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North Korean Propaganda: "Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle"


Pronunciation: "prä-p&-'gan-d&, "prO-

Function: noun

-the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

-ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary


Highly authoritarian regimes, for all their obvious and serious faults, can serve as fonts of unintended humor. Communist dictatorships, during the 20th century, very effectively harnessed emerging mass communications media such as radio, television, and film, to protect and advance their personal power, to affirm their historical legacies, to sugarcoat their undesirable and inferior circumstances, and to perpetuate their otherwise untenable political and economic systems.

To spread the most sinister, and most effective, kinds of propaganda successfully, the propagandist must have a monopoly (or close to it) on the means of spreading information. Examining propaganda from paranoid and delusional countries such as North Korea can be disorienting without proper context, but living in a free society with a panoply of available viewpoints allows one to cultivate the tools necessary to sift rumor from fact, lies from truth.

For those without adequate propaganda-discerning skills, difficult and confusing questions may arise. What if everything I know about America is just propaganda? What if Kim Jong-Il is right and America's leaders are wrong? What if Baghdad Bob is right and all those embedded reporters in Iraq are really just filming action sequences in the desert near Los Angeles? Did Neil Armstrong really walk on the Moon, or is that American propaganda? Is everything I know just part of The Matrix?

Unfortunately, many bright and educated people fall back on the old, reliable, comfortable cop-out: "The truth must be somewhere in the middle." Well, that may be a good rule of thumb when sorting out a schoolyard brawl between recalcitrant 5th graders ("he started it; no, he started it"), but history has shown that authoritarian regimes are masters of some of the more absurd, illogical, and nefarious propaganda. A message to the moral equivocators out there: it is okay to take a stand. It is okay to believe and declare the truth is clear, not somewhere in the middle. Appeasement of evil in exchange for fleeting peace is no virtue, and acknowledgment of clear wrongdoing is no vice.

Americans often struggle unnecessarily with exercises in moral equivalence, when sometimes right and wrong, good and evil, should be entirely evident. If one has the capacity to stand up for good but fails to take a stand against evil, history will judge such inaction cruelly. Rather than knee-jerkedly employing a doctrine of moral relativism in the face of unambiguous wickedness, America's greatest leaders have celebrated America's exceptionalism, articulating that the United States is the greatest force for good in the world. Celebrating America's unique position in the world does not mean failing to acknowledge past transgressions, but learning from mistakes and dwelling exclusively on them are two entirely different philosophies.

As Ronald Reagan said in his "Evil Empire" speech:

"Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans."

Cynics may ask: "Doesn't every country, even the United States, utilize propaganda to get its official version of the story on the record?" Every independent state has a right, indeed an obligation, to project its message, but in the 21st century, propaganda typically backfires. As individuals around the world have access to more sources of information, the marginal utility of each additional unit of propaganda approaches zero. If a government is caught in the act of propagandizing, each additional unit of propaganda may prove to be negative. People get burned by a source, they lose trust in it.

The Voice of America began broadcasting in 1942 with these guidelines:

(1) be accurate, objective, and comprehensive; (2) represent all segments of American society and present a balanced and comprehensive view of significant American thought and institutions; and (3) clearly present the policies of the United States.

The Voice of America definitely projects news from an American worldview, but if you have ever read or heard or seen VOA news, it is clear the VOA goes to great lengths to be objective and independent (maybe to the point of occasionally overcompensating). If the Voice of America lacked credibility, it would not have endured for 60+ years, growing to today's audience of many millions around the world. The U.S. has also had great success over the years with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio Farda, in Persian, Radio Sawa, an Arabic pop music station with a sprinkling of news and commentary, TV and Radio Martí, in Cuba, and more recently, Alhurra, Arabic for "The Free One," an attempt to counterbalance the incessant anti-American propaganda of al-jazeera.

All of these American broadcasts fall under the umbrella of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent Federal entity, and together each week they reach more than 100,000,000 individuals around the world.

The BBG mission is succinct:

"To promote and sustain freedom and democracy by broadcasting accurate and objective news and information about the United States and the world to audiences overseas."

"Promoting and sustaining freedom and democracy" may be construed by skeptics as propaganda, but "broadcasting accurate and objective news and information" is the operative phrase and indicative of how free nations ought to operate. Actively fomenting the universal ideals of freedom and democracy around the world requires fighting back against dangerous propaganda. There is an old saying that goes, "it ain't bragging if it's true." Well, it ain't propaganda if it's true. The U.S. just happens to have the truth on its side more than lingering socialist and other authoritarian regimes.

Leaders of free societies do not have the luxury of Orwellian re-writes of history that totalitarian regimes have; their arguments must stand on their own merits. Nevertheless, even in 2005, free societies, perhaps because of weak leadership or weak ideology, feel compelled to project propaganda around the world. France, for example, approved $40 million in start-up financing for a global propaganda channel, to provide a rhetorical counterweight to what it calls the "American hyperpower."

As the information revolution continues, the quality and quantity of information normal people possess is unprecedented. Other than its willfully ignorant citizens, even younger Americans are remarkably sophisticated and learned on the issues.

One particularly fascinating aspect of 21st century society in America is the rapid emergence of the internet as an alternative communications medium, challenging the 20th century media status quo, simultaneously offering kooks a chance to rattle on about their preferred conspiracy theories and (more importantly) allowing regular people to check, balance, and expose flaws in the common wisdom of the establishment media.

The barriers to entry are very low on the internet; almost anyone can throw up a blog and take a crack at reporting, analysis, and commentary. Information is increasingly decentralized in the United States, thus malicious top-down propaganda in America is increasingly rare. With more independent fact-checkers than ever, our information is more independent and factual than at any time in history. A 21st century American who possesses all the requisite skills for deciphering truth from fiction, yet still succumbs to misinformation and blatant propaganda, likely takes on an important role in his own propagandizing; indeed, Americans increasingly must actively desire to be propagandized in order for it to take place.

The North Korean regime, on the other hand, has kept tight wraps on its information monopoly within its borders. Very few North Koreans even have access to television, let alone the internet.


Looking at this nighttime satellite photography of the region, it is clear North Korea is severely underdeveloped. Such a profound lack of modern amenities allows the North Korean regime to tightly control the flow of information. Leaders of totalitarian regimes often maintain power through "the cult of personality." North Korea takes this concept even further; the late Kim Il-Sung was a kind of deity to the North Koreans, and his son Kim Jong-Il continues to blur the line between human and divine being. North Korea, in many ways, represents the largest religious cult in the world, with the universe revolving around Kim Jong-Il.

In addition, North Korea exists within a bizarre time warp, an artifact of the Cold War.

Earlier this month, according to BBC translations of North Korean television programming:

"North Korea has launched an intensive media assault on its latest arch enemy - the wrong haircut.
A campaign exhorting men to get a proper short-back-and-sides has been aired by state-run Pyongyang television.
The series is entitled Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle."

The DPRK TV program, according to the BBC, "stressed the 'negative effects' of long hair on 'human intelligence development,' noting that long hair 'consumes a great deal of nutrition' and could thus rob the brain of energy."

Completely absurd, this ought to serve as an example that even squeamish moral prevaricators can get behind. On the other hand, though, if Dear Leader has ever seen the 1960s-era rock opera HAIR, he may have a point.


Evidently Kim Jong-Il and his way unclassy posse are worried about western hairstyles leading to a breakdown in their centralized grip on the lives of North Koreans. Indeed, according to Reuters, a South Korean pro-democracy group obtained visual evidence of dissent activity in North Korea, directed against dictator Kim Jong-Il. One poster's text read, "Down with Kim Jong-Il. Let's all rise to drive out the dictatorial regime." A 35-minute video clip from inside a North Korean factory showed Korean writing demanding freedom and democracy on a portrait of Dear Leader.


"The gentle and ordinary people of North Korea need a new leader," a male voice narrates in the background as the clip showed the defaced portrait of Kim in full military uniform. "There is a great potential for democracy in this country."

Some screenshots of appropriate and inappropriate hairstyles:







According to the BBC report, the guidelines on North Korean television "allowed men aged over 50 seven centimetres of upper hair to cover balding." State-sanctioned comb-overs. Way classy move.

Stay tuned for Part Two of WILLisms.com's look at North Korean propaganda.

Posted by Will Franklin · 18 January 2005 11:43 AM


I love the wind thing comb overs! Personally I love seeing a man in an expensive convertable with a wind thing flying around!...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at July 3, 2005 12:40 PM