Saturday, November 05, 2011

Left, right and Naggomsu in South Korea

Sonia wrote here that, "If I were to vote in South Korea, I’d vote conservative. Liberals here scare me." I'm personally not a big fan of voting, which is not something you should admit often because the prevailing orthodoxy is for everyone to vote regardless of their opinions or beliefs. At any rate, I share Sonia's distaste for the South Korean left, though I don't know that Na Gyungwon is better than Park Wonsoon (it's like comparing Cheez Whiz to Snuggies).

In my mind, the merits of Korea's right and left can be distilled to the faceoff you might see at a protest. On the one hand, riot police make Seoul feel like central Beijing, deem protests illegal on whims and have often been accused of brutality. On the other hand, the people you see at protests believe(d?) that American beef, the beef that hundreds of millions of Americans eat every day, could kill them at any second. They attack police and generally spare no excess or hyperbole.

These same people, if you were to vote for them in the next election, are currently holding up the KORUS FTA with threats of violence. If the GNP, which has a majority in the Assembly, tries to use that majority to pass a bill that opposition parties initiated, the opposition parties will retaliate with violence in the Assembly. It's not the case that the GNP hasn't been involved in violence, or that the GNP hasn't tried to investigate a novelist who dared to bring the plight of sexually abused children to the mainstream. Clearly, both parties are not without fault.

So, enter the darling of Korean politics these days, its very own equivalent of the Daily Show, 나는꼼수다 (I am a Weasel). It got coverage in the New York Times, finally, bringing attention to something that would have never otherwise gotten attention in the English-language press.

That 나꼼수 is a podcast rather than a TV show tells you something. If the Daily Show was a podcast because it was too controversial to make fun of politicians on TV, you would have a sense of where things stand in politics here. Not too long ago, a Twitter account with a username that translated to "fuck Lee Myung-bak" (@2mb18noma) was banned by the Korea Communications Commission, though the ban was eventually overturned.

It's very easy to feel hatred for the paternalistic, condescending conservative establishment, which brings you the crappy news you see here, here and here. The quality of news in English is so atrocious, two parts PR for one part news, that I don't think it can be considered legitimate journalism, and I cringe whenever I see anyone citing news from an English-language news source in Korea. However, the Korean-language news is not much better.

From an editorial written in the Joongang Ilbo about 나꼼수, Kim Jin-gook wrote that the podcast "blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction, commentary and comedy", and argued that the traditional media iss fairer. This leads me to wonder if Kim has ever actually read his own paper.

Some of the high-quality journalism you can find on the front page of the Joongang Ilbo:

The top story is some guy's online petition for the release of Park Chu-young
Two women explain how to get a Korean boyfriend
Woman takes pictures of herself everyday for 5 years
Baseball player Lee Seung-yeob's wife "as pretty as ever"
Indian students have a Korean speech contest in New Delhi

Now for the English edition:

Shinee to hold concert in London
K-pop to land in South America
Star chefs get a taste of Korea in Jeonju
An unpaid advertisement from Amore Pacific

Yes, Mr. Kim, it's awful to blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, commentary and comedy.

To be honest, neither Naggomsu nor the politcal left are a silver bullet for the problems of a conservative establishment, as this quote from the New York Times article shows:

For their latest recording, the team invited Kim Yong-ok, a philosopher who called Mr. Lee “a tragedy for our nation” and South Korea “an effective colony of the United States.” The show replayed an audio clip in which the philosopher said he was “not convinced even 0.0001 percent” when the government announced last year that the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack.

On the Internet, no paranoid fantasy is spared by anti-FTA activists. I can't say that I have a particularly strong opinion about the FTA, but I don't like to see someone lie at the top of their lungs. These banners at Daehanmun in front of Deoksugung are an example:

The banner on the top, from the Democratic Labor Party, says that they oppose the Grand National Party forcing through the FTA, rich words considering that: 1) the GNP has a majority 2) about 58% of people support the FTA 3) the DLP will use violence to stop the bill.

The one on the bottom claims that the FTA will lead people to their deaths.


Anonymous said...

The first podcast was brilliant, but now it's becoming what it criticizes. When they make plans to hold a rally, they should call Jon Stewart to discuss shark-jumping therapies.

On FTA, if the DP can protect South Koreans against downside risks, they will pull off what their American ideological brothers couldn't. Yeah, so your friend is right - give me the crap straight and don't lie to me about making the poison any sweeter. Plus, if the U.S. economy doesn't pick up, there won't be a benefit to an FTA for anyone.

Adeel said...

I think there's a place for that sort of irreverent commentary in Korea. I think Naggomsu is valuable not for the exact ideas it puts forward, but for doing something that otherwise doesn't get done too often.

I think the Daily Show is similarly valuable in the United States for calling out the absurdity in news media (political and apolitical), though it is hardly immune from absurdity itself, and I find that it too often takes Republicans to task when it could probably be more equal-opportunity with its jokes.

Anonymous said...

I am so delighted about the fact you will never vote in South Korea.