lack of negativity. I feel like you can still find a positive outlook on a negative situation without diminishing the severity of it. Louis and Lane may not have accomplished it perfectly, but I think they did well with what they had available to them, the restriction placed on them for safety reasons, and for their YouTube audiences.
Videos referenced in this blog:
Surfin’ in the DPRK Music Video on FunForLouis’ channel
Lancifer & Louis Cole in North Korea 2016 // VLOG