There is something genuinely surreal about communist kitsch. In the midst of the grey, dingy, low-growth, high-corruption, fearful yet boozy commie sub-cultures stretching from East Berlin to Pyongyang, weird, irrelevant, yet distinctly socialist-bloc cultural images tied people together. Stephen Kotkin nailed it by calling this ‘trashcanistan.’ Think of commie-kitsch as the Red version of MTV’s ‘I Love the 80s’: we all know its god-awful and that it embodies the fall of Western civilization; yet we love the trashy, wannabe celebrity commentary and the references to long-lost 80s junk we nonetheless remember, like jerry-curl or Whitesnake; we can all use it as a reference point with each other, if only for inanity; and we could easily pass a hangover afternoon watching it as a guilty pleasure.
So transpose that moronic intellectual frame onto the grinding, burned-out, alcohol-sodden, polluted, ‘they-pretend-to-pay-us-and-we-pretend-to-work’ world of 20th century communism. [You didn’t know there were Soviet proverbs? You’re not even sure you know what an ‘east-bloc proverb’ is? Try here.] What would be the trashy mediocrity, nonetheless widely shared and still socially tying post-communist populations together?
The best known treatment of communist kitcsh is the movie Goodbye Lenin. In East Germany, former GDR citizens fought to retain their pedestrian streetlights, because the red and green lights were shaped as cute little people (Ampelmaenner), not just the colored blob most of see. Don’t believe me? There is an internet campaign to save the Ampelmaenner, as ridiculous as that sounds. (Don’t these people have to go to work?) You can even learn why the Ampelmann is a “cult figure.” Hah!
In the ‘red-kitsch-yet-to-be’ category has to be the scary as hell, yet… disturbingly sexy female traffic police of North Korea. Again, you think I am lying? Try this website set-up by westerners (men presumably) just to celebrate these stalinist sex symbols (yes, in trashcanistan, ‘stalinist sex symbol’ is a meaningful concept). Among other surreal commie kitsch wonders is the monthly,“Pyongyang Traffic Girl Of The Month” Contest (on the homepage), the forum moderated by “Jong-Il’s Hair Apparent,” and a picture gallery in which you can admire the umbrellas the cops use when its very sunny. Hah! You can’t make this stuff up its so loopy…
Watch the video at the top of this post, and consider of ALL of the following contradictions in just 80 seconds (h/t to Tom for catching this genuinely surreal vid):
1. How can two dumb American guys pull off wandering around Pyongyang alone?
2. Where is their minder, and how did they possibly get a video-camera in?
3. Why are they so stupid as to film a cop, without permission, in the world’s worst police state?
4. Wth is that other dude in Mini-Cooper?
5. How did HE get in alone, with a video camera, to film a cop also? Hey, wait a minute! I thought NK was the world’s worst police state? How do these guys pull this off?!
6. How do you get a Mini in North Korea?
7. How do you ‘pimp-out’ a Mini in North Korea? ‘Fast and Furious 5: Pyongyang Milk Run’? Haha!
8. Isn’t that car exactly the kind of thing the predatory DPRK elite would confiscate?
9. Is the guy in the Mini filming the cop or the dumb Americans? I am not sure which is scarier…
10. Why doesn’t the guy in the Mini freak out when the cop gets angry? Good lord, who has the b—- to provoke the North Korean police?!
Honestly, someone needs to write a master’s thesis on red kitsch. It is clearly a shared social context the provides meaning in its own way, and the laugh potential is awesome, especially for regular, all-too-drab social science.
If you need more vids of North Korean terminatrixes gone wild, try here.