SEOUL, South Korea – The order to shaggy-haired North Korean men couldn't be clearer: Get a trim like Kim.
The reclusive communist country is waging a hair war, telling its male population to lose the long locks, cut the coiffures and mow the mane to conform to "socialist style" — no longer than two inches.
Even hair-challenged, authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il (search) has trimmed his famous pompadour. One exception, however: Comradely comb-overs are OK for older men.
The short-hair campaign actually was launched in October, but it reached new lengths Monday when state-run Central TV began ridiculing nonconformists as unhygienic, anti-socialist fools. It comes as North Korea's (search) dictatorship struggles to tighten its control over information, monitor its population and dictate cultural tastes.
State TV even derided violators of the order by name and address, calling them "blind followers of bourgeois lifestyle," and exposing them to jeers from other citizens.
"We cannot help questioning the cultural taste of this comrade, who is incapable of feeling ashamed of his hair style," the station said Monday, showing a man identified as Ko Gwang Hyun, whose unkempt hair covered his ears.
"Can we expect a man with this disheveled mind-set to perform his duty well?" the announcer asked.
North Koreans have never been known for mop tops, but the campaign — dubbed "Let's Trim Our Hair According to Socialist Lifestyle" — suggests that popular tastes have changed recently.
One possibility is exposure to China, where long hair is being seen more often.
The government in Pyongyang (search), which demands unquestioning allegiance and controls all publications and broadcasts, is growing increasingly wary of outside influences.
Foreign broadcasts penetrate the country through smuggled transistor radios. As North Korea's economic woes persist, more North Koreans are traveling to China to seek food — and are exposed to the rapidly spreading capitalist culture there. CDs and videos of South Korean songs and TV dramas — popular in most of Asia — are reportedly smuggled into the North.
Among the campaign's hairdos and don'ts: Hair must be kept no longer than two inches. The only exception is for older men, who are given an extra four-fifths of an inch to hide baldness.
The dictum claims that long hair hampers brain activity by taking oxygen away from nerves in the head.
North Korea's campaign does not mention any rules for women and gives no explanation as to why their long hair would not result in reduced brain activity.
In November, a broadcast from the Stalinist regime chastised men with long hair as "fools who abandon our own lifestyle and mimic other people's model."
Short haircuts fit with Kim Jong Il's "songun" — or army-first — philosophy, which focuses on military strength and exhorts the people to follow the example of the 1.1 million-member Korea People's Army, the loyal backbone of Kim's rule.
Kim, known as the "Dear Leader," turns 63 this month. For years, he sported a pouffy pompadour — reportedly to boost his 5-foot-3 height.
About two years ago, pictures starting appearing in official media showing that Kim had trimmed his hair along the ear and back, and only slightly longer on top — with the curly bouffant gone.
Kim was shown on Central TV in January visiting a military unit, but it was impossible to judge the length of his hair because he was wearing a hat.
Some photographs of his father, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, showed him to have a receding hairline, although his hair was not especially short.
Kim Jong Il is certainly not the first leader to dictate style to his people. Russia's Westernizing czar, Peter the Great, ordered noblemen in the 1700s to cut their beards to appear more European.
Coincidentally, Kim shares his intolerance for a bohemian look with South Korea's late dictator, Park Chung-hee.
In the 1970s, at the height of Park's authoritarian rule, police banned miniskirts. Long-haired male college students were dragged into police stations for forced haircuts and were only released after writing letters of repentance.
In reaction to the pressure to conform, more young South Koreans took to long hair, blue jeans and guitars — and demonstrating. The government considered the trend rebellious and closed down schools and banned songs deemed "harming the public morals."
Park was murdered by his own spy chief in 1979, and long hair — dyed in a variety of colors — is now widely accepted in South Korea.