South Korea’s KPop and K dramas are taking the world by storm. From BTS to Squid Game, the genre is literally bringing about a cultural revolution in countries beyond South Korea.
Even a North Korean state media website published an article praising Squid Game for highlighting corruption and immorality in South Korea. Last year, North Korea had praised the South Korean Oscar-winning film Parasite for showing how bad the capitalistic society worked.
But did you know that watching something like KPop or K dramas could get you killed?
Yes, in this place, KPop and K dramas, along with other foreign media, are banned. Smuggling or watching it behind closed doors can even get you imprisoned or executed.
The place is none other than North Korea. Yes, even though North Korea praises Squid Game (ignoring the character of the North Korean defector) and Parasite, they have banned it for their citizens. But of course, those writing the articles are definitely watching it and perhaps Kim Jong-un himself enjoys some Southern entertainment.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has started a war on culture. Photo: Getty Images
But it's BANNED for the common North Korean Joe and Jane. According to a recent report by the Transitional Justice Working Group based in Seoul, South Korea, at least 7 people were executed in the past decade by the state for watching or smuggling KPop and K dramas.
Several of the ‘convicted’ were even executed publicly, and sometimes their families were made to watch the executions.
Why were they executed publicly? To put the fear of Kim Jong-un (praying to God is also illegal) in the commoners.
The report has documented 23 executions in total, with at least 7 of them being for smuggling or watching banned media. However, the estimates are likely to be conservative, given the difficulty in assessing anything inside the isolated communist regime.
The human rights report interviewed 683 North Korean defectors since 2015 to map places in the North where people were killed and buried in state-sanctioned public executions.
Recently, a report stated that a man was killed by a firing squad for smuggling the popular Netflix K drama Squid Game into the country and distributing it.
In another instance, a North Korean teenager was sentenced to 14-year forced labour for watching the South Korean film Man from Nowhere for 5 minutes. According to Yeonmi Park, a successful North Korean defector with a YouTube channel, it’s difficult to survive even 3 months in these labour camps. Malnutrition and torture run rampant here.
WHY IS KIM JONG-UN AFRAID OF KPOP? Kim Jong-un calls KPop and K dramas ‘vicious cancer’ to the society. And North Korean propaganda describes South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars.
Kim Jong-un fears that the Southern media influence may make people in North Korea act up and challenge his authority. Several of the things shown in KPop or K dramas may be common to you and me, but not for a North Korean.
For a North Korean, the simple scene of a man and a woman kissing is something from a different world altogether, because public display of affection is banned in North Korea. The freedom of South Korean characters shown on screen is something unimaginable for North Koreans who have never known or heard of a way of life different from theirs.
North Koreans are brainwashed by tightly-controlled state media and made to believe that their model of society is the best and the rest of the world is suffering.
Kim Jong-un fears that his populace, especially the younger ones, will be influenced to think that the South is a better alternative to the North.
This is the soft and great power of KPop or K dramas or any other media in general. A lot of Korean media fans often show interest in learning the Korean language. So, the influence cannot be underestimated.
Have you ever watched the hit K drama show Crash Landing On You? It tells the story of a South Korean heiress who accidentally reaches North Korea and eventually falls in love with a North Korean armyman.
One of the characters in the show, another North Korean armyman, is a fan of South Korean shows. In reality, he would have met a different fate than the one in the show.
HOW KPOP IS SMUGGLED INTO NORTH KOREA: Usually, KPop and K dramas are smuggled through flash drives from China. The only exposure to the outside world to North Koreans to some extent is through the city on the border of North Korea and China.
Since China doesn't challenge the authority of Kim Jong-un and supports the regime, the two countries have some sort of trade enabled between them.
There was a time in 2018 when the diplomatic relations between North and South Korea were thawing. At the time, Kim Jong-un had even extended an invite to a KPop group to come and perform in its capital Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un and his wife also watched a KPop group’s performance in a televised event.
But that fell through when Kim met former US President Donald Trump.
The extent of Kim Jong-un’s brutality is still unknown.
The world only discovered the horrors of the Nazi regime at the end of World War II, after the defeat of Hitler. The extent of severity of the concentration camps, what was happening inside them, was unimaginable to the world before the defeat of the dictatorship.
And just like that, perhaps the world will only see the true horrors of Kim Jong-un’s reign only after he’s defeated. December 17, 2021 marks 10 years of Kim Jong-un’s rule.