Author: jamesayre

Doing my first year of Communications and Media Studies at UOW.

Pure Autoethnographic Research or Genuine Personal Narrative

Pure Autoethnographic Research or Genuine Personal Narrative


The journey I have taken through the world of media use in the Democratic Republic of North Korea has opened my eyes to a cultural group who live in a world far removed from mine. I was well aware that a cultural divide existed and that it was not unique to these two cultures and societies. Many Asian cultures reflect vastly different media trends, products and usage but North Korea really rocked my perceptions. However, what concerns this researcher is the very nature of the autoethnographic research I am carrying out. Leon Anderson identifies five key features of analytic autoethnographic research; complete member research status, analytic reflexivity, narrative visibility, dialogue with others beyond the researcher and a commitment to theoretical analysis (Anderson, L. 2006).


In the research I have undertaken for my blog posts on North Korea I have the reflectivity and visible narrative. It is the complete member research status that worries me because I am not a member of the North Korean culture, I have not visited the country and experienced the culture and I have not experienced an expatriate relationship with any North Koreans in Australia. My research has largely been media driven using the internet and news media to source the comparisons I make and the reflections and comparisons this information leads me to. This has led to an absence of dialogue with others beyond the researcher, another of the key features Anderson. Does the lack of these two components of an autoethnographic research project places the authenticity of the research and the associated cultural reflections and comparisons in some jeopardy?


Reading further into Anderson and other writers I feel the narrative I have constructed around the use of media in North Korea and the ongoing reflective nature of my thinking around the cultural and political differences clearly makes a strong case for three out of the five key features identified above. Regardless of the pure nature of the autoethnographic research work I have undertaken the information I have found and the cultural insights these have provided have definitely had an emotion and analytical effect on my thinking about the cultural issues associated with North Korea. It has produced a clarity of thinking which has sharpened my person narrative.


Anderson, L. Analytic Autoethnography Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 2006 35: 373

DOI: 10.1177/0891241605280449

Pornography in the Democratic Republic of North Korea

When I was researching my last post I accessed a journal article, by Philaretou & Allen (2006), which explored sensitive issues such as feminism in an autoenthnographic manner. Although I used it to widen my general understanding of the concept of autoenthnographic research it did present one avenue I had not explored within the North Korean media world – online pornography. This concept is considered a growth industry in the western world and has extended its tentacles into every aspect of online media. Personally I was hoping I would find that the strict control which the Democratic Republic of North Korea places on media and online interaction may have blocked the spread into that county.


However what I found from searching the digital stream were blog sites such as Surprise! Even North Koreans download porn by Mariella Moon which speculates or allude to the existence of pornography in the North Korean media scape but can present little definitive evidence. Further investigation found that much of what is presented on this subject by bloggers is simple material reblogged from other sources such as the Daily Mail in this instance.


Porn, Top Gear and Angry Birds: What North Korean internet users are downloading is revealed by internet analysts

  • Few people in North Korea can access the world wide web
  • The downloads were by computers registered in the capital Pyongyang

ByJill Reilly for MailOnline Published: 22:37 AEST, 15 August 2014 | Updated: 19:21 AEST, 27 August 2014

This created a high level of frustration on the part of this researcher because on the one hand I was trying to source information about a topic I find sensitive and all I can find is a constant digital regurgitation of the same information. Upon reflection it struck as a sure single that one of two things is happening. The first is that the streaming of pornographic material onto online media channels is not happening in the DRNK. The second is that the incredible restrictions placed on North Korea media is so effective no information is leaking out. I sincerely hope it is the first because it would be one positive outcome of the censorship and rigid control that is exerted upon the media interactions of the NK people. On the other hand it represents a withholding of freedom. Regardless of the negative social and emotional impact of pornography egalitarian values dictate that the choice should be the people’s not the State’s, especially in a culture with a State which is so overtly oppressive.



Surprise! Even North Koreans download porn. by Mariella Moon posted August 18th 2014 at 1:53 am


Philaretou, A.G. & Allen, K.R. 2006, “Researching Sensitive Topics through Autoethnographic Means”, Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 65.


North Korea executes music band members over pornography charges – South paper 2013, , London. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific [London] 29 Aug 2013.


The New Human Right

Last post I tried to investigate the extent to which North Korean citizens had access to and engaged in online video gaming. My investigations were aimed at providing a baseline from which to compare a contemporary aspect of western cultures with the culture of the Democratic Republic North Korea (DRNK). The other aspects of media I had researched in this country left me quite confused, angry and empathetic with the population lock into a despotic regime. Confused because I could not rationalize how a culture so trapped by the irrational ideology of a small elite minority and an unbalanced family of puppet leaders, could exist in the detente of the 21st Century. Angry because I could not understand why the rest of the cultures of the world allowed this total media control to happen and empathetic because I could understand that they were missing out on a freedom western cultures simply take for granted.

People in Australia and other first, second and even third world cultures have the media freedom to use, produce and transmit information and digital products across the World Wide Web. states that the search engine Google receives a daily search volume of 3.5 billion. Although no accurate statistics were available, this level of freedom does not exist in the DRNK. If we watch the Denis Rodman documentary and examine the set-up of the Technology Centre there is one man with the Google home page on the screen but he is not searching he is acting the part of a media engaged citizen. If it is so important change the outside world perception of a media oppressed culture then an intelligent person would do it with an actual interaction rather than a farcical set up.

If autoethnographic research is about using the important discoveries in the researcher’s life what I have discovered about the use of media in the Democratic Republic of North Korea has really had an impact on me. My studies into media and communication have broadened my knowledge and understanding of how media is used in many contexts and for many purposes. My enlightenment has shown me how powerful the use of media, specifically digital media, can be in improving the life of the user. In the 21st Century I feel that access to and freedom to engage with digital media is a new human right.


Pace , Steven (2012) Writing the self into research: Using grounded theory analytic strategies in autoethnography in TEXT Special Issue: Creativity: Cognitive, Social and Cultural Perspectives

eds. Nigel McLoughlin & Donna Lee Brien, April 2012



Raab, Diana (2013) Transpersonal Approaches to Autoethnographic Research and Writing

The Qualitative Report 2013 Volume 18, Article 42, 1-18


Philaretou, A.G. & Allen, K.R. 2006, “Researching Sensitive Topics through Autoethnographic Means”, Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 65.

Gaming in the DRNK

In a regime as controlled as the Democratic Republic of North Korea I thought the concept of gaming culture would be non-existent. At best I expected to find an underground sub-culture who risks life and limb to engage in online and digital gaming. I started my investigation and found limited information to help confirm and expand my understanding of this culture in North Korea. There were some newspaper articles, such as The Telegraph’s, North Korea internet users ‘downloading Top Gear and porn’

(Tuesday 16 September 2014). This article mentioned the strict isolationist measures and speculated on the legitimacy of claims that games, TV shows and pornography had been downloaded from IP address within the country.

A Korean News article, Foreign laptops increasingly popular item for North Korean middle class (Phebe Kim, 10th July, 2014) discussed in detail the increasing movement of foreign laptops into North Korea and the fact that these were only available to the elite class of citizens who could afford the expensive items. The article quoted sources (defectors) who stated that video games were being played.

Computers are also popular with young people that watch DVDs, listen to music, and play video games. Jimin states, “As children of elite families] use more advanced computers to play games, they can be tempted to become like those game addicts that are often mentioned in South Korea.”

This information does not mention or allude to the existence of an underground gaming culture in North Korea but given the prodigious engagement of the western societies in the digital gaming environment it is only logical that this leaks into the North Korean society. Supporting this is the increasing engagement of neighboring countries – Japan, China and South Korea which makes access to contraband digital products less of an obstacle. In addition to this, I have already mentioned the public execution of citizens in North Korea for possessing copies of movie, TV and other foreign digital products. If people are going to risk persecution and death for old TV shows they certainly would for the digital gaming experience.

North Korea’s first video game –

Online commentators marveled at the backward design despite the existence of many online resources which would produce an infinitely better quality. North Koreas are definitely going underground for quality.

Changing North Korea’s Public Imagination

A number of scholars (Bogues 2006; Daniels 2010; Hawkins 2010) have argued that the imagination is a critical, and often overlooked, element in understanding such geopolitical realities and the way “publics” produce and process such realities. (O’Donnell, 2013) The imagination O’Donnell was referring to is the notion of a public imagination. The notion of the media influencing the public imagination in regards to nationalism was explored, in the context of China, by Guo, Cheong and Chen (2007). In this article they outline the importance of the digital media in maintains the nationalist imagination of how China should look to its own people and the outside world.

North Korean nationalist zeal is manifested by the Government’s total control of the media within that country and its ability to block incoming media to protect the public imagination of its citizens. This is also the theme of many information channels reporting on the situation in North Korea.

Could there be a North Korean “Spring”?

January 14, 2014, 9:43 pm ET by Sarah Childress

This article, and others like it reinforce the notion of the protection of the public imagination and first-hand accounts from people who were within the propaganda department of the North Korean government. They tell of their job helping to maintain the public image to the population until their eyes were opened by what they saw from outside. The North Korean government will stop at nothing to block information, which will shake the fabric of the nationalist image, from outside – even executing those who seek information from outside sources. However, the primary weapon in the information arsenal of North Korea is the creation of an alternate reality. Kim Jong Un encourages his people to think any information from the outside world is corrupt lies manifested by the imperialist world of the west, designed to destroy national unity in North Korea.

To change the public imagination of the population of North Korea the dissidents will need to have access to and be able to broadcast in formation to the population. With the strangle hold the regime of Kim Jong Un has on digital media in and out of the country this will be almost impossible and in some instances fatal. With no social media, open access to the Internet and exposure to TV and other medias out of South Korea sourcing information to accomplish this will be desperately difficult.

Zhongshi Guo, Weng Hin Cheong, and Huailin Chen. Nationalism as Public Imagination: The Media’s Routine Contribution to Latent and Manifest Nationalism in China International Communication Gazette October 2007 69: 467-480, doi:10.1177/1748048507080873


TV North Korea – A life threating experience

Watching TV in North Korea appears to be a mix between propaganda and old western style TV programing. The programming is dictated by the State and all programs are made with the communist doctrine imbedded in it. It’s strictly prohibited to distribute or watch foreign TV shows and movies in North Korea. Kim Jong-un has reportedly sent security forces house-to-house searching for illicit DVDs and flash drives. If they do that for watching TV what is the consequence for using illegal use social media or Internet. This totalitarian control over television seemed to be extreme until I unearthed a newspaper article by David Boroff in the New York Daily News, Monday 11th November 2013. In this piece Boroff reported the public execution of groups of North Koreans found guilty of watching South Korean TV programs smuggled into the North as DVDs and on flash drives. These actions go against so many human rights seriously makes me feel ill.

However, the people of North Korea continue to watch TV smuggled into the country and live in fear of the consequences because they have a curiosity about the outside world which needs to be satisfied at some cost. North Korean Central Television endeavors to prevent this by offering alternatives by copying western style programs but in 1970’s formats. This programing offers the North Korean population fortunate enough to have access to a TV reflects only the western cultural aspects in a negative light. The west is still the enemy and must be portrayed as such. This is one of the reasons levels of curiosity are so high that North Koreans would risk everything for some exposure to the outside world through illegal TV.

We, on the other hand, can watch North Korean TV streamed live onto our computers through This link is a window into the world of North Korea through TV and this helped me deepen my understanding of their world. The experience provided an interesting comparison between our obvious ability to freely broadcast content which reflects a wide cultural basis and offers a view of the world which gives viewers a choice. North Korean watchers are not afforded the privilege but in a largely peasant society where TV consumption I restricted they are unaware of the oppressive controls placed on their TV. They only know the martial music, military propaganda and State promoting content they are given by the Government. Until it is easier to access an alternative they will be unaware.

Opening the North Korean Digital Eyes

The more I explore the extraordinary space which is North Korea the more I am struck by the culture of the isolation. The Communist regime would very much like to maintain a firm controlling grip on the population – the proletariat that they create an imaginary façade of a culture which the west copies and follows. The creation of a pop culture in North Korea has been centred on creating an image of a controlled and orderly communist state. Whatever pop culture exists in the country has been placed there by the government so the North Korean people see only a cultural identity which has been chosen for them and not freely created by them.

However, this isolationist policy can only go so far. The westernisation of next door neighbour, China and the leaking of popular culture across the demilitarised zone from South Korea means that the Leadership of North Korea cannot completely blank out the migration of digital culture across borders. Rather than make it this illegal they destroy the credibility of the information and substitute their own.


Published on May 18, 2012

‘Propaganda’ (95min) – Part 1


These examples demonstrate how the Communist Government of North Korea handles the incursion of western media influences into the population’s mainstream digital experience. Given this ‘propaganda’ and the abject poverty of the nation and the digital world does not exist within the political borders of the country. I found this extremely disturbing because living in our culture of freedom of speech and enjoying free access to the outside world, I have difficult coming to terms with a world which allows this to happen. In our culture we are fortunate to be able to experience the enormous changes that are offered and created by digital technology yet others in the world are given no choice and are told that our freedoms are imperialist attempts to undermine their world and threaten the cultural purity that is presented farcically to them.


Radio Caroline euan walker


I heard about the pirate radio ships which operated outside the British territorial waters when British radio stations attempted to break the BBC’s monopoly on radio frequencies in the 1960’s. This is what is needed to open North Korean people to popular culture of the world. Unfortunately the despotic instability of the NK regime would make this form of protest a perilous proposition given the leaderships willingness to shoot at things.

A Digital-less North Korea


Sometime ago I watched a Youtube clip of Denis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters in North Korea. I only watched part 1 of the series of two because the absurdity of the event made a lasting impression of total oppression on me. I have travelled in Asia with my parents; hear stories of other people’s experiences and nothing compared to what I saw in that 14:32 sec clip.

When I scratched my head about the focus I need for my work in the subject of Digital Asia, part of my Media and Communications Degree, it was painfully obvious that the digital world in North Korea, or lack of it, might be an interesting place to start. This was not an easy decision to make because I had difficulty getting my head around the notion of an autoenthographic study, hence the tardiness of my initial efforts to blog. However, after visiting the DIGC 330 WordPress Blog I saw the types of subjects others were looking into and thought I may have an original idea.

My next thought was that it was probably going to be extremely difficult to source relevant research to expand my studies. North Korea being one of the most insular regimes in the world must have some stifling effect on the flow of information coming out of the country and the difficulties experienced by journalists and other observers entering the country made me sceptical concerning my information gathering fortunes. Nevertheless I will stick with my idea because the whole notion of total control of the digital environment in a country really made a negative impression on me. The totalitarian nature of the regime was so foreign to my psyche that I was drawn to find out more about it. It also made angered me that a population as large as North Koreas was being robbed of the entertainment, information and colour of the outside world. Sure it may not all be award winning stuff and there are negative aspects to the influences offered by aspects of the digital world but in the 21st Century people should have the choice – they should be able to enjoy the freedoms of digital communication and learn to deal with the Dark Side of the force.

So I will research what North Korea has to offer as a contribution to the digital Asia, it may be a very short case study or it may widening my conceptual understanding of a digital Asia and enthothnographic research. Only time will tell and I hope I can find some information to make it worthwhile.