Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Korea’s Kony: Protests vs. Posters

In Let's Get Political on March 16, 2012 at 12:53 am

Recently we have all been inundated with Kony this and Uganda that, at each others’ throats and judging up the wazoo.  But one thing can’t be denied….we now know who Kony is.  Whether you’re pro ‘Cover the Night’ or anti meddling, the dialogue is open and that’s what fuels progress.  However what it has got me asking is, what about Korea?  Could such a social movement ever be possible in today’s society? Does anyone want to cover something about anything anymore?

Let’s back it up a bit and take glimpse at Korea’s protesting past.  It’s safe to say that Korea is not only no stranger to protesting, but historical protests are also a matter of national pride.  The March 1st Movement of 1919 was the beginning of the first large scale uprisings against the Japanese occupation.  Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans took part in over 1,500 protests spanning over the course of a month.  Passionate and bloody, the day is still remembered with pride and honored with a public holiday.

Fast forward to 1960 where a corrupt dictatorship under Syngman Rhee has pushed its people to breaking point. Students begin to raise angry voices and march in the April 19 protests, only to be ruthlessly fired upon by police killing over 100 people.  Sacrifices paid off however, and Rhee forcibly resigned from power on April 26.

For more on April 19, 1960 read Gusts of Popular Feeling’s post here.

One of the most brutal and pivotal protests was the Gwangju Uprising of May 18, 1980.  Another movement against another dictator, Chun Doo Hwan, this bloody clash of civilians against government lasted through until May 27, when it was again ruthlessly crushed by the military.  Pictures documenting this movement are not for the faint of heart, and although they were defeated, the uprising was instrumental in shaping Korea’s budding democracy.

Image Source

But that was then, and this is now.  Korean society is modernized, industrialized, and has not only caught up to the developed world, but is also fast becoming one of its leaders.  Citizens no longer need to fight power hungry dictators for basic human rights, nor fear for their safety from an iron fisted military.  But that doesn’t stop people taking to the streets with fire in their bellies….albeit at a certain hour, at a certain place and with certain approval.  Korea’s society has evolved, but its method of protesting has not.

It’s the 21st century and Korean protesters are getting desperate.  Angry and shouty protests are a dime a dozen, and they are so commonplace that nobody really pays attention anymore.  They have lost their shock value, and passers by barely give a glance to their cause.  And so we enter an age of the extreme, where activists and protesters will do anything and everything, and are even willing to cause bodily harm just to get noticed.

For a history of Korean protests this is also a good read.

Of course nobody could forget the 2004 American FTA protest season.  It caught international media attention when more than 10,000 people collectively tore up an American flag and were dispersed with water cannons.  But in recent years much more frightening protests have shocked and disturbed.  Examples include, but are  not limited to, a man covering himself in bees to protest Dokdo, men publicly cutting off their fingers in protest of the Yasukuni shrine, a live pig being ripped apart in Incheon (with conflicting reports of motives), and a mass demonstration of masked prostitutes against government legislation.  For a good look at some of these, and more, with some eyebrow raising photos check here.

Flag burning is illegal in Korea….therefore next best option is to eat it.

So what about Kony?  In a country that relies on social media more than face to face interaction in almost every industry, where is Korea’s Kony?  It’s on twitter.  And only on twitter.  The ‘twittersphere’ is an entire sub-society where people don’t even need to know what each other look like, and participating in a cause is at the click of a button.  The Korean youth are vocal about their dissatisfaction with the government, society, and life in general, but it is limited to a cyworld post, a facebook status or a retweet.  There is a distinct disconnect between knowing about a problem and actually doing something to change it.

Take Kim Yeo Jin for example, a famous actress who has been dubbed a ‘social-tainer’ and the ‘Goddess of the Twittersphere’.  Her activism against politicians and policies has attracted a lot of attention, and from people in power much of it negative, but it’s mostly on the internet.  Whilst she predominantly conducts a ‘twitter campaign’ for her causes, she did get out and join protesters and was subsequently arrested.  The blow by blow of which was live-tweeted for her army of internet activists.  You can read her story here, and be sure to count how many times twitter is mentioned.

But twitter is only effective up to a point.  There still lacks a happy medium between violent angry protest and passive netizen malcontent.  A Korean labor media activist put it best when she said “We separate action and daily life…go to a rally, then home.  We have to integrate struggle into our daily lives.” (Source)  Today’s Korean youth are either too preoccupied with their own problems to commit to action, too disillusioned about whether or not it will have any effect, or else too tired from working 90 hour weeks.

   Image Source

However there is hope.  A small artist driven organization known as One-Man-Demonstration.com (which incidentally is not an actual web address) provides a service for those with a cause, but don’t want to do the protesting themselves.  One person is not a group protest, so no need for government permission, the performer creates a visual protest in a public place.   For example, an Occupy Wall Street sympathy protest entailed one man outside the US Embassy with an American dollar bill with a hole where the president’s face should be.  Not exactly occupying anything, and not exactly stopping the presses, but it’s something different.

Will large numbers of Koreans be papering the city with posters on April 20th? My conclusion…..probably not.  But I eagerly await to be proven wrong.


‘Korea Only’ on tbs eFM 1013 Main Street – Variety Shows

In 'Korea Only' 1013 Main Street Podcasts on March 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I’ve currently been working at tbs eFM as a regular guest on the 1013 Main Street program, with the fabulous Ahn Jung Hyun.  The segment is called ‘Korea Only’ and each week we discuss topics of Korean society and culture that are unique and interesting.  It’s a fun show and definitely the highlight of my week, so I will be posting the podcasts of the show here for anyone interested.

I’ll be playing catch up a little and posting shows from a while back, so the first was one I did back in November about Korean Variety Shows.

Korean Variety shows can be a bit of a mystery to a non-Korean, and the humor can seem way off base.  However, given the chance you might find them to be more entertaining than you think.

1.  What are Korean Variety Shows?

2.  Muhan Dojeon (Infinite Challenge)

3.  Running Man

4.  We Got Married

5.  Happy Together

Click on the link below to listen

K-Pop Fan Clubs: Friend, Foe and Fear

In Entertain Me on March 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm

One could not pretend to know anything about Korea without at least acknowledging the existence of K-Pop and it’s impressive influence.  Even if you’re  personally not a fan of the music, hat-tips must go to its sheer success and sustainability.  Hallyu remains the driving force behind getting Korea whispered on the lips of residents in far flung lands.  Whilst we could spend endless hours picking apart just what makes K-Pop the object of obsessions and passionate followings, there’s one aspect that divides and in many respects frightens.  The K-Pop Fan Club.

Photo Credit

Perhaps you drop into conversation that you are a fan of a particular musician.  You have all their albums, follow them on twitter, and you make a point of going to all their concerts.   You would consider yourself to be….a fan.  But in reality you haven’t even scratched the surface of what it means to be a true K-Pop Fan. What is  so different from K-Pop Fan Clubs from those of other artists?  For a start, K-Pop is so accessible and personal that fans can feel close and attached to their idols.  Artists hold Fan Meetings regularly, appear on TV almost daily, and make appearances in shopping malls and random public places at the drop of a hat.  We can know their every move, their personal habits, we can feel like we’ve known ‘Oppa’ forever.  K-Pop Stars do not have the same celebrity airs and graces that international artists have, which can disconnect fans from feeling like they really matter.  Sure fans are the first to be thanked after a Grammy win, but fans are really just an intangible entity.  Korean artists are acutely aware of how important the fan base is to their success or demise, and do everything possible to connect with them.  And they are rewarded with a fierce, sometimes unnerving loyalty.

You might think if you joined the Facebook group page of your favourite K-Pop artist that you are in the fan club.  Alas, no it’s a far more demanding commitment than that.  Every artist’s fan club has their own specific name such as Big Bang has V.I.P, the Wondergirls have Wonderful, and 2PM has Hottest (because all-important record label owner JYP considers 2pm to be the hottest time of the day.)  TVXQ, also known as DBSK, has the club Cassiopeia, which has the largest membership in the world, and has been in the Guinness Book of World Records twice.  If you are in a fan club, you are not permitted to be a fan of anyone else.  Loyalty is key.  You must also love and support all members and not criticize them, though you might have a ‘bias’ or a favorite member.

Above:  The After School official colour was released as ‘Pearl Periwinkle’ – Photo Credit

Not only does each club get a name, they also get a unique color.  How does an industry with dozens apon dozens of clubs manage to get their own colour you say?  With descriptions such as Pastel Rose (Girl’s Generation) and Pearlescent Sky Blue (SHINee).  For a full list of colours and names check here.  It may sound like it’s going a bit far, but at concerts where many different artists perform, it’s essential to display the correct colour for your club or you may be mistaken for a different fan.  The travesty of such a confusion cannot be underestimated.

And this is where we come to the dark side of K-Pop fan clubs.  Korea is of course home to netizen culture, and the internet provides the perfect platform for obsession to take root and flourish.   The ease in which fans  and anti-fans can create forums and websites, both for and against their idols, leads to vicious rivalries and expressions of hatred.  Internet fans have a make, break or obliterate power that manifests from unstable personal projections.   Some of the more infamous incidents include a crip vs blood-esque showdown between rival fan clubs at the 2008 Dream concert, which resulted in 20 people hospitalized.  All because of a ripped poster.  TVXQ member Junho was allegedly poisoned by a crazed anti-fan who put glue in his drink, and there have been numerous accounts of threats and malicious objects sent to members of other groups.  For a more detailed list of the work of anti fans check here.

Photo Credit

Perhaps one of the saddest  examples of the power and cruelty of anti-fans was the speculation over Epik-High member Tablo’s education credentials.  Amidst a scandal of other stars forging their university qualifications, Tablo’s Stanford achievements were not only called into question but he and his family relentlessly vilified.  No matter what he did to prove his innocence, the netizens had a rebuke.   It reached a point where his family were receiving threats and he could no longer walk down the street for fear of being accosted.  A full and incredulous account of the story can be found here at the Stanford Alumni Magazine.

Fan club rivalries and anti-fans are a force to be feared, and a K-Pop star needs a thick skin not to succumb to their onslaughts.  They can be so overt in their hatred, they may even create suicide petitions calling for ‘offending’ stars to just end it themselves.  What is so frightening is that the offenses themselves are either unfounded, non-existent, or so minor as not to warrant the blood curdling battle cries of those who have been ‘wronged’.  2PM leader Park Jay Beom reportedly had anti-fans demanding his suicide after an anti-Korea posting on his My Space page, years before he became a pop-star, was picked up and publicized.  Nevermind the fact he was an American born teenager in Korea at the time, and bound to have had a few cultural angry days.

But fan clubs are not all bad.  Their role is also for the promotion of their idols and participating in charitable works.  The father of Korean pop, Seo Taiji, has recently had a forest in Brazil protected and named after him by his fan club.  The ‘Seo Taiji Forest’ cost a whopping 38 million won collected from his dedicated fan base.  The Japanese fans  U-Know recently donated 22 million won to the Gwangju Community Chest of Korea, to assist students of low income families.  Some of the more popular group fan clubs such as ELF of Super Junior, have been donating rice on the birthdays of members in their honor.  Ironically, a small faction of Jay Park’s fan club donated a million won to help a 5 year old boy with mental and physical disabilities.  It goes to show that the fans will fight for you, just as hard as the anti fans will fight against you.

It remains that K-pop stars are at the mercy of fans and their internet connections.  It’s all part and parcel for the entity that is the Korean pop industry, and entertainment companies are old pro’s at how to shape and mold their images.