05-25-2008 16:54
Beef and Anti-Americanism

By John Huer

The recent mass protests over the importation of American beef baffle me completely. According to conventional wisdom, the recent uproar shows how deep-seated the anti-Americanism is in Korea, which is ready to explode given the slightest chance. Mad cow disease is as good an issue as any.

Kim Dae-joong, arguably one of Korea's most respected conservative columnists, thinks the protesting Koreans are being contradictory. Why? Kim says in a recent column: ``There is little to speak of in Korea if we take out America from the topics of conversation."

``We immigrate to America; we study in America; we do business in and with America; we even play in and with America. Every other household in Korea has a connection of one kind or another with America. Given all this, it amounts to double-crossing to be really fond of America in all substantive matters, while bad-mouthing America in public protests," he said.

What baffles me in the whole mad cow disease-inspired anti-Americanism is that, compared to the ``cultural" way America has invaded Korea and jarred loose its social-moral fabric, mad cow is wholly insignificant.

Koreans ought to protest America's soft-power invasion that undermines Korea's basic social-moral foundation each day. It has been indeed mind-boggling to watch the rate of ``Americanization" in Korea.

It is inaccurate to say that all of Korea's social ills, crime, juvenile delinquency, divorce, and overall loosening of societal discipline that are all on the rise is to do with America's cultural invasion.

But any reasonable observer would agree that such radical social change in Korea, all toward deterioration, has much to do with the American cultural imports. Americanism simply promotes liberalizing individualism and self-assertion that can be devastating for a country that has no adequate infrastructure to deal with them.

On the other hand, a relatively small number people have died of mad cow related symptoms compared to other diseases. The world's health-related organizations watch this disease every day and are prepared to deal with it with all sorts of mechanisms. I trust their work and eat beef in relative tranquility.

But who is watching America's cultural invasion through TV, movies, songs, fast food, mangled English, moral-political-social practices and policies that are highly liberalizing and radicalizing and so on in a society that has been basically Confucian for hundreds of years?

A whole generation of Korean youth is being infected by this American-born virus to which Korea seems to have no protection. Unlike importing American beef, which has a side benefit of providing inexpensive protein, these pernicious cultural artifacts from America have no known side benefit.

As Kim describes above, Korea is so dependent on things American that its dependence almost recalls China's opium addiction. Yet there is not a peep of complaint, much less a mass protest. How do we explain ``this" madness?

Anyone can see that Korea's social indicators only point to further deterioration: Streets become increasingly unsafe; family breakups become common; crimes continue to rise in frequency and variety; children become menacingly unruly and undisciplined, and at the same time more endangered; the whole social fabric, hitherto rather tight and predictable, becomes loose and unpredictable.

Probably all of this is inevitable given Korea's consumer affluence and general westernization. But I would wager that, when the dust settles and we have a better perspective on society and history, a lion's share of this less-than hopeful social change in Korea would be seen as having coincided with the floodgates of Americanization.

While they are out there with their candles lit over American beef, all of Korea is being overcome by a mind invasion from a wholly alien culture against which Korea has no known antidote. For no other society, except the U.S. itself, can afford to be so ``American" and remain culturally sane.

I am baffled and worried.

The writer is a sociologist at the University of Maryland University College Asia. His email address is jonhuer@hotmail.com.