Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

The Morabong musical group of North Korea.

HAVANA TIMES — My friend Jorge Ferrer, who for years has written one of the best blogs I’ve ever read, has an interesting post about an all-female musical group from North Korea. He titled it “Pyongyang Miniskirts” (Spanish: “Minifaldas de Pyongyang”).

I had fun reading it and watching the video that he linked to it. I recommend it to our readers. The North Korean group is made up of very refined and beautiful women. I don’t know Korean, but I guess, by some of the gestures, the song is dedicated to some eternal leader or to border guards, none of whom are really lyrical inspirations.

The staging and the style of the singers is from several decades back, but no one should forget that we live in societies that are high-level producers of music and entertainment, and that — perhaps only in this — we’re so advanced.

The Asian world is different, but so is the Latin American world outside the Caribbean, in addition to Brazil and a few other select areas.

For example, when I visit Central America (except for Panama, which is pure Caribbean) and I get to hear music, I feel like I’ve traveled through a time machine. It always strikes me how the “Ticos” [Costa Ricans] still keep Andres Calamaro’s song “Flaca” on their hit parade list, and how the “Nicas” [Nicaraguans] after the first bottle of “Flor de Caña,” start singing La cama de piedra with misty eyes.

I say this to prevent any quick-tempered reader from blaming North Korea’s musical lag on communism, and from there point to the need to immediately overthrow the Castros if we want to keep the island dancing.

 

Still, that wasn’t the most important thing I saw in the video.

What was most interesting was the main fact that speaks to North Korea’s politically hieratical character and the implications of this for that society’s exactitude with respect to movement.

 

We can observe how the pretty women move each part of their bodies synchronously, rotating and fluttering in unison, with all of them even smiling at the same time. In the background, two violinists do exactly the same. It is perfect musical order, an order that doesn’t support chaos. It’s like military order put to music.

And while that is very Asian, typical of cultures with emperors and learned reverence for conviction, it’s also very typical of the mythology of “barracks communism,” whereby everyone should be equal and should do the same things every day.

It is like what was planned in Cuba for several decades, when the Soviet Union was irreversible and there were more hammer-and-sickle flags in the Havana Bay than in Red Square on May Day.

I think the main failure of the post-revolutionary Cuban educational system — whose achievements can never be ignored — didn’t occur with the crisis of the 1990s, but earlier, when chaos, variation and diversity were dismissed as essential educational elements as well as dissent as a virtue.

What happened is that our children and adolescents were filtered through a monotonous socialization sieve whose ultimate goal was for them “to be like Che.” There was no other choice. If a child wanted to be like boxer Teofilo Stevenson, or musician Juan Formell or just like their mother or father, that wasn’t on the script. It would have been like one of the North Korean women suddenly moving her arms to the right while the rest raised theirs over their heads.

It was, and remains, an educational system that achieved high levels of instruction — as confirmed by UNESCO and global math competitions — but it suffers low levels of diversity. There remained little room for the other, for those who were different, for an intercultural appreciation of the world. Nor is there much space for that gift that moves societies: creativity.

We were brought up with the idea that the main thing had already been accomplished — a revolution that was considered still living after a half-century of ferocious conservatism — and that our job was to merely tighten the bolts, which is called perfeccionar (“making it perfect”).

The North Korean singers syndrome has affected us so much that even when we take the path of emigration, we continue to act with intolerance and aggression against those who think differently – even when we declare that we’re for democracy, dialogue and understanding.

Because in the end, like the women in miniskirts mentioned by Ferrer, we’re only entering into dialogue with those who think like us, which isn’t creative – instead it embalms the soul.

I think I got off the subject, so back to basics: I congratulate Jorge Ferrer for his wit and humor, and for us still being able to hear the tone of his voice. And — why not? — I also thank the pretty North Korean women in their sequined miniskirts.
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(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com.


3 thoughts on “Mental Miniskirts

  • Another sign of western capitalist corruption? That’s certainly how it works here – the spotlight hogging glamour pusses making big bucks out front living off the backs of the workers.

  • Having seen the video, the ones in front all have individual colors, the ones in the background, the masses, all wear uniform black. Do the masses count even though without them the ones in front would not have anyone to parade for.? Neither could the ones in front play their roles without the ones in the background giving full support. Who is more important? Perhaps not the ones who think they are!

  • Thank-you Fernando for another thoughtful essay that uses a North Korean music video as an introduction to writing about conformity. Might I point out that in addition to the synchronized moments of the singers and musicians, there is another conformity on display. The music – ABBAesqe in style – the instruments and the miniskirts all conform to the culture of the American Empire. There is absolutely no sign of Korean culture in the video. ABBA of course were Swedish, but they sang in English, a language they did not speak, another indicator of conformity to the culture of the English-speaking world.

    There is a lesson here somewhere but I’m not sure what it is!

    I would like to discuss the main theme in your essay – that conformity is “very typical of the mythology of ‘barracks communism,’ whereby everyone should be equal and should do the same things every day.”

    You write about “the main failure of the post-revolutionary Cuban educational system — whose achievements can never be ignored — didn’t occur with the crisis of the 1990s, but earlier, when chaos, variation and diversity were dismissed as essential educational elements as well as dissent as a virtue.”

    I would argue that Cuba has never been allowed to achieve a “post-revolutionary” period due to the continuous state of siege the US has maintained from the very beginning. As such, for its own defense, the government has had to continue in a militarized state, symbolized by Fidel’s dress – military fatigues – not that of a Pinochet-like dictator who habitually dressed in a General’s uniform as a symbol of his power and elite status.

    When in power, Fidel’s sartorial style reminded us the Revolution still requires defending. Since retiring, his wardrobe has changed to leisurewear when hospital garb is not required.

    I feel the “monotonous socialization sieve” you write about, whose “ultimate goal” was to make Cuba’s “children and adolescents” to be like Che” is driven by the need to continue defending the Revolution. It may be monotonous, boring and a deterrent to creativity but the alternative, I believe, is even more deadly.

    It is up to Cubans to decide which alternative to follow. Unfortunately, it will be impossible to go back without serious consequences, likely bloody. The Empire uses force and chicanery to rope in lapsed followers.

    The choice is a difficult one. How long must Cubans remain in a ‘barracks” state? The Zapatista movement convinced me people opposing the policies of the elite must always remain in some state of readiness as ‘power never sleeps’. We are having a graphic example of that in my country as hard-fought for polices in support of the common good are relentlessly being rolled back now that the elites have regained back the power they lost.

    In Cuba, the primary opponent is external. It is in Canada as well but Canada’s lackey status to the US Empire – recently illustrated by its severing of diplomatic ties to Iran to assuage Israel’s anger at the US – reprieves us from feeling US wrath, unlike what is directed against Cuba.

    Canada, primarily English with a Francophone component, also has a special status, in stark contrast to that of Latin American countries who are traditionally treated as something less than human. Cubans, beware, lest you think Canada’s lackey status sounds appealing.

    Cubans may have to deal with the power structure within their country as well, but is now the right time? A strong government with its citizens strongly behind it unquestionably offers the best defense to an external threat.

    I have no answers or recommendations, and it is a Cuban decision to make. I am only concerned that there are powerful forces in train that threaten to cloud thinking – the US blockade that inhibits trade and the wooing of Cuban youth with a preferred immigration policy whilst deporting Mexicans in record numbers.

    The distorted glimpses Cubans get of the outside world – exacerbated by their government’s reluctance to risk a fuller view – both through its internet policy and travel restrictions – only serves to cloud thinking even more.

    Sooner or later the Empire will weaken and will have to give in. It has made the world its enemy and the world is taking notice.

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