Many people have commented on the video of North Koreans crying over the death of Kim Jong Il. You’ve probably seen it but, if not, here it is. I’ll have you compare it with videos more familiar to our culture, then ask a few questions hopefully to increase your self-awareness, authenticity, and freedom.
It’s been viewed almost seven million times in less than a week. Typical reactions point out how crazy or weird they are. The crazy “they” could be the people in the video, whom they accuse of inauthentically crying or the leaders who somehow force the people to cry.
I’d like to look at these assumptions of inauthenticity and forcing.
A common theme of my writing about North Korea is to point out how easily we can find differences, but that finding differences doesn’t help us learn. It tends to make us feel self-satisfied and self-righteous. Did you feel better than the people in the video? More challenging is to find similarities. Everyone in that video is as human as we are, as are the country’s leaders.
Visiting North Korea forced me to see how people behaved the same despite being under very different systems once you throw away looking for differences.
People told me they appreciated those observations in my series on similarities between their propaganda and our advertising. As I said there
You have to ask yourself, “if they tune that out, what do I tune out?” and “what does it mean for them to tune that out?”
I want you to compare the behavior in the video above with that in the video below. When you do, try not to look for differences. Just look at the behavior. Imagine someone as foreign to it as you are to North Korea saw it. It will be hard not to say “Yeah, well they aren’t forced to do it, the North Koreans are.” Well, maybe, but that’s a difference. I’ll explain why I want to focus on the similarity afterward.
In the North Korean video people disparage what appears as inauthenticity in some of their behavior. Maybe they behaved inauthentically. I can’t say for sure. Some appeared authentic to me.
In the video of the revival, some people appeared to me to be acting authentically, some inauthentically. I couldn’t say for sure. Why shouldn’t they be authentic? If they believe stories about supernatural abilities of Kim Jong Il, why should that be so different than our stories about supernatural beings? Because we’re right and they’re wrong? Please.
In this country we often promote tolerances of different religions so we give people the benefit of the doubt. North Korean culture deifies its leaders, creating a state religion. Why can’t we presume their levels of authenticity and inauthenticity are like ours?
How about the video below? How does their behavior compare with the North Koreans’? If we say the people in one are behaving authentically, why not in the other? If we say the people in one are behaving inauthentically, why not the other?
And how about the video below? As with all the videos in this post, everyone seems to be following socially prescribed norms. They look superficially different and there are undeniable differences, but can you deny undeniable similarities?
What about your culture do you not see, like a fish in water?
Commenters on the North Korean video also presume the people are forced to act. Our cultures also enforce behavioral norms, including with violence. The next video shows someone not conforming to a norm in one subculture, though plenty of other subcultures behave similarly. Again, I know there are many differences. Take them into account and look for the similarities — the commonalities of being human.
Finally, let’s look at similarities among connections between religion and the state. Actually, those connections so permeate our culture, from ten commandments put on government grounds to prayer in schools to debates on stem cells. I’ll close with a funny video that nonetheless illustrates our connection between religion and capitalism.
The video ends funny, though you wonder in the middle if he is taking payment for product placement.
But seriously, how different are they from us? Obviously I know they have less physical freedom so you don’t have to point that difference out. Account for it and don’t let it stop you from thinking.
How often do you cry or emote because you feel you have to? I know you aren’t forced by an authoritarian regime, but do you still feel compelled? You don’t have to lose as much freedom as them to lose freedom and even if you lose only some, you still benefit from regaining it.
How often do you look to someone near you to figure out how much or what kind of emotion to show? You don’t have to be forced to show a certain kind by an authoritarian government to lose your authenticity.
I hope seeing their behavior, however inauthentic and forced, lets you see whatever inauthenticity and lack of freedom you have or impose on yourself so that you can regain each, to learn more about yourself and to increase your freedom.