Simanaitis Says

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“A VICIOUS CANCER,” said Kim Jong-un, “is corrupting attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” State media warned that, if unchecked, North Korea would “crumble like a damp wall.” 

Image by Bloomberg from

Hairstyles? Isn’t this the dolsot calling the ddukbaegi black? Speaking of which, I note that the only hair coloring permitted in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is black. 

This is all part of Dear Leader’s assault on K-Pop, South Korean popular movies, music, and other aspects managing to infiltrate themselves into the Hermit Kingdom. 

Sort of like Elvis becoming the rage of the Bible Belt back in the 1950s.

Here are tidbits, as reported in Choe Sang-Hun’s article on Kim Jong-un and K-Pop in The New York Times, June 10, 2021.

K-Pop Arise! Choe writes, “After winning fans around the world, South Korean pop culture has entered the final frontier: North Korea, where its growing influence has prompted the leader of the totalitarian state to declare a new culture war to stop it. But even a dictator may have trouble holding back the tide.”

Countering the DPRK Pitch. “North Korean state propaganda,” Choe says, “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,” Choe continues, “is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows.”

The K-Pop group BTS. It gets its name from Bangtan Sonyeondan, Korean: 방탄소년단, literally “Bulletproof Boy Scouts.” Image by Heo Ran/Reuters from The New York Times, June 10, 2021.

Kim Jong-un’s Response. Last December, a new law increased the penalty for watching or possessing K-Pop to as much as five to 15 years hard labor. (It had previously been specifically five.) 

Broadly interpreted, the law goes after those who “speak, write, or sing in South Korean style.” For example, the government searches computers, text messages, music players, and notebooks for South Korean accents.

Choe cites a government document: “The families of those who are caught ‘imitating the puppet accent’ from the South in their daily conversations or text messages could be expelled from cities as a warning….”

Watch Your Language. Choe reports, “Women in North Korea, for example, are supposed to call their dates ‘comrade.’ Instead, many have started calling them ‘oppa,’ or honey, as women do in K-dramas. Mr. Kim has called the language ‘perverted.’ ”

Erratic Diplomacy. For awhile there, Kim’s words—and actions—appeared diplomatic. Recall Trump’s “He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love…”

A rare occurrence in the past: South and North Korean pop singers held a joint concert in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in 2018.

“But,” Choe observes, “Mr. Kim’s confidence weakened after his diplomacy with Donald J. Trump, the former American president, collapsed in 2019 without the lifting of crushing economic sanctions.”

Wouldn’t it be nice one day if the DPRK’s people could be called “oppa” again? I wouldn’t hold much in Kim’s love letters, any more than Trump’s. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,,  2021

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