Choco Pies Are The Key to Defeating North Korea
BY: Amelia Kwan
With the recent global frenzy regarding North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts and possible death, there is an ever-increasing trend in speculations about the regime itself. Who will take the reins when he dies? What will happen to the citizens? How should the rest of the world react? Much of the focus surrounding North Korea involves its political allies and enemies, nuclear weapons systems, and undoubtedly the question that captures all of our wildest imaginations: How can we defeat North Korea? How can we free the people there and end the corruption and suffering in one of the most isolated countries in the world? As any reasonable person would, you might first think of trade sanctions, assassination-worst comes to worst, all out war. Perhaps even benign neglect could in the very least, prevent the situation from worsening as we patiently wait for the isolated nation to slowly erode away. But there is one thing that our Dear Leader likely fears far beyond political chess or weapons. Its potency is the one common enemy among all authoritarian rulers who understand the ways of systematic oppression and control. And that, of course, is the Choco Pie. To anyone who has never experienced the delights of a Choco Pie, it delivers a sublime balance of marshmallows, cake, and chocolatey happiness through a layer of marshmallow sandwiched between chocolate-covered cakes. Known as an iconic Korean snack and childhood staple, the Choco Pie encapsulates a beautifully sweet aspect of what it means to be a South Korean - and of capitalism. But to North Koreans, the Choco Pie represents so much more. For it has become a political symbol; one of the outside world, of prosperity, of progress, and of hope - all packaged in perfect sugary capitalism. They were banned from North Korea in 2014 after being labelled by Kim Jong-un as a threat to regime stability. Following the ban, they continued to be a highly sought commodity, selling for up to $10 USD apiece. Following the ban on Choco Pies in 2014, South Korean activists began sending them by the thousands in balloons across the North/South Korean border. CDs, pamphlets, USBs with movies, k-dramas, and literature have also been sent across the 38th parallel to give a glimpse of what life is like on the outside. The power of such a simple snack lies no further than the impact it has on North Korean citizens: changing perceptions through the introduction of “Western” culture and ideas. That doesn’t mean we need to westernize North Koreans or whitewash them (South Korea isn’t a Western country, but still adopts the same ideals of democracy and human rights). But the introduction of other cultures outside North Korea’s borders is a form of power through knowledge. Not only knowledge, but culture. The most dangerous possibility in a dictator’s eyes, with the potential to induce chaos and overthrow their authority is revolution. Dictators can only thrive off their own citizens, provided that they have absolute control and are able to maintain power. Thus, losing the faith of and control over the people will undeniably cause their demise. While nuclear weapons, possibilities of war, international criticism, and internal corruption are all potential threats to the North Korean government, the most volatile power lies within its own citizens. The introduction of culture and separate ways of thinking that deviate from the regime’s oppressive political agenda are what give people power.
With that in mind, Choco Pies are only a small part of a form of cultural resistance against the North Korean government. Cultural resistance is the use of culture – that is, through languages, literature, symbols, meanings, and networks, to contest and combat a dominant power. It becomes political action by transforming political discourse into practice; it provides a “free space” for political expression, both ideological and material. In the end, the revolution in North Korea would have to be facilitated by cultural insurgency, which began with cultural resistance. And cultural resistance began with the simple exposure to outside culture. And that began with a thousands upon thousands of Choco Pies.