Sunday, 27 January 2008

A Three-Fer of Ridiculousity

OK. I like to be positive, as much as I can, but this just begs to be mocked.

Protests played an important part in social change in Korea: in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of important protests shook off their military dictator's shackles and opened the way for a legitimate democracy. Before a student protest in 1978 that was surpressed with gunfire (and started the ball rolling toward a true democracy), it was illegal, and dangerous, to protest the government. Protests were also an important part of Koreans' opposition to Japanese colonial rule. This young woman's another national hero in Korea. Since the '80s, as civil liberties increase, it seems that many Koreans choose to celebrate their civil liberties by protesting pretty much anything: every weekend, you can walk around the downtown and find a protest either by city hall, by the parliament buildings, or in front of the US or Japanese Embassy. Sometimes, it seems that people join a protest just for the fun of getting angry about something -- one blogger called these "I like crowds" protests.

Today, I came across the protest of the weekend, and, well, sure, citizens are within their rights to protest things, and it can be an important way of exercising (the hell out of) one's freedom, but if you're putting yourself out there for something like this, I am also well within my civil rights to mock you.

They were marching, and I decided to look at the signs to see what they were marching about. As I moved up from the back of the line toward the front, while only able to read the signs with English on them, and sound out/recognize a very few Korean words, I spotted just about every cause I know:

FTA (free trade agreement with US), GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transsexual) rights, Iraq War, Skyrocketing Housing Prices in Seoul, Poverty/Social Welfare, Something about Samsung, Korea's largest conglomerate, currently involved in a corruption scandal, and also responsible for the error that led to an oil spill off Korea's West coast, Mistreatment of Migrant Workers, and, of course, a picture of Che Guevera. Because there always has to be a picture of Che.
--all in a single protest!



This baffled me, so I sped up to get to the front of the march-line, and the sign the union members held as they chanted, said, "A dream for a new world. A world without Poverty, FTA, War, Discrimination"

Basically, it was the white elephant table of protests -- if you're on the protestor's mailing list (of which I am certain there is one), meet at noon at City Hall (or wherever it is these things always muster), bring your favourite sign, and make sure you're dressed warmly and ready to shout!

If you like shouting, it's more fun than joining a swimming club! AND, you can lord it over your friends on the beer league soccer team that YOU'RE a social activist, and all THEY do with their weekends is play meaningless games.

Now there's nothing wrong with protesting in itself, but you know, when you flag ALL your e-mails as "High Priority," everybody ignores it, and on the weekend you really DO need a quick reply, you're still shuffled into the "read later" file. If you protest about every darn thing, every weekend, it just becomes a dull hum, chalked up to "one of the drags of being a Korean politician" - it loses its impact. I wonder if these people press for social change in any other way (organizing boycotts, giving money or time to social change organizations, changing their consumption habits, going on letter writing drives, publishing circulars and writing letters to the editor) or if they figure chanting slogans on Saturday acquits them of their other social responsibilities, plus, they get to meet their protest pals and get sloshed later! (Which sometimes seems to be the final stage of EVERY activity involving more than two Koreans -- once I told my students I climb mountains for my health, and one said to me, "But it's not healthy to get drunk the way mountain-climbers do" -- not all hikers, friend. Not all.)

Finally, I have my own opinions about celebrity gossip, but THIS has got to be the best story EVER.

Na Hoon-A is a star of the Trot musical style I discussed in an earlier post. He went AWOL for a little while, and the press cooked up a doozy of a story to explain his absence (you'd hope they could have produced a doctor's note). According to the rumor mill, Mr. Na had knobbed the wrong female popstar: one who had caught the eye of a big-time Yakuza (Japanese answer to the Mafia) boss; in response, as a way of saying, "I don't care if you're famous, nobody f***s with my lady," he had this guy kidnapped and castrated.

Well, Na Hoon-A is back on the radar, ready to tell anybody who listens that he is fine, and his manhood is intact. In fact, he was ready to share it with the press. (He doesn't actually do it, but when he climbs up on the table, everybody gets a little nervous, that "is this actually happening?" feeling when you witness a car accident. And listen to the camera shutters click.)



If you look at a picture of him, this is a dude not to be messed about with -- I wouldn't want to be the reporter who cooked up this story, stuck alone in a room with this guy.



And in case you doubt his manhood, here he is in full swagger, (pop and drop apparently) intact.


PS: how to win a swordfight:

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