Kim Jong Un calls K-pop culture a 'vicious cancer'
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lashed out at South Korean pop culture, calling it a "vicious cancer", The New York Times reported.
The supreme leader's latest hot take comes after months of railing against "anti-socialist and non-socialist" influences spreading in his country.
These influences refer to South Korean movies, dramas and pop videos.
Kim's state media also warned that K-pop would make the country "crumble like a damp wall", as it is corrupting young North Koreans' "attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviours".
K-pop infiltrating North Korea
The influence of K-pop is evident as it has infiltrated language choices of North Koreans.
Women in North Korea have started calling their dates "oppa" or honey, as women do in K-dramas.
North Koreans are supposed to address their dates as "comrade" instead.
Kim has called such language "perverted".
And those caught using unapproved speech might cause loved ones to suffer.
The families of those who imitate the "puppet accent" of South Koreans in their daily conversations or text messages could be expelled from cities as a warning.
New law to stop K-pop from spreading
K-pop's presence in the north has become so concerning that North Korea enacted a new law in December 2020.
Those who watch or possess South Korean entertainment can be sentenced to five to 15 years in labour camps, government intelligence officials briefed South Korean lawmakers.
The previous maximum punishment for such crimes was five years of hard labour.
Information about the north do seep out, which in this instance, was culled from internal North Korean documents smuggled out by Daily NK, a Seoul-based website.
North Koreans learning more about their neighours
K-pop has been credited for allowing North Koreans to recognise their condition.
North Korean state propaganda had long described South Korea as a living hell filled with beggars.
But K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs and now on flash drives from China, have caused young, famished North Koreans to learn that South Koreans were actually going on diets to lose weight.
This sort of dissemination of South Korean pop culture is almost inevitable given how it has gone global and finally entering the hermit nation of North Korea, which is considered the final frontier.
In response, Kim has declared a new culture war to stop it.
North Korea in a bad state
Kim's directing of ammunition at K-pop comes at a time when North Korea's economy is cratering and the regime is vulnerable from internal dissent and strife, and North Korean youths have become more receptive to outside influence and are challenging Kim's control.
Efforts at diplomacy had hit a high previously with the Trump administration, but has since died down without the lifting of crushing economic sanctions.
Kim has since vowed to lead his country through the restrictions by building a "self-reliant economy", less dependent on trade with the outside world.
Then the pandemic hit.
Young North Koreans might want something different
A defector said Kim's hold on the young is falling apart and the leader is seeing his dynastic rule challenged.
This defector runs a network that smuggles K-pop into North Korea.
In a survey conducted of 116 people who fled North Korea in 2018 or 2019, nearly half said they had "frequently" watched South Korean entertainment while in the north.
A current favourite show is Crash Landing On You, about a paragliding South Korean heiress who falls in love with a North Korean army officer after she is carried across the border by a sudden gust of wind.
Young North Koreans exposed to free market values
The millennials in the country grew up at a time of famine in the late 1990s, when the government was unable to provide rations, causing millions of deaths.
Families resorted to buying food from the black market, which could provide goods smuggled from China, including bootlegged entertainment from South Korea.
Such first-hand comparisons between market systems -- planned vs laissez faire -- is assumed to make a lasting impact on those growing up to become young adults now, who would be more inclined to choose the dictates of capitalism.
Punishment for those who spread South Korean media
As deterrence, those who put material in the hands of North Koreans can face stiffer punishments, including the death penalty.
Recently, North Korea even reportedly executed a man in front of 500 people for selling South Korean shows.
The new law also calls for up to two years of hard labour for those who "speak, write or sing in South Korean style".
In February, Kim ordered all provinces, cities and counties to "mercilessly" stamp out growing capitalist tendencies.
In April, he warned that "a serious change" was taking place in the "ideological and mental state" of young people.
Computers, text messages, music players and notebooks are now being searched for South Korean content and accents.
North Korea has resorted to urging its people to inform on others who watch K-dramas.
But many have decided to look the other way, even tipping their neighbours off before police raids.
Not all foreign influences have been banned.
Government-sanctioned kiosks in capital Pyongyang sold Disney favourites like The Lion King and Cinderella.
Restaurants showed foreign movies, concerts and TV shows, the Russian Embassy reported in 2017.
Top photo via KCNA