The Winner-Takes-All World
By Cho Jae-hyon
People Team Editor
He is the kind of drunk who stands and urinates against a wall in a back alley at night. He jabbers and yells at policemen.
Pointing his finger at officers who question him at a police station, he challenges their authority, yelling: "What has the country done for me?"
He vents his frustrations at this winner-takes-all society. "Only the winner becomes rich, only the winner buys land. You know what? The top 2 percent owns 80 percent of our land."
His complaints continue: "They say the economy is recovering. How come I don't feel it at all? Prices are soaring but my salary stands still. It's a 'dirty world' that remembers only the first-prize winner."
He's not a commoner. He is the main character, played by comedian Park Sung-gwang, in "The World That Makes Me Drink" episode of the KBS TV's Sunday night "Gag Concert."
His jibber-jabber is drawing compassion from viewers who see their own self in him. His drunken rant rings true to many people who have never come in first. His lamentations that his country has done nothing for him are inducing plenty of public sympathy.
His gripes are the reflection of their views that the country is run centered around the privileged.
Millions of unemployed people are seeing fewer job opportunities. The quality of employment is also taking a turn for the worse on increasing contract workers and part-timers. The actual jobless rate is far higher than headline figures. Numerous marginal restaurant and shop owners are barely making ends meet.
No matter how hard they work, it seems that the weak and poor are getting weaker and poorer. The well-educated, hard-working middle-class is also in jeopardy. They are slipping into the lower middle class or lower income brackets amid stalled income growth against increasing living and education costs.
The situation is not merely fallout from the prolonged economic slump. Their feeling of alienation has grown stronger since the inception of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
Lee is apparently a firm believer in the trickle-down effect ― if the government cuts taxes and provides more policy incentives for the rich and family-controlled chaebol, it will eventually benefit the broader population.
The government and the ruling Grand National Party act like they are winners, making little efforts to communicate with the people and ramming through controversial bills. Taxes were cut for wealthy property owners and laws rewritten to allow big conglomerates to control banks and expand their economic clout further.
It also lifted legal obstacles for big newspaper firms to transform themselves into giant media groups by allowing them to buy into broadcasting companies. Most major newspapers and broadcasting firms seem to have long abandoned their sense of criticism, competing fiercely to laud government policies.
The government is saying that providing all these favors to the rich and chaebol is to create more jobs, stimulate economic growth and boost their international competitiveness. This belief is the grounds for pardons habitually granted to convicted business tycoons.
The drunkard Park poses some questions. What is the role of the nation for its people? What should the nation do to make its people happier?
The people with the most clout, those with higher incomes and positions of authority, will be the least inclined to solve the problems. But they are ones who should tackle the tasks.
Popular comedian and TV personality Yoo Jae-suk is one of these first prize winners. His latest award-accepting speech was touching. Referring to MC Kim Je-dong, who participated in the ceremony, he said, "Here is Je-dong who has always congratulated me at awards ceremonies. He is smiling but my heart aches because of him."
It has been reported that Kim has been sacked from a KBS TV program he had hosted for four years after the outspoken TV presenter emceed a street mourning ritual for the late President Roh Moo-hyun. Kim is now barely seen on the state-controlled KBS TV.
In the Lee administration, it's hard to find first prize winners like Yoo give consideration to those who enviously have to watch the award recipients celebrate. The government pledges to take steps for ordinary citizens but most of them are far from fundamental and effective.
That's why Park and most ordinary people feel they are left out of the picture despite the government's boasting of a faster-than-expected economic recovery. For them, it is nothing more than a "dirty world" that only remembers first-prize winners.