What's with the crazy, scary North Korean propaganda?

There isn't much North Korean media, but what little exists is full of images of nuclear destruction — of U.S. cities incinerated by North Korean nukes. News anchors promise that a coming conflict will leave Washington in "a sea of fire." A Communist party website warned Tuesday that Pyongyang is "waiting for the moment it will reduce the whole of the U.S. mainland to ruins."

North Korean propaganda has gotten so over-the-top that after that last headline, the Chinese urged the Koreans to pipe down. The Chinese Foreign Ministry suggested both the North and the U.S. should "remain calm and exercise restraint, stop irritating each other," which experts said was directed more at Pyongyang than D.C.

Inside North Korea's secretive missile program

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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
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Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo LJW/RCS/AA
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
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It all sounds very ominous, but is it? While the tempo of anti-U.S. rhetoric is higher than in past years, there hasn't been that much of a change in its content. As one U.S. intelligence official noted, there's always been "hyperbole and propaganda in their messaging."

Related: North Korea Speeds Up Missile Tests To Send Message to Trump

In fact, say experts and U.S. officials, most of the rhetoric so widely replayed in Western media is not meant for the world stage but for internal consumption in the "hermit kingdom."

U.S. officials argue the content of the propaganda is intended to sustain the central ideology of the North Korean state, that only the "benevolence and wisdom of the Kim family" stands between the North's populace and the abyss. An aggressive stance towards the U.S. enhances that belief system. It shows the leadership will not back down, said one U.S. official.

SEE ALSO: US and South Korean navies put on massive show of force

Still, at least one expert on North Korean propaganda said that while a lot of Pyongyang's rhetorical flourishes are "eminently mockable," they shouldn't be ignored.

Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un
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Everything you didn't know about Kim Jong Un

1. While Kim Jong Un's birthday on January 8 is a national holiday, it is unknown exactly how old the North Korean leader is. It's widely believed he is in his early-mid thirties. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department listed his birth year as 1984 when they placed sanctions on North Korea.

 (KCNA via REUTERS)

2. Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest leader, according to the date listed by the Treasury. 

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kim Jong Un is very passionate about basketball. He is reportedly a big fan of Michael Jordan and has a friendly relationship with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman. Rodman has visited the secluded nation multiple times and even sang him "Happy Birthday" before an exhibition game in Jan. 2014. 

(REUTERS/KCNA)

4. Kim Jong Un reportedly has a love for smoking, whiskey and cheese

(KCNA/via Reuters)

5. Kim Jong Un's older half-brother Kim Jong Nam was killed in Feb. 2017 by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. The women were arrested following his death. Many believe the hit was directed by North Korea. 

(KCNA; REUTERS)

6. Kim Jong Un has two college degrees. One is in physics from Kim il Sung University and another as an Army officer obtained from the Kim Il Sung Military University.

(KCNA/REUTERS)

7. Kim Jong Un attended boarding school in Switzerland. It is widely disputed how much time he spent at the school. Most reports say he was abroad from 1998-2000. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

8. Kim Jong Un is the only general in the world that does not have any military experience. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

9. He married Ri Sol Ju in 2009. The couple has at least one daughter named Ju Ae. 

(KCNA/REUTERS)

10. Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song Thaek arrested and executed for treachery in 2013. 

(REUTERS/Kyodo)

11. Kim Jong Un hand selected North Korea's first all-female music group -- Moranbong Band. They made their debut in 2012. 

(ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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"Their bluster now carries more weight," said Sung-Yoon Lee, the Kim Koo Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies at the Fletcher School. "We can patronize them, but when their ability to carry out such attacks gets close, when they show the technology, I think their threats become more credible."

Lee also said that outsiders "should not be reduced to patronizing a regime that is very cruel."

Related: North Korea Test Fire of Ballistic Missile Fails

As for the rising tempo of propaganda, Lee and the U.S. intelligence community agree it's part and parcel of North Korea's approach to missile launches and nuclear test preparations.

A second U.S. intelligence official said the recent increase in noise is about attention.

"They need it," said the official, noting they weren't getting it from the Obama administration. "So they've been pounding out stuff at a sustained pace for at least a year."

SEE ALSO: 11 declassified maps show how the CIA saw the world at the height of the Cold War

At times, the propaganda seems targeted directly at the presidents of the United States and South Korea. In one video, Lee noted, the White House is obliterated "Independence Day style" — as in the movie where aliens flattened the American capital. In another, a full-scale model of the South Korean presidential compound, the Blue House, is blown apart by North Korean artillery.

Photojournalist captures North Korea's celebration of leader Kim Il Sung

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Photojournalist captures North Korea's celebration of leader Kim Il Sung
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Photojournalist captures North Korea's celebration of leader Kim Il Sung
People walk between buildings after the opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers march as they visit the newly constructed residential complex after its opening ceremony in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Thousands of people arrive for an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People carry flags after an opening ceremony for the newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Men wearing uniforms check a newly constructed residential complex after its opening ceremony in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Women dressed in traditional costumes walk near the main Kim Il Sung square in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Women wear traditional clothes as North Korea prepares to mark Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding father and grandfather of the current ruler, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
A man walks the the street decorated with flags as North Korea prepares to mark Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founding father and grandfather of the current ruler, in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People practice for the expected parade on the main Kim Il-Sung Square in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military officers visit the birthplace of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, a day before the 105th anniversary of his birth, in Mangyongdae, just outside Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People react as a vehicle carrying foreign reporters passes towards the newly constructed residential complex before its opening in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Portraits of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung and late leader Kim Jong Il glow as people take part in a mass dance event marking the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Soldiers check their souvenir photo as they visit the flower exhibition marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People sweep in front of statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People enjoy the Munsu water park in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People wait in line for a water slide as they enjoy the Munsu water park in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People gather at the entrance of a zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Twin girls enjoy their time in a zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People travel on escalators to enter a subway station in central Pyongyang, North Korea April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
The sun set in Pyongyang, North Korea April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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And the messaging can get even more personal. Lee points to attacks on President Obama and the recently impeached president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, in 2015. Obama, he said, was referred to as a "wicked black monkey" who should return to Africa "and feed off bread crumbs thrown by tourists" while Park was called a "dirty old whore." The North, Lee said, received criticism in the international community for its racist and sexist commentary.

Some of the more recent videos directed against the U.S. have high production values, with heavy use of graphics and animations.

In March, North Korean television showed a video of a simulated nuclear missile attack on The Ellipse, just south of the White House. The announcer talks about how "the American imperialists and the South Korean traitors ... will face the most absurd and painful self-destruction, digging their own tombs with their bare hands." The video ends with a sea of gravestones superimposed over an American flag.

Related: North Korea Showing Off Missiles That Can't Fly, Say Experts

A month later, as part of the celebration of the Day of the Sun, North Korean TV broadcast a military concert in front of a big screen display showing a missile attack on San Francisco. Kim stands on the dais as the orchestra reaches a crescendo perfectly timed with a simulated nuclear detonation.

One U.S. official said the videos are at once a throwback to earlier Cold War messaging and strangely au courant. He called them "almost post-modern, ironic rather than earnest."

There is a numbing sameness to North Korea's words and imagery, but the U.S. monitors the messages closely for any changes. As a second U.S. official said, if the Koreans stop talking about turning South Korea into a "sea of fire" and threaten something even more horrific, the intelligence community — and the world — need to take note.

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