[VIEWPOINT]Cheerleading’s political intentNorth Korean cheerleaders are back here for the Summer Universiade Games in Daegu. A marching band accompanied the 300 beautiful cheerleaders to support the athletes from the North. The North Korean squad is a big attraction at the sports event, a magnet for spectators. Tickets to the games that the cheerleaders will attend always sell out, while other stadiums are often empty. Many spectators are more interested in the colorful card section movements and beautiful dance routines than the games themselves. Some are completely captivated by the charming girls, trying to talk to them whenever they can get near the cheerleaders, asking their names or about their condition. Too warm a welcome can look like an inappropriate pickup.
My heart sank when I saw the perfectly choreographed cheerleading routines and the spectators admiring the young beauties. I saw starving North Koreans with nothing but skin and bones overlapped with the gorgeous cheerleaders’ smiles. There is something eerie about their thoroughly manipulated card section and dance routines. The cheerleaders look more like a group of marionettes controlled by an invisible string-puller than human beings with emotions and intelligence.
Why am I thinking these depressing, sinister thoughts? Because Kim Jong-il is known for exploiting arts as a tool of political propaganda. Like Hitler, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il have been masters of manipulating people’s feelings by using music and the arts as inspirations. Naturally, there is no sorrow and pain in North Korean music because these emotions could interfere with the Kims’ efforts to inspire people. In North Korea, you can only sing about pleasure and joy.
Beneath the organization of a cheerleading squad of beautiful college students lies Pyeongyang’s political and psychological intention. In short, the North wants to bewitch young South Korean men with the cheerleaders’ charms. Shockingly beautiful young women were handpicked for the squad, but they intentionally avoided thick makeup and were made to look like innocent, pure virgins. Pyeongyang wanted to juxtapose their natural beauty with artificial capitalist beauty in the South. They intended to impress South Korean bachelors with traditional beauties.
Beauty has a halo effect. When you see an attractive woman, you have a favorable feeling toward everything related to her, imagining her country and her people will be as beautiful and pure as she is. The cheerleaders’ enchanting beauty can cover the extreme starvation and terrifying nuclear weapons on the other side of the border. Thoughtless spectators follow the beautiful cheerleaders everywhere. I bet the North Korean masterminds are wearing complacent smiles.
Another reason I am disappointed and frustrated by the scene is that the spectators do not seem to care about the frightening phrases that the cheerleaders are shouting. Am I being too paranoid in thinking that they are talking to Hanchongryun members when they say, “Keep up your courage, we believe in you,” rather than encouraging North Korean athletes?
The North Korean cheerleaders should have been a voluntarily organized group, just as the Red Devils were. We expected to see that kind of cheering squad. If North Korea’s political and economic situation did not permit the formation of a voluntary cheerleading team, it at least should have sent a more diverse group that could represent the North Korean people better. Those are rooters in the truest sense. Beautiful young women from a specific social stratum are no longer a cheerleading squad but a group of puppets for political propaganda and agitation.
I feel sorry for the North Korean girls. They have to show forced smiles in ridiculous costumes when their fellow North Koreans are starving. They might have to repeat political slogans they do not even mean. I don’t know why I am furious when I look at their pitiful facial expressions. I am too angry, I can’t hold my tears.
My heart is torn when I think of the pain and agony of the girls who are not allowed to confide their starving, freezing, hard lives to their South Korean brothers and sisters. I hope the cheerleaders can enjoy the look and touch of freedom, liberty and democracy with their eyes and skin, and bring the feeling home. For one month, make sure to breathe the fresh air of a free country as much as you want. And young South Koreans, give the embrace of a family to the secretly grieving girls. Stop looking at them as eye candy. Face them with heartfelt sympathy.
By Lee Hoon-koo
The writer is a professor of psychology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.