Article in the New York Times about the “contrived” wailing grief videos of North Koreans that have been flying around the internet. Was Kim Jong Il secretly a really great dictator and we just don’t understand? Was it brainwashing?
Contrived as they might look to Western eyes, the wild expressions of grief at funerals — the convulsive sobbing, fist pounding and body-shaking bawling — are an accepted part of Korean Confucian culture, and can be witnessed at the funerals of the famous and the not famous alike in South Korea. But in the North, the culture of mourning has been magnified by a cult of personality in which the country’s leader is considered every North Korean’s father.
It’s interesting they should say Confucian culture, as I remember witness cremations we would do for Chinese families in the Bay Area had an element of grand performance to them. Literally 50 or so people would jam themselves back into the crematory to watch the body be loaded into the cremation retort. They would hire a professional videographer who would walk around filming people grieving and you did NOT want to be the one caught being stoic, or god forbid, bored! The videographer would yell at people to get on their knees and to increase the wailing! More wailing! This baby wailing simply would not do for the video! Let’s see you throw your hands skyward in despair, people!
Really though, even ritualistic, performative displays of grief may be better than the current Western model of emotional blandness and a stiff upper lip at all costs.