Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Colbert and Rain's Dance-off

I'm sure many people are aware of the Stephen Colbert - Rain "feud", which led Colbert to make his "Singing in Korean" video last year after Rain placed before him in Time Magazine's "100 most influential people" online poll (leaving Colbert in second place):

We've since come to learn that Rain recently responded to Colbert's video, which resulted in Colbert challenging Rain to a dance-off.

Here it is:

(Another better synched clip is here.)

Somehow I doubt the references to the Japanese and Empress Myeongseong would go over well with netizens here, even though actually referencing them (even if to make use of them in trash-talking his opponent) actually shows that someone put some effort into looking them up (even if it was just on Wikipedia). It's just interesting to think of American equivalents. If someone was to describe the "most humiliating thing since the burning of Washington during the War of 1812" and mention reading a biography of Lincoln or JFK, I doubt most Americans would bat an eye. But then history tends to be the past (and long dead) for most Americans, while for many Koreans history is still present (and very much alive). The important question then becomes, "Why is history perceived so differently in each country?"


Anonymous said...

Two thoughts on why history is experienced differently in different countries.

The #1 issue is . . . did your country commit or fall victim to colonialism, mass murder, exploitation, etc?

Answer that question and you'll see who is more keen to forget or remember history.

Of course, even in the US, history is not dead, it is just certain facets that are more lively than others. Some of the most lively areas are those in which crimes against humanity have to be continuously whitewashed, generation to generation, in nationalist ideology.

Then, let's remember than within a country, there are often competing historical memories, and thus, even before we compare countries we can compare class, region, gender, ideology - etc. within a country to find huge contrasts of historical memory. Kwangju 1980 is but one obvious example here.

Anonymous said...

...meaning, America is bad, Korea is good. That's all you really need to know.

gordsellar said...

In #1, Anonymous is missing out a bunch of interesting facts, like, oh, say...

Slavery was abolished in Korea in the mid-1890s. (It was in the Kabo reforms, meaning, yeah, it was a cultural change forced upon Korea by Japan.) For quite unobjectionable starters. How often is that shameful little fact brought up, even on contexts of the ever-recurring pseudo-academic discussions of slavery and civil rights in America that go on in American studies programs here? When I bring it up (every time someone brings up American slavery) there are always a few people who haven't even heard of it.

(We could move to discussing the willful ignoring of the Comfort Women issue for four and a half decades, despite the fact that anecdotal evidence suggests plenty of Koreans were more than vaguely aware of why Japan was so interested in procuring "pretty" young girls. And I don't buy society couldn't do anything, in the light of the considerable amount of power the citizenry exhibited about issues they happened to care about, for example, education.)

Korea, like any society, has historical amnesia about the more embarrassing and distasteful elements of its past. I can't speak for the US, but I know in Canada, high school is where the lovely platitudes are questioned and the rah-rah-rah starts to come apart, in the fact of contrary evidence. In university, it's all but vivisected, at least if you're taking a range of history or literature courses.

What I've been told by a friend studying Japanese/Korean history here is that history departments here have not really moved far past the whole "being in service to the nation-state" thing so much yet, and so tactical amnesia persists to a greater degree. It's very Frantz Fanon/Wretched of the Earth, still, I'm told.

Yes, there are some here who express differing opinions, but they can and do risk losing their jobs or killing their careers. (One example is the historian who dared suggest that the Japanese occupation was part of the force that modernized the Korean economy, and was soon after fired...)

But yes, #2 is true. It's just my impression that there are much stronger forces at work in silencing non-party-line opinions on a lot of subjects in Korean historical study.