Saturday, June 07, 2008

"We are doing what we've been taught to at school."

"We are doing what we've been taught to at school." That was written on a placard by a girl at one of the countless anti-beef rallies in Seoul, according to the Korea Times. That article, "Gone is Solemnity from Rallies," highlights what it considers the humor, the sarcasm, the quote-unquote postmodernism in these recent protests. Certainly a lot of unintentional irony at these protests, too, what with students waving signs that read "I want to live!" (살고 싶다!) while their peers are dying on school field trips. Students acting like this
Cha Yoon-min, 13, marched on City Hall on Saturday night with his mother, a lawyer in Seoul. “I am afraid of American beef,” he said. “I could study hard in school. I could get a good job and then I could eat beef and just die.”

while living in the country consistently named most-dangerous for pedestrians. We know all too well what students have been taught at school, and we know what a lot of their teachers have been preaching. And here's a poster displayed atop the Korea Teachers' and Educational Workers' homepage:

Poster advertising an upcoming rally, a banner ad atop the Union homepage advertising the poster, and a cartoon from the site making clear that Americans are intentionally giving rotten beef to Koreans.

The Korea Times also ran a piece saying that the future of journalism has been on display at these rallies, with internet and citizen journalists having a larger role. The unnerving thing is, of course, that these whole hysteria was started by a case of intentionally shoddy journalism, and the meager rebuttals from quote-unquote conservative papers have fallen on deaf ears.

The Hankyoreh has an editorial today that echoes similar sentiments, titled "A new role for the media." An excerpt:
Big conservative papers like the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and DongA Ilbo have been looking pretty shabby at the daily candlelight protests. Citizens parading in the streets pass by the tall buildings that house those newspapers and call out for them to, “Turn off those lights! You’re not worth the electricity!” There are slogans telling them to go out of print, and their reporters on the ground at these protests find themselves being ridiculed. They’re saying these papers can’t be seen as news media, so their position is not much different from the way the government-controlled media was given a baptism by pebbles at the climax of the April 19 Revolution in 1960.

The reason these newspapers are being scorned is because they are pushing positions that run contrary to the will of the people. Early in the mad cow disease issue, their coverage was largely about preaching to the people, about how American beef is safe, and about how the Korean people don’t know what they’re talking about. After the government went through the motions on those additional negotiations, these papers announced that would be enough and tried to keep additional demands at bay. It tried to discredit the candlelight protests with the absurd, like saying that someone was agitating from behind the scenes. Now they are suddenly calling for President Lee Myung-bak to wake up and change, but that looks mostly like dwitbuk chigi, hitting the drum after the beat has come and gone, only because they realize the country is angry at them as well as at the government. They put their trust in the influence they enjoy and tried to push the will of the people this way and that, and this is what they are doing after having failed.

Those damned quote-unquote conservative papers and their "positions that run contrary to the will of the people." Reminds me of a line from an excellent Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode: "I believe everything that man just said. Because it's exactly what I wanted to hear." Brave, enterprising journalism certainly has not been on display during these events, and the rub is that the quote-unquote liberal sources have been engaging in ridiculous scare-mongering and yellow journalism, a tactic normally reserved for propaganda and government sources. So while the liberal douche in me would love to rise up with my Rage Against the Machine and fight the system and so forth, you've got the anti-establishment side guilty of chronic irrationality and manipulation, to the extent that they're raving mad and are far more untruthful and slippery than the folks they're protesting in the first place.

Their one-sided bullheadedness have not only claimed truth as a casualty, but have had human victims as well. Most recently, ubiquitous comedianne Jeong Sun-hee (정선희) was forced to make a public apology and compelled to quit three of her shows because of remarks she made about protestors. So in addition to getting worked up over Mad Bull Shit, netizens are also patrolling other minor issues, and busting those who don't fall in with the established narrative. Jeong's "controversial" line?
Amid rising iron prices, some people have been stealing manhole covers. People participate in candlelit demonstrations over big issues such as mad cow disease, out of patriotism, but do not feel guilty over such small things as manhole theft, which is a crime. Who knows? Some of those steaming over the big issue and participating in the rally may be such small-scale offenders.

Oooh. The KT quotes a netizen as saying:
Maybe people misunderstood her. But Jeong, who deals with the public, should have considered this sensitive issue more seriously and made remarks more carefully.

Yes, a public figure should be more careful . . . careful to step quickly in line. It's quite acceptable for teachers' unions to speak on the issue, and it's certainly okay for political leaders to intentionally lie in order to stir up public emotion and incite panic, but woe be to those who veer from the company line. Interesting that the netizen's line is similar to the one United Democratic Party head Sohn Han-kyu used to chastize the AMERICAN AMBASSADOR, and that "consider this sensitive issue more seriously" seems code for "keep your mouth shut."

Cartoon from yesterday's 서울신문.

And finally, the Hankyoreh also has a short piece called "Taking sides against American beef" on the men who burned themselves in protest of these imports. It's under "entertainment," LMFAO. An excerpt:
At 2:30 a.m. on June 5, Kim poured paint thinner onto his head and struck a match, lighting his body on fire. He had called the police to inform them of his intentions 10 minutes before he immolated himself.

Kim’s wife, 55, said, “My husband criticized the Korean government for deciding to import U.S. beef again, saying that the lives of farmers and ordinary people were harder due to the government’s policies.”

Both the original Yonhap report and the follow-up from the KT said that Kim set himself on fire because he was dissatisfied with compensation he received from the government for some real estate deal or other. No mention of that is made here, though, which is reminiscent of the Hankyoreh's manipulation of another story, the story of the farmer in Hampyeong who killed himself reportedly because he was distressed by the impending beef imports. In reality, though, the man lost all of his cows some months earlier to disease, well before the imports on the public's mind. So there are two minor cases of the quote-unquote people's media being just as dishonest, just as manipulative as one would imagine some state-run propaganda outlet. Staggering that so many people put their unyielding faith in one while immediately rejecting the other.

I suspect that in the long run, having no skin will be far more damaging to this man's farming career than American beef.

And for those keeping score at home, between the suicides, the self-immolation, the police beatings at the rallies, and the old women beat up by thugs, there have been more casualties from the Mad Bull Shit protests than from Mad Cow Disease itself in Korea. 살고 싶다!

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