One of the intellectual pleasures of being an American living abroad -- I live in Spain -- is to observe the subtleties of your own country's propaganda efforts.
I was reminded of this smarmy side of the American political game the other day when I saw that North Korean news anchorwoman crying on television as she announced the death of President Kim Jung Il. You had to wonder if she would take the death of her own father any harder.
That was the point of the scene, of course: the Dear Leader's death was like your own father's. It was the point for North Koreans, that is. The rest of the world probably found it -- let's be charitable, a man died -- melodramatic.
But that's the fascinating thing about international politics: how each nation retains, generation after generation, its personality; how it cannot think, though it can feel; how certain sentiments root so deeply in one national psyche and wither without a trace in the next. Koreans apparently react to tearful displays; Americans react to to cool leaders who play saxophone or make snappy speeches.
Some countries don't need personal identification with their leaders. In Spain, of the six men who have been president, only one, Felipe Gonzalez , had any sort of personal charisma. Presidents here are just heads of the political parties that win elections. It is King Juan Carlos , jovial and distinguished, that personifies the country and that people relate to personally. And the mainstream media, as everywhere, plays its propaganda role bathing him in kingly mystique.
The trick to propaganda is that it can never look like propaganda. And it works best if the people presenting it don't consider it that way either. I would imagine that the Korean anchorwoman really was deeply moved, and if the director had to tell her to save her tears till he gave her the on-the-air countdown, it was only the reverential thing to do.
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