North Korea Cracks Down on ‘Capitalist’ Pop Culture

North Korea Cracks Down on ‘Capitalist’ Pop Culture
Photo Credit: KCNA via Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

An increase in the scale of prison and labor camps in North Korea suggests more people are falling foul of the regime’s rules on deviation from the socialist norm, analysts say.

By Julian Ryall

North Korea is stepping up its campaign against people who wear “capitalist” style clothing or mimic foreign hairstyles, as part of a of a broader crackdown on foreign pop culture, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK.

The North Korean regime has long railed against outside influences affecting its socialist way of life, with men and women limited to a list of “approved” hairstyles and clothing.

Citing sources in the North, Daily NK said officials of the Socialist Patriotic Youth League stated that sporting clothing and hair in the “North Korean style” is a vital element of a socialist lifestyle. 

North Koreans who contravene fashion rules can be detained, questioned, beaten and, in some cases, sentenced to prison terms.  

The Daily NK reported authorities are filming women stopped in the street for failing to follow government fashion regulations and using the footage in lectures about anti-state behavior.

One video shows several women, apparently in their 20s and 30s, who were detained for wearing tight leggings or dying their hair, according to the Daily NK.

The footage commentary describes the women as “capitalist delinquents” with “indecent clothes” and an “impure ideology.”

‘Not able to control my own body’

North Korean defector Eunhee Park told DW that Pyongyang seeks to stamp out individualism, as free choice contributes to opposition to the regime.

Park defected from North Korea in 2012 and is a keynote speaker with the South Korea-based advocacy group Freedom Speakers International.

“I was 16 when I first saw a foreign television show, but I immediately loved what I saw, the lives of those people were so different to what I saw around me in North Korea,” the 31-year-old told DW.

“We were told that the Kim dictators were our fathers and we had to do what they said, but suddenly I saw people enjoying freedom.”

Park said there were “lots of restrictions” on clothing choice and that “people just followed the orders.”

“But I believed that fashion was an expression of a person’s character and I wanted to be who I was, but I was not even able to control my own body.” 

Jeans, dyed hair, and cosmetics are all taboo in the North, with those who follow the regulations categorized as loyal “red” members of society. Park, however, bent the rules and was labeled as “grey,” or a traitor.  

Testing boundaries

Slowly, Park began to test the boundaries of what was acceptable. During the holidays, when there were fewer police on the streets, she would carefully wear makeup and cheap, plastic earrings from China.  

“On more than one occasion, the police saw me and I was beaten for what I was wearing,” she said. For three days, she was detained in a police station and forced to repeatedly write confessions to her crimes.

She was also made to stand still without food until past midnight. She said a police officer had also once threatened to cut off her hair in public. But each time she was able to pay a small bribe to secure her freedom. 

One of her friends was not so lucky and could not pay a bribe after being caught wearing unapproved clothing, Park said. She was sentenced to hard labor for a month and forced to help in the construction of a mountain road.  

Kim’s ideology ‘centered on conformity’

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, says conformity is essential to preserving the regime’s doctrine.  

“Hairstyles and clothing that do not conform to regime specifications reflect personal taste and choice,” he said. “The ideology of the Kim family regime is centered on conformity and not on individualism, or individual expression,” he added.

A law was enacted in Pyongyang designed to eradicate “reactionary thought and culture” in late 2020, followed in July last year by a law on youth education that sought to dissuade young people from accessing “capitalist culture.”

“The Kim Jong-un regime attempts to ban foreign TV programs and movies from being smuggled into the country because they challenge its information monopoly, critical to keeping the North Korean people indoctrinated and subdued, thus preserving its grip on power,” Scarlatoiu explained.

An increase in the scale of prison and labor camps in the North suggests more people are falling foul of the regime’s rules on deviation from the socialist norm, Scarlatoiu said.

North Korea’s future ‘is bright’

Satellite footage and reports from inside North Korea indicate that the prison population rose sharply in the last three months of 2021 and the first three months of 2022.

Some citizens have also been punished for violating quarantine rules, despite the regime insisting that not one case of the coronavirus has been detected in the North.  

Yet, Park remains upbeat about the outlook of her homeland. “Things are definitely getting better in North Korea,” she said. “Millennials there are quite different from their parents’ generation and they have grown up depending on the black market, which is essentially a form of capitalism.” 

“And when people see business working, their desire for things increases. That is only natural,” she added.

“The market system helps people to see what is possible, they are watching foreign television and they are analyzing themselves and their government. It will take time, but I do believe the future is bright.”

Edited by Sou-Jie van Brunnersum

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

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