Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later

The 1988 Seoul Olympics

Prologue 1: "Why can't Americans be Punished?"

Part 1:  The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later
Part 2:  The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 3:  Americans and bad first impressions
Part 4:  Reptilian Style: The 'live-or-die general war' against Hollywood
Part 5:  An attack in a boxing ring
Part 6:  Media responses to the boxing ring incident
Part 7:  No more lion: US swimmers' 'prank' becomes 'diplomatic incident'
Part 8:  KAIST catches Big Ben
Part 9:  Hankyoreh interviews Korean witness to theft by swimmers
Part 10: Stop me if you've heard this one: Four GIs head to Itaewon in a taxi...
Part 11: Taxi-kicking US runner taken to Itaewon police box
Part 12: NBC uses the power of t-shirts to insult Korea... again
Part 13: Cultivating outrage toward America
Part 14: Politicians engage in damage control
Part 15: Heaven on Earth
Part 16: Hustler magazine tramples the purity of the Korean race 
Part 17: Stolen gold
Part 18: The view from the U.S. Embassy

Part 1: The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later

The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics opened on this day 25 years ago, and the The Korea Sports Promotion Foundation celebrated the milestone today.

Those Olympics can be described in many ways: as the first (almost) boycott-free Olympics in over a decade, an Olympics which made money for the hosts (Montreal took ages to pay off the 1976 Olympics), the Olympics with climaxed with the showdown between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson (and Canadians all remember the shameful result of that), a well-organized event which ran well despite the threat of North Korean terrorism, and especially as Korea's 'coming out party,' which saw everyone from Pico Iyer to Ian Buruma to Hustler Magazine discovering and writing about Korea for the first time. (And coming in fourth, it was also Korea's highest ranking in any Olympics.)

Koreans wanted everything to go perfectly, and were more than ready to showcase their country (and praise it to the heavens):

As Ian Buruma wrote in his article in The New York Review of Books titled 'Playing for Keeps,'
Power, miracle, power, power! One cannot escape it: these are the expressions of a country that is either superbly confident or racked by anxiety. Whenever one assumes it to be the former, evidence of the latter tends to break through.
Much was made of the tourists coming to visit, as photos below of the 'Olympic family' show, but Korea was also quite scared of the idea of such an invasion of foreigners, and feared they would bring AIDS with them.

The confidence / anxiety dichotomy Buruma describes played out in several ways, but most notably - through anger at reporting by American network NBC - contributed to one of the most enduring legacies of the 1988 Olympics: Anti-Americanism.

'Anti American feeling spreads'

It was, in fact, during the 1988 Olympics that, due to the media inflating incidents involving thoughtless behavior by Americans, anti Americanism went mainstream, moving from universities and street demonstrations to the living rooms of the populace at large.

Over the next few days I'll try to post on some of these topics (I've probably done enough research to write a book, so it can be hard to whittle it down to blog post size). I'd imagine a fun place to start would either be the plans Korea tried to put in place to prevent the spread of HIV, or a Hankyoreh opinion piece on the haughty, decadent American, Carl Lewis.

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