The histrionics of grief took on competetive quality. Who could weep the loudest? Who was most distraught? The mourners were egged on by the TV news, which broadcast hours and hours of people wailing, grown men with tears rolling down their cheeks, banging their heads on trees, sailors banging their heads against the masts of their shops, pilots weeping in the cockpit, and so on. These scenes were interspersed with footage of lighting and pouring rain.

What had started as a spontaneous outpouring of grief became a patriotic obligation. Women weren’t supposed to wear makeup or do their hair during a ten day mourning period. Drinking, dancing, and music were banned. The inminban kept track of how often people went to the statue to show their respect. Everybody was being watched. They not only scrutinized actions, but facial expressions and tone of voice, gauging them for sincerity.

From Barbara Demick’s quite brilliant Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

Advertisements