K-Pop, jeans, sanitary pads and other illegal things in North Korea

Not the biggest BTS fans
No laughing, no drinking, no parties
Dead last in democracy
Fashion police
A real-life Squid Game?
A grain of salt
Radio Free Asia
Jinping The Pooh
The Kim Dynasty
Like father, like son
Let's Trim Our Hair in Accordance with The Socialist Lifestyle
A dystopian reality show
Symbols of capitalist lifestyle
It's the real thing
Unprotected
That time of the month
North Korea's best (and only) internet service
Not many options, anyway
News from the hermit kingdom
Not the biggest BTS fans

Not a fan of K-Pop? Neither is Kim Jong-un. The New York Times reported on December 2021 that at least seven people had been executed in North Korea for watching and distributing the popular South Korean genre in what sounds like yet another strange, curious story from the “hermit kingdom”.

No laughing, no drinking, no parties

That's only the tip of the iceberg. Some Western news outlets reported that the North Korean government prohibited laughing, drinking, and parties for 11 days in December 2021 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il.

Dead last in democracy

If it was true, it wouldn't be a surprise. North Korea ranked dead last, out of 167 countries, in The Economist's Democracy Index. The international community regards the government led by Kim Jong-un as an oppressive, totalitarian regime.

Fashion police

For example, it was reported in November 2021 that the North Korean government was cracking down on counterfeit leather trench coats. The fashion item became popular after Kim Jong-un appeared in the media wearing it several times.

A real-life Squid Game?

The NY Post, Business Insider, and others informed that North Korea allegedly executed a man in November 2021 for selling USB drives containing the hit South Korean TV show 'Squid Game.' The country introduced a law in December 2020 giving tougher penalties to the consumption of media coming from South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

A grain of salt

However, some of these stories should be taken with a grain of salt.

Radio Free Asia

Western media regularly cites Radio Free Asia when it comes to some of the most outrageous news about North Korea. RFA is an independent news agency funded by the US government, making many cast doubt about its agenda.

Jinping The Pooh

If China, North Korea's closest ally, bans something as innocuous as Winnie The Pooh just due to mocking online comparisons with Xi Jinping, then these stories on North Korea don't sound that absurd. Still, it's important to have criteria when it comes to news.

The Kim Dynasty

What is true is that in many ways the youngest Kim is just following the steps of his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. The three generations of the Kim family have ruled North Korea since its foundation in 1945.

Like father, like son

Kim Jong-il, who led North Korea from 1993 until his death in 2011, was described by The New York Times as a leader who “presided with an iron hand over a country he kept on the edge of starvation and collapse”. He was known as much for his eccentricity than for his autocracy.

Let's Trim Our Hair in Accordance with The Socialist Lifestyle

Despite Kim Jong-il's love with western media, such as James Bond movies, he was wary of its influence. The BBC reported in 2005 a North Korean TV show called 'Let's Trim Our Hair in Accordance with The Socialist Lifestyle.' Pictured: a salon poster in Pyongyang displaying government-approved haircuts.

A dystopian reality show

The television program claimed that long hair had a negative effect on the male brain, sucking important nutrients. It also shared the names and addresses of wrongdoers recorded on the street, so they could be publicly shamed.

Symbols of capitalist lifestyle

North Korea continues to heavily regulate the fashion of its citizens. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported in May that Kim Jong-un banned skinny jeans and some piercings, branding them as symbols of “capitalist lifestyle.”

It's the real thing

A symbol of capitalism you won't find in North Korea? Coca-Cola. The American soda brand, one of the most easily recognizable products worldwide, isn't available in only two countries: Cuba and North Korea.

Unprotected

Fashion is hardly the only thing that is restricted. North Korea also has a ban on contraceptives. Reportedly, this is an attempt to reverse the country's falling birth rate. However, a 2019 United Nations report points out that more women there use contraceptives than their South Korean counterparts, despite being illegal.

That time of the month

Something that also affects North Korean women is the lack of sanitary pads and other women's hygiene products in the country. According to a female defector that was interviewed by the BBC, women tend to make their own pads out of cotton and reuse them as much as possible.

North Korea's best (and only) internet service

Cellphones, so ubiquitous in today's world, are also a novel commodity in North Korea. They only have been legal since 2008. The country uses its own walled-off national intranet service called Kwangmyong. Internet access is limited to foreigners and the elite.

Not many options, anyway

According to the New York Post, North Korean internet users have access to less than 30 websites.

News from the hermit kingdom

As long as North Korea remains disconnected from the outside world, the lives of everyday citizens remain a mystery. News from the hermit kingdom will always have an element of hearsay and exoticism.

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