Despite sharing the same peninsula, South Koreans didn’t know much about their northern neighbors. The ‘Defector TV’ formula takes a reality TV approach – putting North Korean asylum seekers on the air, exploring what their lives were like before defecting and even setting them up with romantic partners from the south.
The producers involved say they’re out to improve understanding and pave the way to reunification of countries divided since the end of World War II, but sceptics say the shows are heavy on misrepresentation, sensationalism and sexist stereotyping.
[Prior to December 2011, there had “never been a programme about North Korea before,” explains Kim A-ra, defector and broadcaster of Channel A. “North Korea was only ever seen through the news, which kept talking about nuclear issues, the North Korean army, how poor North Korea is … That was it.”
“The question of whether they break down prejudices or reinforce them is difficult,” says Christopher Green, co-editor of Sino-NK. “The fact of the matter is they mostly do both simultaneously. They certainly seek to convey information about North Korea … [and] they have the tendency to reinforce some prejudices as well.”
For instance, 70 percent of North Korean defectors are women and the ones that find themselves on TV often end up reinforcing a cultural stereotype: that beautiful North Korean women are the best partners for South Korean men.
In shows like “Love Unification”, young North Korean women are paired with South Korean men who proceed to instruct them on the ways of the modern, developed country in which they now live.