Into the Inferno: an Analysis of My Experience

I did not intentionally watch the latest Herzog documentary Into the Inferno for the purposes of this class, in fact I would have never have thought that a film about volcanoes could be studied in a subject called Digital Asia, but here I am. As a geology student, this is a very different form of research that I am accustomed to, analyzing my own thoughts and reactions to an experience seems to invite bias. However that may be the point of the study, bias is useful as long as the individual is aware of it.

“Consequently, when terms such as reliability, validity, and generalizability are applied to autoethnography, the context, meaning and utility of these terms are altered” (Ellis, C et, al. 2011)


North Korea: News and Popular Culture 

North Korea (NK) has been the in news headlines all over the world recently due to their recent success in nuclear weapons testing. North Korean leaders often depicted as ‘evil’ and the enemy in the media I had never really looked much into the reality of everyday life of the NK citizens, in fact the leaders are so outrageous and alien to my cultural perspective that I’ve never really thought about the actual citizens of the country. The 2014 American film ‘The Interview’ caused major controversy a it is about the assassination of the leader of North Korea Kim Jong II, who threatened “merciless retaliation” upon it’s release.


Because the nation is so isolated politically and economically my perception of the country is only how it is portrayed in the media, and I have not thought to put the effort in to challenge that portrayal. Into the inferno was the first glimpse that I have had inside NK, and specifically made me think about the Universities and scientific research is conducted without global allies.

Analyzing my Experience

I think my first reactions to the film were really showing of my knowledge of North Korea. I was so shocked and very wary of the situation that Herzog and his film crew were in, and under what circumstances they were in the county.

“I honestly don’t know much about North Korea, just that it is an almost impervious country which is politically and economically self reliant. I’ve seem news headlines warning of the danger that it poses especially with the recent leaps in nuclear weapons, but here were a bunch of 20 something year old’s cheering and singing with incredible  passion at a bloody mountain. It stuck me that I could never imagine a similar scene occurring in Australia, or most countries come to think of it.”

I think the most telling realization was when I assumed that the group marching towards the camera were soldiers rather than university students. It was such a foreign concept to see these students dressed in military uniform and acting so routinely in comparison to the free speaking and colorfully dress students of UOW campus.

When they first meet the scientist, millions of questions run through my head: If the mountain is so symbolic, how much are the North Korean volcanologists allowed to study it? When studying geology in North Korea, how much research do they have access to from the outside world? How do the universities in general work? is everything censored or skewed to fit the ideology of the party? How do scientists collaborate and learn up to date findings without attending scientific conferences or access to research?How do they contribute their own findings to global scientific community?

I think it was at this point that really got to me, being a science student we are constantly reading scientific literature by foreign scholars and hearing about professors travelling to conduct research all over the world. I knew that media and internet is extremely censored in NK and that their scientists are obviously conducting very recent science evident by recent nuclear tests. It wasn’t until I saw this NK volcanologist on screen that I really thought about a university functioning with strict censorship laws.

This opened up a whole can of worms as you can see, science without collaboration or community is slow and often unreliable due to lack of scope. I became so in awe of how this man became a volcanologist, is there even more than one volcano to study in North Korea? Maybe I was just being naive about the reality of the global stance of the county but I was still quite invested.

I decided to look into the reality of the isolation of North Korea and it’s Universities. Pyongyang University started in 2010 and was founded by Korean-American Chan-Mo Park, the university often has relations with academics outside of NK however recently that has been threatened by political tensions.


Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at:

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