As Westerners are fed news coverage and videos of young North Korean women flailing their arms and grown men blubbering, all ostensibly lamenting Kim Jong Il’s death, it is hard to believe that their reactions are authentic. The mourning seems to be representative of North Korea’s intense control over its citizens. The tears being cried over a leader, who ruled a regime that partakes in serious human rights abuses, are manufactured and required ones.
In sync with the hyperbolic keening of Kim Jong Il’s father, mourning becomes political and compulsory under such vicious leaders. Inadequate public grief is paralleled with disloyalty to the Workers’ Party, so the blame cannot be placed on the citizens of North Korea for their dramatized reactions. The people were of course shocked, having no knowledge that the leader would die and having little knowledge about his successor, son Kim Jong Un. But beyond the shock lies fear. While it appears ludicrous to the outside world, the unusual public mourning process is just another part of Kim Jong Il’s iron grip that still holds the country even after his death.
In a nation where people have been subject to arbitrary execution, torture, and forced labor, it would not be surprising if insufficient public anguish also had consequences. Anything but mourning is not allowed. In an interview, a young North Korean said, if “people don't cry in public, then they can be seen as insulting the leadership. It can be regarded as a crime against the state.” To Americans, the time spent mourning Kim seems wasted, but in North Korea it is necessary. Not crying could lead people to suspect you are against the government or against the Kim dynasty.
The videos of pervasive wailing are equally as ridiculous as Kim Jong Il’s oversized glasses and platform shoes. They only serve to further the world’s perception of North Korea as a pariah state, one that even has power over its people’s mourning process.
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