The Beatles were a huge hit among teens in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1960s. The communists tried to stamp out what they saw as "capitalist viruses," but youngsters hummed to tunes aired on Voice of America radio programs or traded pirated copies of LPs with their favorite songs from the other side of the iron curtain. When it became difficult to obtain celluloid, fans created LPs by cutting out discarded x-ray film collected from hospital trash bins. Students were suspended from school when they were caught singing Beatles tunes, but the authorities were unable to keep them from growing their hair long and wearing John Lennon spectacles.
The American TV series "Dallas" is said to have played a significant role in toppling the Nicolae Ceausescu regime that ruled Romania with an iron fist. Ceausescu sought to teach Romanians about the decadence and depravity of capitalism through the scheming and back-stabbing conspiracies of the oil-rich Ewing family in the series. But Romanians fell in love with America by watching the program. They thought every American home had a swimming pool in the backyard and wanted to live like that. They ended up toppling their government.
In the 2000 movie "JSA" by Park Chan-wook, North and South Korean soldiers posted along the heavily-armed border listen together to songs by Kim Kwang-seok, a popular singer in the South who committed suicide in 1996. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il saw the film and praised it, telling visiting South Korean national security envoy Lim Dong-won that he wished to show it to his generals, party officials and the North Korean people. But the movie was never shown in North Korean theaters.
North Koreans have no problems getting their hands on South Korean movies, songs and TV dramas. The song "Maze of Love," by Choi Jin-hee, became a huge hit in the North in early 2000 and other songs from the South also became popular. Despite crackdowns, pirated copies of the TV drama "Winter Sonata" were so popular in North Korea that people began copying hairstyles of actors in the soap.
A few days ago, Radio Free Asia reported that there is a fad in North Korea for children of high-ranking North Korean government officials to dance to songs performed by South Korean pop singers. One Chinese trader who visits North Korea often, said the wife of a high-ranking official asked him to get her a Girls' Generation CD. Dance instructors are even offering clandestine classes teaching the gyrating moves of South Korean dance groups to North Koreans for US$20 each.
The situation became so bad that the North Korean leader referred to North Pyongan Province as "a playground for capitalist delinquents" after seeing the infusion of South Korean pop culture there during his recent visit and ordered a crackdown. But there is a saying that you can hide the truth or a yawn, but you cannot stop them. North Koreans love to have a good time just like everyone else. And no government will be able to repress the human desire to play.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Park Hae-hyun