An interesting â??Dispatchesâ?? programme on Channel 4 last night was built around footage smuggled out of North Korea, on the pains of death for the filmmakers, if caught. It captured the appaling repression of a Stalinist state where corruption, starvation, and summary executions are everyday experiences. What it really brought home was the power of the graphic image, both for good and bad, and the fear repressive regimes have of visual communication. On one hand it is used by the state to project a colourful image of the all-seeing all-powerful leader, Kim Jong Il. On the other, there are instances of fearless grass-roots dissent with images of the leader written over and posters calling for popular revolution. Layered ontop of this is the use of new cheap technology to digitally record these fairly primative and small scale acts of dissent, then disseminate them to the wider world.
There is also an interesting burgeoning black market in video’s of soap operas and game shows smuggled in from the South and China, again on pains of death. It’s fascinating how a form of trash culture, images and lifestyles depicted in adverts and chat shows, could become part of a catalyst to bring down a repressive regime.
This brought to mind a story an old tutor of mine told me about the turning point in the debate about slavery coming with the mass production and distribution of an illustration of a slave ship, and the conditions in which slaves were being transported. When confronted with this visual evidence of a scenario, which could otherwise be either ignored or belittled, popular opinion started to turn in favour of ending slavery.
It really puts into perspective the work we do on a day to day basis, and a lot of the so-called graphic activism which exists in our western culture, (and I hold myself as guilty as anyone on this count).
A recent social-graphics project of mine (bearing in mind all of the above) can be seen â??hereâ??