If the internet is to be believed, Kim Jong-un has turned up the totalitarianism to 11 by decreeing all male students should sport the same hairstyle as their portly Dear Leader.
Ironically, the fact that Kim’s hairstyle looks like something sported by the lead singer of Spear of Destiny in the mid-Eighties means that, in North Korean terms at least, this move would be a considerable step forward in the fashion stakes.
I holidayed in this most secretive of countries for 10 days while writing my book, The Dark Tourist, and I once found myself in a Pyongyang barber shop. I was hiding from my “guides” who had taken me to see the incredibly unhygienic Pyongyang public swimming pool. For a rare moment I managed to get away from them and wandered around the curious leisure complex that the pool was part of.
I opened a random door and found myself in an enormous barber shop. On the wall was a huge poster featuring 24 head-shots of North Korean men. Each had a number by it to indicate the style. As a North Korean, you were only allowed a haircut that was on the poster. Twenty-four uber-conservative styles with which to express your individuality, perfect for a country that frowned upon any form of personal expression. Compared to the styles on that poster, the Kim Jong-un look is like getting a Mohican.
North Koreans are used to rocking the same look – everyone wears a pin with the Dear Leader’s face on it. This they stick on the Kim Jong-un “suit” that is made using only the finest shiny and inflammable materials. The look is finished off with a pair of short, black wellies. This is a population that would look at a photograph of David Hasselhoff in full mullet mode and see him as an aspirational style icon.
I suppose decreeing such things could be part of the twisted fun of being a totalitarian arsehole. Were I to be in his tiny, foreign-bought shoes for a day I would go a lot further.
First, I would make it a bit trickier. On Mondays people would have to go barefoot, Tuesdays would be “no pants day”, Wednesdays would be “compulsory bald day”, Thursdays would be “carry your wife day” and anybody still bald on Friday would be fed to the dogs in an ironic Korean cuisine reversal. However, Saturdays and Sundays would be freestyle in the sense that you could decide whether to wear red or black wellies. You’ve got to give your captive people some form of expression or they’ll eventually turn on you. This isn’t a uniquely North Korean dictator thing anyhow; it was a rare man in Iraq who didn’t sport the “Saddam moustache” although Robert Mugabe’s Hitler-style moustache seems not to have taken off in Zimbabwe quite as fast as he might like.
Kim Jong-un is that rare thing in North Korea – a fat man. Presumably he’d like to make everyone copy that as well. Sadly, that would mean having to provide the population with sufficient food and that’s where he draws the line.