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Monday, December 19, 2011

Gymnastics and North Korea

With the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in the news, I was reminded of a fascinating documentary I caught on Netflix (available on instant play or DVD). A State of Mind is a fascinating rare look inside the secretive country, and even more interesting--it focuses on two gymnasts.

For a time, North Korean gymnasts were right up there with the best in the world--see this bit on Kim Gwang Suk, 1991 World Champion on bars--but age-falsifying scandals caused them to be banned from competition for a while. The gymnasts in A State of Mind are not training in traditional artistic women's gymnastics, but instead do a form of group performance gymnastics incorporating artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and acrobatics. However, this isn't a film about gymnastics; it's about daily life, work, and goals in North Korea.

What we see from the people of North Korea is a god-like reverence for "The Dear Leader" and a conviction to anti-American propaganda so earnest that it would be comical if it weren't so scary. The great question remains, do the people of North Korea truly believe in the cult of Kim Jong Il, or do they simply know that they are required to? Now that he's gone, maybe we're closer to finding out.

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