North Korea Outlaws Sarcasm. What a Great Idea!


North Korea bans a lot of stuff. Certain haircuts, foreign media, you name it. However, in recent days the government's taken an extra step, banning not just actions but intents. North Korea is making sarcasm a crime.

That's right — sarcasm, the use of irony to convey contempt or mock something. At the end of August, central government authorities organized mass meetings wherein they warned North Korean citizens that using sarcasm in reference to the government or its hereditary ruler Kim Jong Un, even in casual conversation, would be an unforgivable offense.

It appears that the Supreme Leader feels people are only agreeing with him ironically.

"Wait, wait, wait," you might say, "this sounds like something straight out of science fiction." You'd be absolutely correct to think so. In George Orwell's famous (and terrifying) novel "1984," ordinary citizens are constantly monitored by a vast surveillance state, forced to spy on one another and subjected to brutal laws, banning not just actions, but cognition counter to the regime — thoughtcrime.

And this is a real-world example of Orwellian thoughtcrime. But how could this work in the real world? How do you ban sarcasm? It's a highly contextual mode of expression, often misread by people who speak the same language fluently, or misinterpreted by third-party viewers.

The North Korean government aims to do this by restricting what they call "hostile speech." This includes specific phrases, such as "This is all America's fault!" At first that might sound like an odd one to ban, but, again, it's a matter of context. It seems the citizens of North Korea are using it humorously. So, someone might stub her toe and say "This is all America's fault."

This phrase specifically lampoons the government's tendency to blame internal or unrelated issues on foreign powers, especially the resident bogeyman of North Korean ideology, good ol' Uncle Sam. Think of it as their version of "Thanks, Obama!" Other phrases are also banned, such as using "a fool who cannot see the outside world" to refer to Kim Jong Un.

Granted, banning a specific phrase is much easier than banning a social mode of expression, but here's the thing: History shows that when a word or thought is censored, it gains power and importance in the minds of others. You have to wonder how this ban came about. What did the Supreme Leader's underlings say when he told them to go forth and ban sarcasm?

Was it "yeah, right"?

Check out the above video for more.