THERE is a very interesting article in the Age by Melbourne barrister Michael Challinger (and yes, it really is by Michael Challinger) describing his and others’ abject compliance with the dictates of North Korea’s tourism authorities. On cue and as instructed his tour party laid flowers and wore solemn faces at the monument to Kim Il-sung. They accepted without protest their mobile incarceration in a bus hermetically sealed to eliminate contact with any but chaperones. They stayed in their hotel, did always as told and gave no trouble whatsoever. Challinger admits to a little guilt at his willingness to “toe the line” and suggests his experience needs to be borne in mind as news footage from Pyongyang continues to show Kim Jong-il’s mourners dabbing at tears and balling their little, grief-stricken fists. You go along to get along is what he is saying, further hinting that North Koreans’ true feelings might be other than they have been presented.
It is a heartening article, most especially because it appears in The Age, which is Melbourne’s very own Hermit Kingdom. It is not, mind you, that the city on the Yarra would set itself adrift on a sea of tears if editor Paul Ramadge were to turn a peculiar shade of puce, clutch his chest and tumble lifeless into the rubbish bin, where Gerard Henderson’s banished columns serve as a liner. Rather, the interest would be in a captive newsroom’s reaction.
Would the inmates engage in acts of conspicuous prostration before the Age’s altar to George Galloway, praying for Ramadge’s apotheosis to the immortal ranks of Journalism’s Dear Leaders? Probably.
Would they ease each other’s grief with public speeches of their newspaper as a brave light in a world of darkness? Almost certainly (although not, for obvious reasons, during Earth Hour week)
Would a women’s group convene to chant of Tony Abbott’s sexism and to invoke, rather like the first scene of Macbeth, the ancient Ann Summers' incantations of something wicked and conservative their way coming? Without a doubt.
Today, though, Challinger’s article gives a little hope, as it must to those who would wish to see North Korea discard its generational insanity and re-join the real world. Somewhere in the Age there must be at least a few who cash their pay cheques and understand those weekly rewards are for staying quiet and toeing the line. There must be some as well whose social circles extend beyond the Greens-voting denizens of the inner city, Age inmates who have actually met Melbournians more concerned about jobs and prosperity than the emotional impact of Bay dredging on anxious molluscs. Somewhere, perhaps hiding for their safety and that of their mortgages in a broom closet, there must he someone who does not ride and love a bicycle.
Who knows what will happen in North Korea? It may be that change will come and reform will flower, that some small crack will open to unleash a flood of thought unencumbered by doctrine and dogma. One gathers that is Challinger’s faint hope. It is certainly that of those who would love to see Melbourne re-gain at least one decent newspaper.