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The New York Times Explores North Korean Consumption Of Illegal South Korean Dramas

BY Adrienne Stanley | Jan 26, 2015 12:38 PM EST


On January 24, The New York Times explored the sensitive issue of North Koreans who watch illegally imported dramas from South Korea in an article called North Korea's Forbidden Love? Smuggled, Illegal Soap Opera.

The article opens with Jang Se Yul, a North Korean math professor, who developed an affinity for the South Korean drama, “Scent of a Man.” He was exposed to “Scent of a Man” after a student provided him with bootleg copies of the show which had been smuggled into North Korea. Jang Se Yul took precautions while watching the show at home with a group of fellow academics but inevitably faced charges for watching banned programming. As a result, Jang Se Yul and five other professors were removed from their positions.

The group was sentenced to manual labor at a power facility.

He was able to tell his story through The New York Times after defecting to South Korea. After watching K-Dramas, he developed greater expectations for life. Jang Se Yul now sends South Korean dramas back to North Korea. He is depicted in a photo which features “Three Days,” the 2014 espionage drama which starred JYJ’s Yoochun.

Jang Se Yul told the New York Times, “I am sure these soaps have an impact on North Koreans, and I am the proof.” He went on to say,”In the future, if they spread, they can even help foster anti-government movements. That’s why the North Korean authorities are so desperate to stop them from spreading.

These powerful words help to substantiate the reasons behind North Korea’s ban on South Korean dramas and K-pop. Kim Jong Un has delivered strong rhetoric regarding South Korean dramas and entertainment. As The New York Times points out he has repeatedly referred to such media as “poisonous elements of capitalism.”

For those who defect from North Korea, South Korean dramas serve as a testimony of the success of capitalism and prosperity. Scenes of smuggled Korean pop music are often portrayed in K-Dramas which focus on North Korea including the 2014 show “Doctor Stranger” which starred Lee Jong Suk as Park Hoon, a surgeon who was involuntarily deported to North Korea with his father. In early scenes, Park Hoon attempts to evade North Korean officials while peddling bootlegged K-pop tapes to his schoolmates. He is later forced to become a surgeon by the totalitarian regime before escaping to South Korea.

North Korea struggles to keep a grasp on its carefully cultivated image as the popularity of dramas and pop culture surges beyond the borders of South Korea. The nation's backlash against the socio-political comedy "The Interview," which focuses on a fictictious assasination plot against Kim Jong Un serves as another example of North Korea's futile attempts to stifle criticism of its regime. 

The New York Times goes on to explain the juxtaposition between North and South Korea, as well as the burgeoning black market economy which supports bootlegged imports. Increased interest by North Koreans in South Korean entertainment provides an interesting note to the power of the Hallyu Wave. As more North Koreans take the risk to watch South Korean dramas, their perception of their neighbors to the South will undoubtedly change.

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