Is North Koreans’ Grief Authentic?

nkoreaWig & Pen ponders whether the intense displays of mass, hysterical mourning of the death of Kim Jong Il are genuine, and the facials “tells” for faked sadness:

Two weeks ago, while gazing at photos of North Koreans in mourning–including grown men chewing the scenery–I recalled head shots depicting emotional states in the books and training materials of Paul Ekman. What, I wondered, would Professor Ekman, our leading authority on “reading” emotions from facial expressions, make of that frenzy of facial contortions from the Hermit Kingdom?

Kim Jong Il…knew exactly how the [his] population lined up: loyal core, 5-25%; wavering, 50-75%; hostile, 8-27%. But those who dissented–even in a whisper, even by hanging his portrait askew–ended in prison camps, subjected to forced labor and starvation.

How might Dr. Ekman audit the “grief cred” of our North Korean subjects? He’d certainly have us look for any upward angling of the eyebrows’ inner corners. It’s a high-probability marker of grief, he writes, that few can turn on voluntarily. He might also recommend that we look for slight or partial expressions; they might reveal other emotions—especially, in this case, fear. (Tensed lower and raised upper eyelids together are a high-percentage signal of fear–whether it stems from totalitarian disapproval or leering clowns.) And he might have us sleuth out micro expressions (1/5 a second or less in duration), which can reveal fleeting emotional “tells.”

But buyer beware–trained actors and some sociopaths can beat the system. And there’s also temporary emotional contagion in numbers. Whatever the underlying mechanism of collective mimicry—mirror neurons, an intensified, rhythmically repetitive activity level—the herd makes it easier to feel the love, feel the grief. Professional mourners, you should note, typically gig as an ensemble.

8 Comments on "Is North Koreans’ Grief Authentic?"

  1. “Professional mourners” what a gig…

  2. Mr Willow | Jan 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm |

    The fact that people’s faces aren’t wet with tears should be a dead give-away. 

    Of course, if they were, and I had to choose between labeling them ‘tears of sorrow’ and ‘tears of joy’, I’d pick the latter. 

  3. Good timing with this article.  I just watched the NG documentary “Inside North Korea”.  It all seemed so staged to me.  It’s like the whole country is “sealed” off to create this massive control group for a CIA-type psychology experiment.  It really seemed like the whole country was just like the prison that V put EV in – all an illusion.  Almost like it was supposed to show us how “real” brainwashing/mind control is done, meaning you have to have concentration camps and fear.  We re supposed to think that at least it’s not happening in our country.  I also thought it was silly that Kim was this terrible control freak but drinks whiskey while watching movies while riding in one of his 100 limos.  None of it really fit.  I need to re-watch it and see what I think now.

  4. I’d like to add that when I saw the scene of all the mourners crying and moaning and yelling, I immediately thought it looked fake.

  5. Calypso_1 | Jan 19, 2012 at 12:35 am |

    I wonder what percentage of human emotion is contrived when presented for the benefit of someone higher up the food chain.  Or what percentage of thoughts are anything but the party line even in a ‘free’ society.  What happens in the average news broadcast in a democracy when a camera is thrust into the face of one of the citizens? Is there thoughtful commentary and genuine emmotion or is it politically correct buzzwords and pantomimed role-play?

  6. gwen jackson | Jan 20, 2012 at 6:38 am |

    lol, americans think koreans are so ‘brainwashed’, yet they have no concept of the invisible prison their own gov’t and media have built for them. Is that ironic, or merely sad?

  7. I’m not saying that this is or it is not authentic but if anyone finds public displays of emotion like this too hard to believe, think back to the scenes that followed a certain Parisian car crash late one night in 1997. This is Britain we are talking about. And if you think Americans are calm in in control try watching 10 minutes of Jerry Springer. Events and phenomenon such as this happen all over the world. The difference is mainly in form. 

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