Since the division of the historical state of Korea into two distinct sovereign states - North Korea and South Korea - in 1945, the cultural gap between the two states that once formed a sole nation have done nothing but become wider with the passage of time. Despite them being neighboring countries, the estrangement between the two nations was due to the cultural isolation of North Korea and both countries' ideological discrepancies.
Recently, however, mass media has been bridging the cultural gap between the two countries. In particular, South Korean TV shows are having a strong influence on North Korean society, according to a high-ranking North Korean official.
Once the number 2 official at Pyongyang's embassy in London Thae Yong-ho met with South Korean reporters for the first time in 2016 and stated that how the North Korean people are stuck on the Korean Wave.
“Every North Korean I know has watched South Korean shows,” Thae said and then he confessed he himself is a fan of period flicks, “Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shi,” “Jeong Do-jeon” and “Six Flying Dragons.” The audience was amazed at the North Korean official's capacity to name the South Korean TV shows from the top of his head.
Apart from the South Korean TV shows, other TV dramas that gained popularity among the general North Korean crowd, according to Thae, included romance works “Autumn in my Heart,” “Winter Sonata” and “Full House.”
Surprisingly, a few dramas that discuss North Korean defectors‘ assimilation stories in the South - namely, “Blow Breeze,” - were especially favourites in the North.
The influence South Korean mass media is having on its neighbouring country is such that its TV shows are changing the way North Koreans converse. According to Thae, the South Korean shows have influenced younger North Koreans to adopt South Korean terminology in their everyday lives.
“They way they call each other when they date, ‘Jagi-ya' and ‘Oppa-ya,' did not exist in North Korea prior to the influx of South Korean entertainment contents,” Thae said, referring to South Korean terms of endearments.
“The two things the regime is failing to control are drugs and South Korean dramas,” Thae said.
Accordingly, North Korean diplomats destined abroad check the South Korean press every morning for news regarding North Korea.
“The North Korean system can only last as long as it can completely block off all information from the outside world,” Thae admitted. “When the day comes when people have access to the information that has been censored, North Korea will come crumbling down like an earthen wall soaking wet.”
The reason why South Korean TV shows are so popular among its neighbouring country is the little diversity on North Korean TV and extensive repetition - most of the movies are re-runs. This is because national TV can only show programs that adhere to Pyeongyang's ideology. In fact, most of the programming is impregnated with national propaganda, but even propaganda has to be entertaining in order to be effective.
With North Korean TV state programming being so repetitive, propagandistic, uniform, restricted and dull, it is no surprise ordinary North Koreans opt to watching South Korean dramas despite harsh penalties if they are caught.