Orwell in Pyongyang

imagesI often quarrel with one of my friends. This person insists that liberal arts are “useless”, defining them “simple and unnecessary”. Fiction, poetry, novels … When I praise them he cuts short: “Well, in the end, what do we need them for? Science allows us to move forward and improve our life; chemistry and mathematics are subjects worth to study. ”

I get angry; really angry! Every dictatorship made the suppressed population faithfull to the government throught the destuction of the freedom of thought, burning books and destroing paitings. The Nazis burned the books. The fascists burned the books. The Chinese dictators have burned books. And so on.

The first thing that  a new dictatorship does is to destroy the culture; the biggest fear of all authoritarian and dictatorial governments is having to deal with a population able to articulate individual thoughts. What threatens the existence of a dictatorship is not science, but literature, philosophy and, yes, sometimes even music.

At this point, I wonder: if so many political leaders want to destroy this kind of books, then maybe they have more value than we expect them to have, right? According to my friend, absolutely not. However, there are people that use liberal arts to teach and send messages, to explain to the reader how to improve the quality of the life. I really feel like thanking George Orwell and Guy Delisle. The first is a writer, the other a cartoonist.

In 1948, George Orwell created the dystopian novel par excellence (dystopian means negative utopia, anti-utopia, a model of society undesirable from every point of view).. Reversing the last two numbers of the year during which he wrote the novel, he entitled his work “1984”. The novel is set in a world where Big Brother rules. This is an unknown entity that none knows directly but that knows everything about every single citizen- his political propaganda lasts 24h / 24h, you can see picture and video about the Big Brother that, on the other hand, spies over and controls every person throught cameras installed in every room of every flat and policeman that can kind of read minds. The purpose of this over-control is to destroy even the possibility that someone may wish to join a political party different from the only existing one. Although the Big Brother reminds of Hitler and Lenin, Orwell does not want to criticize the socialism and the fascism themselves but the two leaders who imposed the dictatorship, betraying the people that put their life in their hands.

If Orwell had a chance to hang out in Pyongyang, North Korea, he would probably be astonished. His predictions have come true. It seems like someone has taken his 1984’s society model and reproduce it for real, in its own image and likeness!

Guy Delisle is a Canadian cartoonist. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about arts and their values and among these there is one which associate comics and cartoons to childhood. But Delisle, as his colleagues such as Joe Sacco, Reinhard Kleist and others, using this new form of expression defined grafic journalism, deals with social issues.

Delisle’s comic Pyongyang (published in March 2013), begins with the travel adventure of a man (Guy), in visit in North Korea. The first mis-adventure happens in the airport: the traveller is stopped at the gate because he is carrying a dangerous book, the aforementioned George Orwell’s work. The book represent the city of Pyongyang throught the eyes of a foreign person: tourism is rigidly controlled, lifestyle is strict, European business companies in the city and the local people are phisically and simbolically separated, the streets are clean, large and desert. Local people are not allowed to leave the appartment in the evening; it is not allowed even to the tourists to enjoy a destination of their choice.

Talking to the Korean guide who brings and follow him everywhere, he finds out that in North Korea disabled people do not exist anymore because Korean population is so physically strong and well-built and mentally so clever that none can generate a disabled child.

What does this statement suggest? That the state has so brainwashed people that they really trust what the government says, even if it is incredible. The process of annihilation of thought is complete, devastating and fruitful, indeed.

People may notice the mental slavery which they are caught in only comparing their society with others. Studying history, listening to jazz music, admiring paintings. The voice of the oppressed inspired the most beautiful novels and lyrics of songs.

That’s why, arts and literature are the most frightening of all enemies.



  1. Amanda · luglio 11, 2015

    Oh my, i need to buy one of his books…

    Mi piace

    • occidentecomeedipo · luglio 11, 2015

      Good Idea 😀 when you buy it, please let me know your opinion about it.

      Mi piace


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