It seems the North Koreans are lining up another Dear Leader; in all the clips I’ve seen he looks like a rather pudgy bunny in the headlights, unsure of what he’s exactly to do as his countrymen and women march and dance in perfect unison, apparently for his benefit.
Every clip — including this one, but not to the same extent — has the Western tendency to focus on individuals. The North Koreans are aware of this and provide tame interview subjects for Western cameras, but these chips of light aside, the point of the parades and marches is their uniformity, their precision. No-one is meant to shine because everyone shines. And the parades are eerily beautiful. The heir apparent stands on his balcony and tries to behave properly — even, at one point, clapping out of time — while the generals and the great and the good swirl around him. Watch a few of the ‘related’ videos; try to ignore the planted individuals: focus on the mass.
I used to marvel at Soviet May Day parades as a kid, but the North Koreans leave the Russians trailing in their wake when it comes to this stuff. So, too, do the Chinese. I don’t think the Chinese are as good as the North Koreans, but then China is a fully featured modern economy, with everything that entails. I suspect the North Koreans spend eleven months in every twelve perfecting their marches. The Chinese probably don’t.
When I was writing Bring Laws and Gods, I spent some time trying to imagine what a society that was DPRK or The People’s Republic ‘on top’ — but capitalist underneath — would look like. It’s a theme I’d have liked to explore further, because I think it’s something we in the West will confront sooner rather than later, but in the end I don’t think I did it justice. There’s just the odd passage, like this:
She liked their festivals, though, or some of them, at least. Especially Megalesia: it was vast, ornate, joyous and resulted in a massive increase in Æsculapion admissions, sometimes for very odd ailments, more often for ailments arising from overindulgence of one sort or another. Part of her wanted to condemn it, but the streets full of dancers and ornate floats, the cacophonous percussion and singing, the sheer ecstasy of the young people who volunteered to garland the Goddess’s statues and carry them through the city and throw saffron and turmeric over each other and into the air overwhelmed her senses. The cross-dressing in particular fascinated her. Romans had strong views that men should dress like men, and women like women, so seeing soldiers in banqueting dresses while their women wore borrowed fatigues and oversized helmets was at once shocking and hilarious. Madness is permitted once a year, her Roman friends told her.
Megalesia also contrasted with other Roman festivities in ways she appreciated. Caesar’s birthday, for example, always filled her with fear, with its serried ranks of troops marching down the cardo. Their steps were quick and in perfect time, and they sang. It took her two years to appreciate that the men in the middle of each rank could snap their heads to face the saluting Legate and the red and black banners of members of the Imperial House because the men on the outside rows stayed eyes front. After the soldiers always came a selection of weapons, sometimes with crews demonstrating a little of how they worked. If she were honest with herself, it was this aspect she found most frightening, partly because her Roman friends took such unalloyed delight in displays of military might, climbing onto roofs and cheering themselves hoarse, and partly thanks to the brilliant science and engineering they invested in inventing things that killed. These are not, she thought, people given to beating their swords into ploughshares. She once suggested to Inara that the mounted missiles looked outrageously phallic.
‘Of course,’ Inara said, ‘that’s the point.’