Kim Jong-il Can't Clamp Down on Fun Forever

      September 21, 2011 13:27

      Kim Tae-hoon

      The first thing the Taliban began to do after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988-89 was to clamp down on freedom of thought. Afghan-born U.S. writer Khaled Hosseini's 2007 novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" describes the absurd scenes that occurred on the streets of Kabul. Touting the teachings of Islamic fundamentalism, the Taliban attempted to eradicate any remnants of western culture. It was illegal to show or watch American movies.

      History teaches us that such efforts are only effective in daytime. People who kept silent during the day as the Taliban chanted their slogans went to the open-air markets at night to buy videos of "Star Wars," "Titanic" and other Hollywood blockbusters. Street stalls sold toothpaste, carpets and even burqas featuring the Titanic movie label. By describing such scenes, Hosseini ridiculed the attempts of those in power to suppress the personal desires of individuals.

      North Korea is no exception. According to figures from Statistics Korea, people in the North enjoy watching South Korean movies, such as "Friend," "My Wife is a Gangster" and "Two Cops." Even North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has a list of favorite flicks. When Pyongyang hosted an international movie festival in 2008, some of the films on Kim's list were revealed. North Korean movie director Jang Hak-in told foreign journalists, "Upon the orders of the general [Kim Jong-il], movie directors and writers in the country lived together for six months and saw 200 movies and submitted reviews." Among the movies were American films such as "Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Troy." 

      Kim reportedly keeps his movie collection in a three-story archive building in Pyongyang. It includes "Braveheart" directed by Mel Gibson, which fancifully depicts the exploits of William Wallace, who fought against the British for Scottish independence. North Korea experts say Kim probably identifies with Wallace as a fighter who stands up against imperialist forces to protect his country.

      Yet the North Korean regime arrests anyone caught with foreign movies or music other than those approved by Kim. According to U.S. diplomatic cables published on WikiLeaks early this month, Kim began clamping down on the wave of information rushing into North Korea in the 2000s. Radios tweaked to receive foreign programs were confiscated by the truckload, and 300,000 to 400,000 pirated DVDs were also seized each year. One man was executed in Nampo for copying more than 2,000 foreign DVDs.

      But what regime can possibly seal off its people from the information superhighway these days? The day will come when the North Korean regime will be overwhelmed by the desire of its people to watch movies and sing songs that are not on Kim's list. When that day comes, even the fear a brutal dictator inspires will become utterly ineffective.

      By Kim Tae-hoon from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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