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Month: December 2014

North Korea: Mad, bad and capricious?

photo credit: North Korea — Pyongyang, Arirang (Mass Games) via photopin (license)
photo credit: North Korea — Pyongyang, Arirang (Mass Games) via photopin (license)

Those fearsome North Koreans are at it again!

Kim and co are apparently none too pleased at the latest movie release from Sony. The film, ‘The Interview’, starring James Franco, revolves around two Americans who plot to sneak into the reclusive country and assassinate Kim Jong Un. Recently, an anonymous hacking group called ‘Guardians of Peace’ (GOP) broke into Sony’s computers and released sensitive data including emails where various celebrities say what they really think about one another. There were emails containing racist jokes, revelations about women being paid less than their male co-stars, and lots of general bitching.

More seriously, the compromised data also included personal information of thousands of people. The hackers rounded off their attack by making a series of death threats against potential viewers of the movie. While nothing has yet been proven, GOP is suspected of having links to the North Korean regime. The film’s release has now been cancelled after major cinemas refused to screen it.

All in all, this seemed to be a reaction that could be very easily blamed on the government of a nation widely viewed by the rest of the world as mad, bad and capricious. Not to mention just a touch ridiculous in a movie villain kind of way. It seems that, while many fear the Kim regime, at the same time people enjoy making a complete joke out of it.

Not long ago, the Guardian newspaper called North Korea ‘one of the worst regimes on the planet’. This is a common perception. The country has an appalling nation brand. As the Guardian goes on to point out, the movie could pose a risk to the divine status of the Kim family as perceived among ordinary North Koreans. As cheap DVD players become more commonplace in the country, people viewing the movie might suspect that their leader of being somewhat less than god-like.

So here we have a scenario of the North Korean government taking on corporate giant Sony and winning. However, there have been certain murmurs that it could all be an extremely bold and brazen publicity stunt. Marcus Osborne of the Brand Consultant Asia blog pointed this out in an interesting post today, where he asks if this could be ‘the best marketing campaign of the year?’

It’s intriguing to know if he’s right. But what stood out as the most interesting part about this whole thing is the fact that it only works because of North Korea’s existing nation brand. The country is commonly viewed as a crazy and unbalanced place that may be slightly dangerous, but is also a prime target for lampooning. No other country would be nearly as believable in this role.

Solidarity in Sydney – #illridewithyou

photo credit: Crossing Sydney Harbor - iPhone via photopin (license)
photo credit: Crossing Sydney Harbor – iPhone via photopin (license)

Twitter has become the main harbinger of major global events in our hyper-connected age. When news breaks it breaks on Twitter before any reporter or newswire have chance to reach it. Situations tend to unfold gradually on Twitter, starting with tweets containing vague hints and references as people try to figure out what is going on. As momentum around an event builds, hashtags start to pop up and evolve, often becoming trending topics in the case of something really major.

This is what I’ve noticed this year, with various disasters including the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH370, the downing of MH17, the ISIS murders of journalists and aid workers, and, today, the still developing hostage situation in a Sydney cafe.

It’s difficult to comment while this event is still ongoing, but unfortunately the world has already noticed that the gunman wears an Arabic-emblazoned headband and waves a black ISIS-style flag. As has happened countless times before, this produces a knee-jerk response where innocent Muslims have to once again apologise and shoulder the blame.

Even worse, the actions of this one man have left Sydney’s Muslim community at risk of reprisals from uneducated, ignorant sections of society. These groups still can’t see the difference between the actions of one person and the attitude of the whole. This holds true not just for Australia, but for many other Western nations, including the UK, Belgium, and Germany. The latter in particular has seen recent worrying spates of protests calling for an end to immigration.

But there’s a ray of hope as this latest incident unfolds in Sydney. It emanates from the community response, refreshingly different and positive. Many people are quick to criticise what they see as ‘slacktivism’, where social media users tweet vehemently about social justice issues yet fail to take any concrete action to help solve them. But in Sydney today, this is not the case. Tweeting is happening. Concrete actions are also happening.

The hashtag #illridewithyou was born in reaction to ‘the racists’ who had been ‘brought out in packs’ by the cafe siege. Concerned citizens of Sydney wanted to make sure the Muslims among them could get home safely on public transport without being subjected to reprisal attacks. Right now, people are offering to accompany those in religious attire/who look Muslim to get home, in some cases offering lifts by car as well as company on train, bus and subway.

By using this hashtag, people can come together to offer and accept help.
This situation is ongoing as I write. #illridewithyou is trending at number one globally, and that’s encouraging to see. Ordinary people are fed up with the constant vicious circle of isolated terrorist actions and the resulting media coverage that perpetuates Islamophobia and racist behaviour. Finally, in Sydney, they’ve figured out a simple, practical, yet much-needed solution.

I hope that this positive hashtag will strike a chord around the world, so that when the next incident happens we can differentiate the perpetrator as in the unhinged minority, not representative of over one billion individuals.

Despite the potential severity of this incident, I appreciate the sense of solidarity in Sydney. It feels as if something has finally shifted. Australia’s long-held reputation as a country of ‘mate-ship’ is well deserved today. Well done Sydney – the world is looking upon you kindly and praying for a good outcome today.