Kim Jong Un called pop culture a “vicious cancer” corrupting young North Koreans “attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” His state media has cautioned that if left unchecked, it would make North Korea “crumble like a damp wall.”
After winning fans around the world, South Korean pop culture has arrived at the final frontier: North Korea, where its growing influence has provoked the leader of the totalitarian state to proclaim a new culture war to quit it. But even a dictator may have trouble curbing the tide.
Pop-culture’s ascending craze in North Korea
In recent months, almost a day has gone by without Kim or state media railing against anti-socialist and nonsocialist influences spreading in his country, especially South Korean movies, K-dramas, and K-pop videos. As part of a panicked attempt to reassert control, Kim has ordered his nation to stamp out the cultural invasion.
The censorship is anything but a peevish dictator’s huff. It comes at a time when the North’s economy is tumbling and its diplomacy with the West has stalled. Perhaps vacating the country’s youth more receptive to the outside significance and challenging Kim’s firm grip on the North Korean community.
Young North Koreans think they owe nothing to Kim Jong Un, said Jung Gwang-il, a defector from the North who runs a network that smuggles K-pop into North Korea. He must give some flexibility to young so that
Kim’s family has ruled the North for three generations, and devotion from millennials in the country has often been tested. They came of age during a famine in the late 1990s, when the government was unable to provide rations, causing millions to die. Families survive by buying food from unofficial markets stocked with goods smuggled from China, including bootlegged entertainment from the South.
North Korean state propaganda had long described South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars. Through the K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs, young North Koreans learned that while they struggled to find enough food to eat during a famine, people in the South were going on diets to lose weight.
South Korean entertainment is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows.
Its existence has become so concerning that North Korea enacted a new law in December. It calls for five to 15 years in labor camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment, according to lawmakers in Seoul who were briefed by government intelligence officials, and internal North Korean documents smuggled out by Daily NK, a Seoul-based website.
Those who put material in the hands of North Koreans can face even stiffer punishments, including the death penalty. The new law also calls for up to two years of hard labor for those who “speak, write or sing in South Korean style.”
The introduction of the law was followed by months of new dictates from Kim warning of outside influence. In February, he ordered all provinces, cities, and counties to “mercilessly” stamp out growing capitalist tendencies. In April, he warned that “a serious change” was taking place in the “ideological and mental state” of young North Koreans. Women in North Korea, are supposed to call their dates “comrade.” Instead, many have started calling them “oppa,” or honey, as women do in K-dramas. Kim has called the language “perverted.”
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