Google: Labor Camp 22 Is Open For Business

by Gabriel Mizrahi on October 29, 2012

It’s a brutal place. Camp 22, aka Hoeryong concentration camp, aka Kwan-li-so No. 22, is one of North Korea’s most disturbing prison camps.

Tucked away in the northeast corner of North Korea, where Russia locks a spindly finger around China’s thumb, Camp 22 spews horrific tales of chemical experimentation, torture and murder. The firsthand accounts seem too incredible, too disturbing, to be real.

Just a few weeks ago, Daily NK reported that Camp 22 had been shut down, probably “triggered by a case of high-level defection” and designed “to represent an attempt on the part of the state to cover its tracks lest the defections lead to more widespread knowledge of the nature of the North Korean political prison camp network.” Last week, new satellite images suggested that Camp 22 is still very much operational. Piles of grain imply that mouths need feeding. New buildings reflect a metastasis of the gulag.


Once Google noted this hell on earth, Hoeryong quickly became a hot spot on Google+. Not surprising, users chimed in with reviews of the popular gulag.

Narwhal bacons at midnight. Does any reference better evince the cruelty and the saving grace of Internet jokes about North Korea? One day a Redditor stumbled upon this idiosyncratic whisper in the Denver Airport, and voila: A meme was born. But Narwhal bacons at midnight reminds me that a meme is a decidedly higher-level thing, a delightful passage in the upper stories of Maslow’s pyramid. It could never survive the gas chambers of Camp 22.

And so seeing it in a Google review of a world-renowned concentration camp makes it kind of interesting. Makes it kind of funny. Because for something as digitally subcultural as narwhal bacons at midnight to be the key takeaway here — the MUST see — well, it’s pretty damn perfect. In a way, it says it all. Even if it is bookended by another obvious joke. As opposed to A Google User #2, who

Different accomplishments emerge in this one. The “booking” as the consequence of unscrupulous public commentary. The helpful suggestion for a suggestion box, cute in its recursive naivete. A desire for the convenience of name tags (another higher-level thing if you think about it, in a country that recycles names, and the humans they represent, quite liberally). But the reviewer stumbles fatally at the midpoint. Is the slavedriver really proverbial? Or is he actual? And oh why does he kid? Apparently 7 out of 9 people know. In sharp contrast to Another Google User (our last), who rated Camp 22

and only received a 40% approval rating. I suppose that says everything you need to know. About the subject, about the audience, and — yes — about the place. Google+ might be where the sorriest strains of satire breed, but reviewing a gulag on the Internet will always speak volumes. Because no matter how cruel or silly or poorly written, it will always ipso facto prove the point. Because in case we’ve forgotten what we’re talking about, users are reviewing North Korea’s gulags on Google+. They’re basically Yelping concentration camps. That means Camp 22 is open for business. Even if it remains closed to comprehension.

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