On August 21st, some 500 to 1,300 people in eastern Damascus suffocated to death, many as they fled for safety or slept in their beds. This single event has run like an electric shock through the international community unlike any other before, painting the impression of an escalation in the conflict (but not really) and beckoning the international community over a rubicon they dug with their own hands. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the details and even the validity of this event as all the focus snaps to the inevitable bumbling response. al-Assad outright denies the use of any chemical weapons, Russia and skeptics call it a false-flag, and America and Israel claim to have out-of-the-park proof that it was a strike ordered by the government. There is fair reason to not trust the claims of either side, but independent of their claims, local reporting and international observers have pieced together a picture that very clearly indicts the Syrian army in Damascus with the chemical attack on Zemalka and the surrounding suburbs.
It’s safe to say that the gaming industry is currently enjoying a sort of renaissance when it comes to indie games. Not since the flash minigames and mods of the early 21st century has there ever been such an avalanche of new and innovating game forms, unbound by the common publishing hesitations of marketing or returning a profit. Thanks in large part to crowdsourcing platforms like Steam’s Greenlight, Good Ol Games, IndieGoGo, and Kickstarter, individual or small teams of developers can find an audience for their work and be elevated to the same digital store front shelves occupied by triple-A titles like Call of Duty or GTA. There are thousands of games that come and go through these services, some innovative and many derivative, but every so often one will shine through the rest and get the attention it dearly deserves. Lucas Pope‘s Papers, Please is one of those games, and it’s one of the most unique to come along in a while.
It’s a shame that Elysium is a lousy movie. It has all decoration, grandeur, and weight of a much better film, yet can’t drag itself above the simplicity of its own plot and metaphors. It’s like a great big cathedral you can see for miles, all the details coming into focus as you approach, and when you get inside it’s empty save for some tables and chairs. Neil Blomkamp, whose short films and mainstream debut District 9 made him one to keep an eye on, has almost set himself up a trap with a film like Elysium. On one side he has to create a compelling journey action drama, trekking from the slums of LA to the low orbit space station of Elysium. On the other he sets the story’s backdrop as a hopeless situation beyond repair, a dire circumstance that he must then repair or offer closure for in some way that doesn’t have audiences and reviewers scoffing about how much of a bummer he is.
The answer appears to be a little bit of both.
For about 19 years now the Sudan has been the scene for some of the largest bloodshed in our modern day. It has been a conflict largely ignored by many media outlets in favor of more hip and with it war zones, ones which invariably sit closer to US foreign interests. While the death toll in Syria has only recently crawled over 100,000, the Sudanese crisis has been estimated to have seen as many as 200,000 to 400,000 people die. That number has such a wide range because documenting and tallying the long, drawn out crisis is a Herculean challenge, complicated by limited access, day-to-day violence over a massive (now split) country, and the blind eye of those who could fund such efforts.
George Clooney is no such blind eye. The man with the perfectly symmetrical face has been throwing his monetary and celebrity weight behind what is known as the Satellite Sentinel Project, The project, in partnership with folks like Clooney, the Enough Project, and others, maintains a spy satellite some 300 miles in the sky over the Sudanese region, capturing high resolution footage of the situation on the ground in real time. The idea appears to have originally come from Clooney’s own experience in Hollywood, While visiting the Sudan in October of 2010, only months before the South Sudan would declare independence, he and Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast had a deceptively simple thought,
What if we could watch the warlords? Monitor them just like the paparazzi spies on Clooney?
“Why can’t I be a guy with a 400-mile lens, a tourist, taking pictures and sticking them on the Internet?”
A few phone calls and meetings later and they had their own lidless eye in space, ready to observe and report.
In recent months Jean Lee, bureau chief for the AP in Korea, and David Guttenfelder, AP’s chief photographer in North Korea, have been allowed a small luxury no North Korean citizen has ever had before; the ability to upload to Instagram. Koryolink, a joint venture between an Egyptian and North Korean state-owned telecom, recently activated a 3G mobile network within the hermit kingdom’s borders. Since then, Lee and Guttenfelder have been embarking on what could only be called a photo-junkies wet dream, instagramming and tweeting up a storm from deep within the reclusive country. What they’ve returned are quick snippets, either photos or fifteen second videos, of life in a country which fully embraces isolationism and the personality cult of the Kim Dynasty. However, there is a flip side to this unfiltered access, a kind of sensationalist streak that has run through the reporting on these photos.
Guttenfelder’s short, unedited videos provide an interesting and unique look at life inside North Korea for the outside world.
…every little glimpse we get behind the curtain is thrilling. The mundane is illuminating, and the most uneventful scene appears packed with suspense.
However, the first Instagram videos coming out of the country offer unfiltered peeks into what many call the “Hermit Kingdom”.
As Guttenfelder himself puts it,
“There are so many curious, strangely beautiful, or melancholy details around us here…These might not be typical of the news photos I usually transmit, but they offer fleeting glimpses of this country, and how it feels to be here.”
These are normal sentiments to have. In a world where unrestricted access to global content is ubiquitous, we clamor for any and all imagery that is denied from us; Gore, death, porn, North Korea. This post is no different. Below you’ll find a number of different photos and videos from both accounts that are particularly interesting and note-worthy, and do offer some insight into the regular day-to-day of Pyongyang. But while for many these photos raise the unsettling question of “How can these people live in such an authoritarian state”, the more hidden and unsettling question one should understand is “How much of this work inadvertently perpetuates the vision and myths of North Korea that that same authoritarian state wants us to see? How much does this “unrestricted” access contribute to a kind of global bystander effect?”