Government hair

Between 2004 and 2005 the North Korean television show Common Sense ran a propaganda series titled Let’s Trim our Hair in Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle.

Kim Jong-il
Mark Fahey from Sydney, Australia / CC BY

Dictatorships sometimes try to control things that really aren’t the business of government. No, I’m not talking about gun control… that’s absolutely the business of government. Today I’m talking about hair.

Oppressive countries tend to be obsessed with hair. Iran has laws against mullets. In Tajikistan you need to be clean-shaven to get a passport. Some day I’ll write a post about the hair battles between the zazous and fascist youth organisations in occupied France (a great story in itself). The infiltration of “Western” hairstyles is seen as an immediate threat to the integrity of the nation, I suppose?

In North Korea, the pointy edge of this war against Western decadence came in the form of a 2004 television show. The title is truly something special: Let’s Trim our Hair in Accordance with the Socialist Lifestyle. (I assume, by the way, that translation has transformed this into a stuffy and absurd title; I don’t know enough Korean to say whether the original is less bizarre.)

In this show, examples of good and bad hairstyles are discussed and perpetrators of bad hairstyles are held up to public ridicule. At the time it was reported that this was a hidden camera show: they would capture film of random people with inappropriate haircuts and dox them on television. The rules they were trying to promote: keep your hair under 5cm long… unless you’re going bald, in which case you’re allowed to go up to 7cm so that you can manage a good communist comb-over.


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