Forbidden audience: Media reception and social change in North Korea

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This study is an attempt to investigate the cultural aspects of North Korea by examining the everyday lives of the people, a topic that has been a blind spot in the body of previous research on North Korea. Although there are ample studies on North Korea due to its significance for world peace, they are limited to military and political aspects. To look into the micro-aspects of the social practice of ordinary people in North Korea, the method of post-modern ethnography is adopted. In-depth interviews and participatory observation of North Korean refugees in a special high school for them were conducted by focusing on their experiences of viewing South Korean media, which is absolutely prohibited in North Korea. Watching South Korean media is a fad among young North Koreans these days, although it is seen as delinquent behaviour by the authorities and the young people have to take the risk of being caught and sent to jail. The viewing patterns of media in people's daily lives may be one of the few indicators of social change in such closed societies as North Korea. Due to persistent poverty and pervasive corruption, social minorities exist without social care and control. Young people as a social minority are free to create their own resistant culture in the social underside. With little hope for the future, the visual fantasy of South Korean media allows youth to dream of an alternative way of life. Watching South Korean TV is not simply a means of entertainment or escaping from reality, but also a means of signifying social change. This audience study of young North Koreans is meaningful in the sense that a marginal activity like watching TV in a social minority group could signify major social changes in the most stagnant society in the world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-184
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Media and Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015 Aug 4


  • Adolescent culture
  • Audience study
  • Cultural study of media
  • Korean wave
  • Social changes in North Korea


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