Thursday, 17 September 2015

That amazing Star Wars Music

Subtitle: aw heck, why not make it a blog post.

Somewhere around 2011, thoughts that would have become blog posts suddenly became long-form Facebook updates. I have decided to make them blog posts again. It's easier to find them back.

I am currently re-watching the Star Wars trilogy. The original trilogy. I'm glad I was a kid when the original trilogy was still heavy in the pop culture consciousness -- I'm very glad my first experience with Star Wars wasn't the three prequels. I'm not quite old enough to have seen the movies in the theater, but when I was in Kindergarten, one of my classmates used to smash the structures other classmates would build out of cardboard bricks...
While shouting "Return of the Jedi!" AND he had a Return of the Jedi lunchbox. And we rented Star Wars not long after we got our first VHS machine.

As Disney is winding up their pop-culture machine to unleash the Star Wars hype dynamo, they are doing a pretty good job of feeding the beast and letting fan excitement drive it, rather than using too heavy a hand. They are experts at playing their cards well.

But even as those silly star wars viral videos come out (chipmunks) (roadside crash) (Jedi with a gopro) (death star over San Francisco) (Matthew McCognschwarzeneggerghey watches the trailer), the fact remains, and it's something I only realized on these latest re-watchings. If you watched Star Wars as a kid, all you need is this:

That opening hit, the noise and the trumpet: by the time those 6 and a half seconds of fanfare go by, I'm ready for fun and adventure, and the main theme hasn't even started! So... read as many whiny blogs as you want, hate George Lucas as much as you like, snicker away that Lego Count Dooku looks eerily like George Lucas...
no seriously, look at him! The version in the Lego Star Wars animated films is seriously eerie
but after all the griping and equivocating, all it takes is six seconds of trumpets and friends, I am in.

And, for fun, here are my Star Wars and other extended universes prediction:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be much much better than the prequels and will do really well, though

The sheer density of Star Wars properties lined up for release will lead to fatigue before the sequel trilogy is finished. A star wars film every 18 months will wear us out. ANYTHING every 18 months would wear us out. Even Captain Jack Sparrow, who ruined Johnny Depp's brand at least as much as Tim Burton did.

The Han Solo prequel will be either incredible or awful, with no middle ground (I think it will be awful, and they shouldn't try, for the same reason I think nobody should make a biopic of Freddie Mercury: how on earth are you going to duplicate what everybody knew the first time they saw it, was unequivocally a lightning-in-a-bottle perfect alignment of forces. Chris Pratt deserves his own character, and Harrison Ford's Han Solo should be like Al Pacino's Michael Corleone and Michael J Fox's Marty McFly: so definitive nobody should bother trying to touch it).

Disney's Marvel Universe will also continue doing well until superhero fatigue is in full swing (Thanos, because he looks ridiculous off the comic page, might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as Marvel slowly pushes back the limit of exactly how ridiculous they can make their films before they lose the suspension of disbelief),

But DC's Batman/Superman film, or the Justice League film that's coming after it, will catch the full brunt of the superhero backlash - just please give us one good Wonder Woman movie and one good Black Widow (or Scarlet Witch, or Ms. Marvel, or even She-Hulk) movie before everybody starts canceling Phase Three of their extended universes and starts re-making Die-Hard, please!

As for other stuff... I like Prince's new album, Tame Impala's new album, Destroyer's new album, and Beach House's new album. Go listen to them. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

August Recap at Roboseyo

Earlier this year I said to myself, "Self, if you can't write three blog posts a week like you did back in 2008, you can at least write one a month." Only to fail at doing so. And you know, these days I'm teaching at a university, which means I just had two months off, and still couldn't manage a blog post.

But whatever readers I have are at least used to that by now. Finishing a masters' degree in Korean Studies managed to make me want to write the kinds of blog posts I don't have the time to pull off anymore, with a three-year-old running around making me laugh instead, and jumping on my lap at the computer desk and demanding to watch cat videos.

So here's what's been going on this summer, and some of the year before that, which almost got on the blog, or turned into a Facebook thingy instead.

Mr. Robot is a very very good TV series. Here is the best song from the soundtrack so far (though there have been a whole bunch, and I love a show with a good soundtrack.)

Have barely seen any movies in the theatre, though my son loved "Inside and Out".

One thing I love about that boy is where his heart is. He loves his friends a little too vigorously, but when we watched the Toy Story trilogy together this summer, his spots of concern and worry were all around Andy being separated from his toys, and from his toys not being able to be close to the person they love. Now, you may not have noticed this while watching them, but the Toy Story films (especially 2 and 3) are all about growing up and moving on. Be careful. Those movies are a minefield of nostalgic longing for being a child again, in the best possible way. That theme is hard for a 3-year-old to get, for obvious reasons. As far as he's concerned right now (and he's said so) the best possible thing in the world would be if he and daddy and mommy could all live forever so that we could all live together all the time. Yet when Andy gave his toys to little Bonnie (embedding disabled), because he knew she would love them, and introduced them in a way that affirmed, celebrated, and also put an ending punctuation mark on the years he'd loved them, there my little boy was crying with me, happy that the Toys had found a new person who would love them, and satisfied that (though through the first two movies, he'd nearly cried with anxiety that the toys wouldn't find Andy again) it was now alright for Andy to say goodbye to his toys.

And if you've never cried at the same spot of a movie as your kid, well, that's something to put on your Dad bucket list, I guess.

The Tower Of London scene in Minions was pretty great too. Especially the Hair reference.

We went to Canada and I got to introduce my son to most of the extended family. There were a few people it hurt to miss (sorry Heather and Melissa, Neil and Heather D) and some I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with (well... pretty much everyone, but a few in particular). My son got to meet his great grandmother, and that was really special.

Thirteen-hour-flights with a three-year-old are hard. Especially when the in-flight movies are a weak weak lineup. Insurgent is a terrible movie. And I'm predisposed to liking young adult fiction, because it's my (no longer) secret guilty pleasure.

The 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan passed without any change in the ugly state of Korea-Japan relationships. I enjoyed this panel discussion about it, though it's very much from a US perspective. I'm still working on a blog series about that, and it's getting closer to the point where I'm ready to start stitching together blog posts. Bear with me. Or don't. Whatever.

I remember once when one of those "jaded expat" blogs complained, "Every time you turn on the TV it's nothing but stuff about how Korea's the greatest country and every other country sucks" and a blogger I admired responded, more or less, "I don't know what channel you're watching, but when I turn on the TV, I usually see people singing."

I liked that response, and it stuck with me. But now I'd have to add cooking to that. There are so many cooking shows I don't know what to say. Particularly coming back to it from two weeks in Canada, and realizing that Canada (or at least the way my people live in Canada) just isn't a food culture the way Korea is. I can't imagine my Canadian family planning a trip around the meals they'll eat at a lineup of famous restaurants and amazing foods, the way my Korean family does when they travel. That's not a knock on Canada -- I loved some things about being back in Canada. Especially driving through the countryside, but it was a different way of living with food than I've gotten used to. That said, I'm lucky to be living in a part of Seoul where I can indulge that.

We brought back the nastiest beast of a cold from Canada. My son has basically been coughing for a month now. And I've been coughing for three weeks. And my wife has been coughing for two. Somebody send help!

I was looking through the lego section of a toy department (because that's a thing I do now. No more hot trendy restaurants for me. It's all about the train sets now), and I found this. Lego Korean coast guard. Or ... off-brand lego, stuck in with the lego sets.

Why yes, that's Lego Korean Coast Guard. With names and everything (click to enlarge).
And yes, they seem to be guarding two smallish islands out in the sea. Wanna hazard a guess which two they're meant to be? (I know, I know. I just can't resist. It's like a scab I have to pick.)

And, finally, at Children's Grand Park, there is a children's museum called "SsangSsangNaRa" or "Imagination Land"

South Park references aside, Imagination Land is the best indoor place to bring your kid in the whole damn city. On the weekends it's crowded (what isn't?), and parking is a real beast, so go early (10am opening), but for 4000 won you get three stories of creative and learning play that's richer and better than any kid's cafe that's two times the price (if you have to buy food) or four times, and has a time limit (as they all do). It's so great there that I almost don't want to tell my blog readers about it, so that it's less busy for me, but who am I kidding? The secret is clearly already out.

So... go there and have fun. The only drawback: it's a bit of a walk to get to anywhere with decent food. Also: DO NOT eat the sausages at the little food stands near the entrance. Just. Don't.

Tomorrow my classes start again. Stay well readers. I'll be back... when I'm back.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Mirror Images, or The State of English Language Journalism In Korea

I am intrigued by the way these two articles came across my feed around the same time. Because they are the mirror images of each other.

Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this!

(that was part two. Part one of Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this! is here:

And then:

Hey everyone! Koreans are all like this!

I'd love to lock the two authors in a room together, although I have to give the author of the first article more of a break than the second, because living in the country one was raised in, and not seeking out the company of people with different backgrounds than oneself is much more forgivable than moving overseas and doing the same. And frankly, his take on his own culture is about as clumsy. Responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of the Korea Times editor here.

Bottom line: these are both blog posts that are not worthy of publication in places purporting to be media outlets. I'm fine with "Koreans are all rude" on a blog post. Lots of people agree with the sentiment, and that's allowed. But it's not news. There was no investigation going on (unless chatting up the disgruntled corner of expat bars counts as journalistic research now), and the article was so all over the place, nothing useful can be made of it anyway, except catharsis. Jumping from language to parking to subway pushing to sidewalk blocking to thoughtless comments to enforcement of public smoking laws places this in blog rant turf, not op/ed page territory. And that the author wouldn't even put her full name to it again, suggests it belongs on an anonymous tumblr or something, where I would happily ignore it, instead of holding it up to the standard from the site's "about page" -- "The Korea Observer is an online newspaper founded in February 2013 with the support of the Seoul City government by award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon with the motto, “Be the voice for the voiceless.”" Anonymity in journalism is OK with me. When you're criticising the president and people with earpieces are hanging around in the park across your street and your writing partner was already arrested this month. But anonymity for "Koreans are rude y'all!" makes it into a mockery.

Complaining that koreans are rude is not giving voice to the voiceless. I've been hearing that voice bouncing around the online expat echo chamber for a decade now, and this piece conveniently gathers every gripe into one place, but has added nothing new other than that. White gripes about Korea are not the voiceless that need outlets like Korea Observer. Get your shit together, Award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon!

Both articles are great examples of why it's important to talk with, and listen to the views and opinions of the subjects of one's writing: "Laura" would have found most Koreans are just as offended as she is by the breaches of etiquette she writes about, and Mr. Choi would have been quickly disabused of his stereotyped views of Korea if he'd been listening to the foreigners he met, or meeting more than just a handful who'd "drunk the Korea Kool-aid" (which happens).

So... while we could come up with a mirror image list to go with my "Five signs the author of the article you're reading doesn't know much about Korea" to use for articles like "Differences Between Koreans and Foreigners," (wouldn't be hard, and both lists boil down to this: look for evidence that the author has actually consulted with a variety of people in the group they're writing about, and respects them as humans) for now, let me just mention that e-mailing Mr. Choi with angry rants, or bugging him online, is extremely unlikely to disabuse him of his stereotyped views of foreigners, and perhaps will only succeed in replacing his clumsy stereotypes of foreigners with negative ones, and for people like "Laura" ... I regularly say that it's incredibly unhelpful to say "If you don't like it, go home"... but there are in fact times when, if Korea really does make a person as unhappy as all this, the exit option IS probably the best. Either that, or it's time to go soak in a jimjilbang, climb a mountain, eat some great Korean food, and hang out with people who don't complain. They exist. Or start a complainey blog. That's what blogs are for.

Anyway, see you all again in 14 months, the next time two equally dumb articles from opposite sides are published close to each other, and we can go around this hamster wheel again.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Kingsman, the Preposterawesome Scale, and The Welcome Return of Cufflink Lasers

I just watched Kingsman: The Secret Service, the film responsible for the surge in popularity of double-breasted suits in Korea (it was HUGE here).

I enjoyed it a lot. It's everything you want a silly escapist spy film to be (though with more F-words than the 007 franchise led us to expect). A movie like this will always have a chance of doing well, because as James Bond, and every major male film star of the last century except Bruce Willis shows us, people look awesome when they do awesome things in formal wear. (Clickbait list: the 30 best suits in film).

Kingsman is also a great demonstration of what I call the preposterawesome scale.

The principle of the preposterawesome scale is similar to How I Met Your Mother's "Hot/Crazy Scale," as explained by Barney Stinson in his send-up of an incorrigible ladies' man.

Basically, the positive quality of "hot" must outweigh the negative quality of "crazy" when Barney calculates if he wants to date someone. Disclaimer: Barney is a satire, and also a character in a sitcom, and I don't recommend actually thinking of dating prospects in such a dehumanizing, reductive way (sorry, THIS GUY, you're doing it wrong).

But in evaluating an action movie that is being consumed for entertainment, it's a little more OK to be reductive. And my own theory about silly and unbelievable things in movies is the preposterawesome line. Basically, the more preposterous a thing is, the more awesome it has to be, for viewers to forgive the silliness.

Star Wars's laser swords and the idea of monks with telekinetic powers defending the galaxy from villains who build moon-sized ships with planet destructo-beams is forgivable, because light sabers are awesome and so are Jedis and space ship dogfights.

We (or at least, enough of us) forgive the ridiculous idea of giant robots from space that transform into vehicles and then transform back into giant robots carrying huge laser cannons... but who still prefer to beat the hell out of each other with fists and blades and grappling holds, because because giant robots grappling and punching and swordfighting is awesome! 

And of course the best way to steal expensive goods is with a fleet of supercars going at high speed. We went to seven movies about that, and counting (I think the Fast Furious brand might be the next James Bond -- if they manage the brand right, the well might never run dry) because car chases are awesome! Lightsabers are awesome. Neo dodging bullets is awesome, and the Agents are awesome, too. Liam Neeson romping through Europe killing people is awesome. Everything is awesome!

James Bond spent four decades -- from the 60s to the 90s, above the preposterawesome threshold. There are simple reasons for that. Take 18-35 year old men, whose tastes marketers care about more than any other, for some reason, and ask them to brainstorm all the awesome stuff they want to see in a movie, and you'd come out with the elements of a James Bond film. "Uh... spy stuff. Yeah. Spy tech is cool." "Yeah. And like, sweet sweet cars with like, lasers and missiles in them" "Oh yeah. That's awesome. And exotic places." "Yeah. Exotic places FULL of hot women." "Easy hot women." "I thought that went without saying. Hurr durr." So... when Q introduced the newest Aston Martin that turned into a spy satellite and cooked omelettes and washed your cat in the back seat while jetting out oil slicks at baddie cars, and was invisible and also actually an airplane, we loved it, because that's just plain awesome.

The preposterawesome scale is also why Austin Powers almost killed the James Bond franchise -- by doing the loving satire they did, they also sharply underlined just how preposterous James Bond films were from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan, and at the same time digital effects sucked a lot of wonder out of special effects, because instead of going "Wow! An invisible car!" We went, "meh. It's all digital these days." The preposterous rating went up, the awesome rating went down, and suddenly Pearce Brosnan style 007 films were below the preposterawesome line. Jason Bourne showed them a way out of the woods: finding the awesome in believability and good writing and visceral action and good acting rather than cool cars and exploding pencaps, but without that, Austin Powers would have been the satire that killed the franchise.

And since Jason Bourne, the preposterous end of the preposterawesome scale was dominated by superhero films and the occasional Mission Impossible sequel. Which is great if you like tights.
and who doesn't?
But as MacGuffins in superhero movies (I'm looking at you, Marvel) keep getting loopier and loopier  (gems that make The One Ring look like a paper airplane have been the power items driving the plots of Thor 2, Avengers 1, and Guardians of the Galaxy. This is what they're building up to. This.

Expect the remaining Infinity Gems to appear in future Marvel universe films, before Thanos, who looks like this, tries to collect them all in future Avengers sequels and end-credit teasers. Credit to Marvel for pushing back the line of what is too ridiculous for live action films slowly enough that nobody noticed that suddenly power scepters and infinity gems were part of a superhero's day's work.

Whether or not superheroes are your taste though, it's fun to see Kingsman, where the evil megalomaniac is regular old human being, with a regular old doomsday device that isn't a jewel that comes from comic books, eventually to be wielded by a twelve foot tall alien with grey skin. It has been long enough since Austin Powers that we are allowed to make silly spy films again without people saying "Oh, come on!" and I'm glad about that, as much as I enjoyed Daniel Craig's 007.

Kingsman delivers, and that's the best thing I can say about it. It is highly preposterous, but also highly awesome, and I am glad to have double breasted suits and battle umbrellas and cufflink lasers and microchips and secret underground fortresses full of henchmen and recipes for martinis back on the preposterous end of the preposterawesome scale again, rather than just charismatic actors wearing silly hats. So... watch Kingsman. It's fun.

Side note: in keeping with the preposterawesome line, I suppose you could also create the funnyffensive line for jokes -- people are a lot more forgiving of offensive jokes if they're actually funny (and if the comedian shows they're not on the side of the assholes). You are welcome to leave a comment and suggest other areas where thresholds like the preposterawesome and the crazy/hot line exist.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sewol Disaster One Year Later: Still Waiting

It's a year after the Sewol Ferry disaster. Later today I'll walk around a few of the mourning and commemoration sites. Perhaps I will post photos if I deem it fit to take photos. Chances are good that I won't, because people deserve privacy for their grief. [Update: yeah. No photos.]

I wrote this last year, in the original aftermath, after visiting the memorial outside City Hall, which was there all the way from April until December, when they finally took it down to build the outdoor skating rink.

images from my previous Sewol article
Socially and culturally, it's been long enough to fairly assess some of the effects of the disaster here in Korea, and while some would say the one year anniversary is a crass time to do so, because of the families, others would say there isn't a better one. Put bluntly, the Sewol disaster chucked a pipe bomb into the national psyche, and everybody's been scrambling to return to normal, or re-assert the status quo. The status quo has been re-asserted, but those who like to kick back against the status quo are a little larger in number, and their grievance is a little closer to the surface, than it was before.

Here are some of the things that have happened since the disaster. This here is a good rundown as well. This one is a little more strident. Deservedly.

  • The boat has not been raised.
(Hopefully Arirang won't get indicted for defaming the president.) In fact, given the way things have gone lately for critics of the president, I'd better take a moment to say I also think it's a great idea for President Park to leave the country on the one-year anniversary of the disaster that was the biggest embarrassment for the administration so far. (And that's despite the best efforts of everybody taking bribes. You know things are bad when you have to narrow your search terms down so much just to get a news link: Here are the results for "Korea president corruption scandal April 2015." To differentiate from the other corruption scandals.) Buggering off out of country is another in a long line of politically pragmatic or astute moves and/or/mostly non-moves. Really! It's a great idea, so that she won't be around and remind people how long it took for her to show up, and then how much longer to show leadership, and then how quickly before she and hers started shirking responsibility by burying their accusers under rhetorical, political and legal obstacles or rabbit trails again, after the original disaster. This is clearly a politically savvy move to get people looking forward to Korea's next president. Way to inspire hope and faith in Korean democracy, President Park! I hope she and her team get all the rewards they deserve!

  • Investigations into the disaster have been mired in political and legal wrangling repeatedly, particularly when someone wanted to increase the scope of the investigation to anything broader than "let's pin as much blame as we can onto the people who are already in jail, and make sure to avoid any investigation that might discover that rabid deregulation of entire industries was the thing that allowed the Sewol to get so dangerously overloaded, or allowed it on the seas at all. Instead, the ruling party is trying to discredit the families of victims
  • Korea's progressive party badly misplayed the hand it had been dealt, attempting to channel rage and anger over the Sewol ferry into success in the 2014 by-elections, but forgetting to attach a coherent vision and policy goals and, you know, have a platform other than "We're mad as hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore!" leading to a humiliating failure that's a black mark on the records of every progressive leader involved. Since that defeat, the Korean political left has returned to its usual habit of eating itself.
  • This is just an eye test sort of judgment, but shit hasn't changed. Public safety crackdowns, if they happen, are pretty much headline bait, and not sustained enough to actually cause changes in behavior. Like using a flashlight to get rid of cockroaches instead of pesticide. The frequency of news stories about death or injury due to sheer negligence or disregard remains about the same. The leaders you'd expect to effect this kind of change seem mostly to be interested in covering their own asses. And buses run red lights and crosswalks, and people forget to put on their seat belts, and motorbikes go up on sidewalks of dive through traffic at about the same frequency as ever. It'd be nice to at least see leaders going through the motions of acting as if they were going to try to improve public safety, at least. Before the new showcase tower in Jamsil falls over or something. Korea is third in the OECD in work-related deaths. Traffic statistics are equally dismaying.
  • The captain of the ferry was prosecuted, and they're seeking the freakin' death penalty for him, as if this is the thing that will expiate all the grief. You know, rather than tangible evidence of a deeper and more energetic regard for safety over speed and profit starting at the policy level and enforced right down to the rank and file. Which would take time... but again, it'd be nice to see our leaders going after that, rather than mostly just interfering with the investigation as if they have something to hide. (read the last half of this article for a description of what I mean). Now, I have more to say about the death penalty, but even all that aside, I think the death penalty is an embarrassing overreach and an example of populism in one of the very, very, absolute last places it belongs.

There's more, but what started as a messy failure at multiple levels leading to a needless, needless loss of lives, has resulted in a messy political mess that hasn't really accomplished much at all, other than undermining the faith of another generation in its elders to provide wise and long-seeing leadership. I would be happy if our young folks got angry instead of just discouraged, but we'll see how long that lasts. I'm surprised to hear just how jaded I am about this, because normally, in terms of social progress and the arc of history, I am very much an optimist. I do believe that even a messy situation that brings ugly things to light often ends up as a net good, because once ugly things are brought to light, people can start doing things about them. But that's not what I see this time, and it's fucking depressing.

If I were melodramatic, I'd say that every day, every year, every presidential term that goes by when we don't clean things up, root out the corruption and the complacent "it's OK" "just get it done" or "not my problem" attitudes that contributed to this, or at least advance another step in the process of doing so, we're killing these kids again, burying another class of school kids in a watery grave, or another dozen migrant workers under I-beams in an industrial accident, or poisoning another roomful of electronics company employees with industrial chemicals. It's not often that the cost of those kinds of attitudes gets highlighted so starkly, but as I wrote in my last Sewol elegy, we're still waiting for a miracle.

And it hasn't come yet.

Rest in peace, once again, children of the Sewol. May the heroes who push against the complacency and corruption yet arise, and may it take shorter than I fear it will, as the remnants of Grimy Old Korea die off, before proponents of Safe New Korea have their day.

Here are the closing words of my elegy for the Sewol, written (a little less than) a year ago. This is the promise we are waiting for those in power to make good on.

Maybe this tragedy, after so many ignored warnings, will finally be the violent turning of a new leaf. Maybe the shame on one side, and rage on the other, will finally stop settling for band-aid solutions and transmute into real change, real accountability, until Grimy Old Korea is a closed chapter, and public safety is no longer a luxury for the moneyed. That would be a different kind of miracle than we started off hoping for.
There was a promise implicitly made in Grimy Old Korea's heyday, that the nation under construction would be worth the work. That sacrifice and strain would mean future generations enjoy a better nation than the parents inherited. That was the deal. There is a yearning for Korea to be prosperous, but to round that out by also being compassionate, not just toward shareholders, but toward the strangers who live and die, grieve and starve, and still check nervously for Grimy Old Korea barreling toward them at every crosswalk.
I wish that the next generation of leaders, contractors and entrepreneurs would see their neighbors, and moreover their customers, tenants and passengers, as part of the great "We," not just during times of crisis and joy, but all the time. The delivery that we want right now is not the one that buzzed by on a sidewalk motorbike, with a metal takeout box that nearly clipped my son. We'd rather have those in power deliver on that promise made in the 60s and 70s, that one day we will be able to enjoy, in peace and safety, the fruit of the sacrifices and griefs we have been asked to bear for too too long. We've worked so hard and lost so much: why are we still so unhappy? Why do these things still happen?
The takeout delivery always arrives on time, but the delivery that really matters, has been delayed again and again. And with our yellow ribbons waving in the downtown, maybe that is the miracle we are still waiting for.