The Death of Kim Jong-Il: Painting Perspective Part II

As a continuation of my previous article, I would like to look at one of many articles written by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) regarding the death of Kim Jong-Il. I have chosen to compare and contrast Fox News with the BBC because it is the largest broadcaster in the world and because of my own appreciation for its world news broadcasts.

The particular article that I will explore in this continuation directly addresses the question that so many people had asked me. The article is titled: “How Genuine are the Tears in North Korea.” As an introduction to the article, Tom Geoghegan writes, “The outpouring of grief in North Korea after the passing of Kim Jong-Il has been fervent and widespread. So are the people sincerely feeling this loss or are they behaving as they think they should?” Right away, Geoghegan states what he aims to explore in his article without a reliance on eccentric details about Kim Jong-Il and his family.

Geoghegan continues with a description of the way the North Korean people in Pyongyang behaved once they had discovered the death of their leader: tears, wailing, fits of emotional pounding against the pavements – nothing short of hysteria. Just after hearing such news of the people without even seeing it directly, I wondered how a large mass of people can react in such a violent way to the death of one man, regardless of what kind of person he was. I wonder how such a state of mind came to be in the community of people who did cry hysterically. I also wonder about the people who we do not hear about – the people who live on the outskirts who may not be crying.

Tom Geoghegan begins to answer these questions in his article when he refers to the similar period of mourning following the death of Kim Il-Sung in 1994. Geoghegan looks to psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels, also known as Theodore Dalrymple, in an effort to answer questions about the authenticity of North Korea’s grief. Daniels had visited North Korea as a part of the 1989 British delegation to the International Festival of Youth and Students. As a psychiatrist, Daniels makes this remark about “competitive crying:”

It’s not easy to produce tears when you’re not really feeling it but you could fake weeping and wailing and this mass hysteria makes it impossible to tell what is real. There’s a kind of arms race situation in which you have to express yourself more and more extremely in order to demonstrate that you are feeling the orthodox emotions. A lot of it is perfectly compatible with acting. That isn’t to say that it is acting, however.

Even a psychiatrist like Daniels admits that he does not know whether or not this display of emotion is real. Rather, Daniels suggests that it is possible for the wave of grief to be false; however, unlike the writers of Fox News, Daniels leaves the question unanswered because we do not know enough about the situation or the North Korean people to label them as a nation so oppressed that they must go as far as to submit their tears as tribute to an all-powerful leader. Even having experienced Pyongyang in 1989 when everyone worshipped Kim Il-Sung in a sort of frenzy, Daniels expressed, “It’s very difficult to know the reality and I think we’ll never know the reality. There are huge cultural barriers anyway and then you have to remember this is a regime where everything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory, so it’s difficult to know what their state of mind really is.” So, perhaps, we will never know the answer.

I can only imagine that the death of a leader would force the North Korean people to question the state of their lives, their identity within North Korea and outside of it, as well as their hopes for the future – will those hopes have the freedom to expand or will they still lie in wait under the Juche unitary single-party system? If I had to consider all of those questions, I think that I would get emotional – upset and cry. Perhaps, the people cry not only in response to the death of Kim Jong-Il, but also out of uncertainty – for themselves.

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