Oh come on Hyori. I like Lee Hyori (이효리). What's not to like? She's cute, she's a super-de-duperstar in Korea, she's really fun in her TV appearances. She's great, right? Plus, my "fetish bingo" post about her is one of my most popular posts ever (and the one where I most often have to clean up trolls' comments)
She makes awesome videos and super-fun songs like U-Go-Girl, which is one of my favorite K-pop videos, mostly because Hyori actually seems like she's having fun when she dances, while a lot of the popstars out there seem like they're just playing a role, or going through the paces their trainers taught them (especially live: they're just not having fun. The farther down the alphabet scale (b-list stars, c-list stars) the worse it is).
She's great, right? Absolutely... except...
she was on CNN.go on November 11.
and here's what she says, according to the subtitles, starting at: 0.25 or so.
Seoul is a city with a long history. There are two sides. Many traces of traditional things on one hand...but it is a well-planned city where you can also see many modern designs. Koreans are racially homogeneous. It's always been about one culture and one ethnicity. So we have a strong solidarity above anything else. And there is the emotional attachment that Koreans call "jeong" which relates to the brotherhood of the race. This "jeong" is what bonds us tightly and makes us think of one another as a single family.
So... she gets a chance to introduce Korea to the world.
And she chooses to introduce the one-blood myth as the thing that will make people decide Korea's awesome? I mean, really? "The best thing about us is that YOU can NEVER be a part of our club! It's nothing you did; you were just born wrong. Isn't that great! Come visit Korea tomorrow!"
As a non-ethnic Korean who plans to live the better part of my working life in Korea, I'm really annoyed by this one-blood stuff. Really annoyed. Because while there are many ways to define what Korean society is and isn't, it's one of the few that draws a circle in which I will always be an outsider, no matter how well I speak the language, no matter how dutifully I perform the jesa and the other rites, no matter how many little Koreans (correction: half-Koreans) I bring into the world. It was a useful myth to generate identity during the Japanese occupation, as well as to help Koreans sign onto Park Chung-hee's development plans... but now that non-Koreans living in Korea have topped the one million mark, and in light of the fact there's NO WAY Korea could have been invaded two thousand times (as it's told) without a little bit of invader DNA mixing into the pure Korean gene pool (p.s.: why is it called the "mongol spot" if Korean DNA is pure? Shouldn't it be called the Korean spot?)...can we please retire the one-blood myth?
(more on the one-blood Minjok Myth from the Metropolitician, who points out that the one-blood method of encouraging national identity was led by Koreans who had been studying European fascism. And more again about race-based nationalism.)
"We have a strong solidarity above anything else" -- really? Because if the one blood thing is true, then North Korea's gotta be included in that solidarity, but most accounts of North Korean refugees don't seem to support that ideal solidarity. And ask ten South Koreans if they would wish for North and South Korea to be reunified tomorrow, and watch all the backpedaling and equivocations you start to hear. "It'll be expensive. It was really hard for Germany. I don't think our cultures are the same anymore. Maybe if other countries provided a LOT of aid... Well, on second thought let's not go to Camelot: it is a silly place."
I'm sorry, but I call bullshit on any one-blood solidarity talk as long as 400 000 South Koreans will come out for a U.S. Beef protest, without seeing at least double that coming out for every protest demanding accountability for North Korea, and the fact they are still operating concentration camps to suppress their own people...(or, in Hyori's one-blood view, "our brothers and sisters"). Didn't hear a lot of "let's reach out to our brothers and sisters" rhetoric anywhere after North Korea shelled that island last week. (More of my posts about North Korea)
And then, just in case we hadn't already gotten the message that Koreans are way more specialer than others, so we should visit Korea and hope to become cooler by association (but really, that won't work, because we have the wrong blood, so we can't be part of the club... but I guess we should still visit Korea to gaze longingly at the cool insiders)... she trots out jung.
Has she updated her views on Korea since 1983? And is this really what she thinks will win the esteem of CNN.GO viewers for Korea?
Now Jung is an interesting idea - my favorite piece on Jung is from The Joshing Gnome, who wrote "What is Jung and how can we kill it" (part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5) in 2008: one of my favorite pieces of K-blogging, and so good I hope he tells me before he ever takes his website offline, so I can copy his series and host it on my page, wherever that is.
Basically, Jung is a feeling of warmth, affection and intimacy between two people. It can come out of a lot of things -- it's been used as the reason split-up couples get back together (they're just used to being around each other), it can be used to describe the feeling of kinship that rivals eventually develop, and it can also be used to describe that feeling when you feel like you've been old friends with someone, even though you've only just met them, or the affection by which two old friends can pick up exactly where they left off, even though they haven't seen each other in twelve years. It's the applicable word for the way you can take one group of five people, put them in a room together for an hour, and they're still strangers, and you can take another group of five people, put them in the same room, under the same conditions, and they'll come out friends for life (cf: The Breakfast Club). Group B has jung. The Breakfast Club had jung (and not a Korean in the lot of them, was there?) Group A doesn't.
Now, because there isn't a word that carries exactly all those nuances in English (or in most languages,) I've been told by Koreans that jung is a uniquely Korean feeling.
I disagree: Jung is simply a uniquely Korean word... but here's another word that doesn't exist in English: "schadenfreude" (feeling happy when something bad happens to someone you hate - for example, the way I felt when I saw this video of Brett Favre)
Now, the fact schadenfreude is a German word doesn't mean that only Germans can feel schadenfreude. Germans aren't the only ones to go "Yeah! Brett Favre is really annoying! That clip was awesome! Maybe this time he'll stay retired!" In fact, when I first learned the word schadenfreude, the feeling I had wasn't one of confusion and lack of understanding; the feeling I had was recognition: "So there IS a word for that!"
And it was the same with "jeong" - I was glad to learn the word, because it's a great, useful word that describes an aspect of human interactions in a clean, simple way. It hits the nail on the head better than any English word I know.
I'm sorry, Hyori, but jeong doesn't relate to the brotherhood of the race, or you have to explain why most of my South Korean friends, as well as South Korean media, are trying to distance themselves from North Korea. It isn't race-based at all, and making it sound like it's tied to Korean blood is ignorant, and wrong. I KNOW jeong isn't race-based, because I've had classes of Korean students who just didn't get along, who filled hours of my life with awkward pauses and silences (and it wasn't because of their English ability: they were all intermediate) they just didn't have jeong. They didn't talk together in Korean either, the night we went out for some beers, in a desperate hope that maybe that would get them talking to each other. If jeong came from being Korean, they should have had it... but they didn't.
(And if Jeong comes from korean blood, will my kids have half-jeong? Does the country we live in while they grow up influence that? What about full-blood Korean international adoptees who can't speak Korean? What about ethnic Koreans in China? Do they have jeong? what about kyopos who can or can't speak the language? What about a missionary kid who grew up in a Korean school and speaks fluently, but has blue eyes? And when does jeong get passed from the (Korean) parents to the (Korean) kids, and can that only happen while physically in Korea, or while using the Korean language? Could a non-Korean kid raised in Korea in a Korean family have jeong?)
And this kind of a description of Korean culture -- laced with undertones of racism and exceptionalism -- is badly miscalculated, if this is how you think viewers of CNN.GO will be convinced to like and admire Korean culture.
I like you a lot, Hyori, but you stepped wrong this time. And I'm calling you out (fourteen days late). And maybe the Hyori fan club is going to fill my comment board up with hate... but I'll just have to deal with that, because Hyori's view of Korean culture is outdated, and just ignorant, and as one of the people who is marginalized by the myths promoted in it, I WILL stand up and object to it.
I like you a lot, Hyori, and any time you want a private English tutor, just call me: we're the same age, you know. But I hate what you said, and the way you think about Korean culture (if this is actually how YOU feel about Korean culture) because you're making me an outsider.
And I'm not.