The Politics of Pop Culture: 22 year old publicly executed in North Korea for listening to K-Pop

Why does K-Pop terrify Kim Jong Un’s regime so much?


Iman Ahmed July 01, 2024
Pictured: Kim Jong Un, BTS, Red Velvet, Jennie of BLACKPINK & Cha Eunwoo

The persistent crackdown on K-pop is part of North Korea's effort to protect its citizens from the ‘corrupting’ influence of Western culture, a campaign initiated by former supreme leader Kim Jong-il and intensified by his son, Kim Jong-un.

Despite this, K-pop's groundbreaking global popularity continues to rise, showing no signs of fading. Recently, K-pop group Seventeen made history as the first K-pop group to perform at the Glastonbury Festival, the world's largest greenfield music and performing arts festival.

According to a human rights report released by South Korea’s unification ministry, Kim Jong Un’s regime ordered the public execution of a 22-year-old man for listening to and sharing K-pop music and films.

The Guardian's 2024 Report on North Korean Human Rights reveals that the man from the South Hwanghae province was executed in 2022 after being found guilty of listening to 70 South Korean songs, watching 3 films, and sharing them with others.

This act violated a North Korean law adopted in 2020 that bans ‘reactionary ideology and culture.’

North Korean authorities are becoming increasingly vigilant when it comes to controlling the flow of outside information, particularly among the youth. The crackdown extends beyond media consumption; practices such as brides wearing white dresses, grooms carrying the bride, wearing sunglasses, or drinking alcohol from wine glasses are all punishable offences as they are viewed as South Korean customs and mannerisms.

Mobile phones are frequently inspected for signs of South Korean influence, including contact name spellings, expressions, and slang terms. For instance, the term ‘oppa,’ commonly used by South Korean women for their romantic partners, is now forbidden in the North. Instead, North Korean women must refer to their lovers as ‘male comrades.’

Although both Koreas share the same language, subtle differences have emerged since their division after the Korean War in the 50s. These differences are a significant reason why North Korea is wary of allowing any foreign influence, like South Korean slang. Allowing such influences would mean acknowledging that the South Korean model of society works, and the North Korean model does not.

Adopting South Korean pop culture—be it through music, fashion, hairstyles, or vocabulary—signals both admiration and sympathy toward South Korea. The cultural soft power that South Korea holds, exemplified by groups like BTS and BLACKPINK and films like ‘Parasite’ making history for winning the Oscar for Best Picture, poses a significant threat to North Korea.

Pictured: Bong Jon-hoo at the 92nd Academy Awards via AP/Shutterstock (bottom), BTS at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards (top left), BLACKPINK headlining Coachella 2023

Pictured: Bong Jon-hoo at the 92nd Academy Awards via AP/Shutterstock (bottom), BTS at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards (top left), BLACKPINK headlining Coachella 2023

Rising awareness about the outside world and the stark contrast in living conditions could undermine the regime's legitimacy and ideological framework. This scenario mirrors the 1980s Soviet Union, where a clamour for Western goods contributed to public disillusionment and its eventual fall.

The North Korean regime’s fear of K-pop and other South Korean cultural influences underscores a deeper anxiety about maintaining control in the face of an increasingly informed and disillusioned population.

North Korea is so isolated from the rest of the world that we're only now hearing about a public execution that happened two years ago!

As North Koreans continue to secretly consume glimpses of life beyond their borders, the regime's grip may weaken, paving the way for potential societal change. The question remains: how long can North Korea keep its people isolated from a world that grows more connected every day?

 

COMMENTS (1)

Ijaz | 2 weeks ago | Reply You have to obey the laws of the land or be punished you take your pick.
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