I am …
A plethora of music, audition programs are being created on Korean television these days to the delight of some and also to the dislike of some.
I have previously waxed lyrical about some of these programs including “I Am a Singer” program, where professional and popular singers compete for the on-site spectators’ vote to stay on the survival program. The declarative nature of that title is a departure from the past. But the title seems to be working for the network, MBC, is expected to air a special documentary on Korea’s rockers in yet another declarative title, “I Am Legend of Rock.”
It’s very interesting, as an amateur lover of words, to note how Koreans are speaking more decisively. Having growing up in the heydays of Korea’s industrialization, the Korean language was always polite and passive. Both spoken and written Korean always seem to take one step back from the word “I.” So instead of the word “I” (na), the polite form of “jeo” was often used. A lot of times, the subject was never even used, and objects forgotten, as minimal words were used to convey messages or thoughts.
One of the first time that I recall a decisive Korean sentence was probably in the 1990s when the then-singer Park Jin-young sang “She was pretty.” Previously, when we found someone pretty or handsome, we might have hesitated to simply declare like that. More descriptions, or allusions might have been used to describe maybe how their skin was fair, or how the hair fell light on the shoulders or how collected he or she was. Then in a 2006 Korean film called “Tazza: the High Rollers,” an actress quotes a line declaring “I am a graduate of Ewha,” referring to a well-known women’s university in the nation.
What I trying to suggest is the change in the tone of these sentences reflects the confidence of the times. Sure it reflects the heightened individuality and the “brashness” of the younger generation. The presence of young Olympic medalists--Kim Yu-na, 2010 Olympic ladies figure skating champion and Lee Sang-wha, the 2010 women’s 500-meter speed skating Olympic champion—in PyeongChang’s bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics is another reflection of the more assured generation of younger Koreans.
Despite Korea’s fast-paced growth over the past few decades and advancement in social areas as well, the remnants of Confucianism and conformity remain. The need to be polite, to be alike and to belong hangs heavily in the air. To take an extreme example, a recent shooting of by a marine corps corporal of four colleagues had something to do with ostracizing. The 19-year-old soldier was quoted as saying that “beating, ostracizing and outcasting must disappear in military barracks.” To be sure, military is a different environment and the soldier’s personality evaluation records show that he had some issues that needed to be looked after. But it does illustrate how the pressures of conformity can affect people.
Thus all in all, the new confidence and brashness of the Koreans hopefully will weave into the still-existing social fabrics to allow for more creativity and responsible individualism. But for that to happen, perhaps we Koreans need to be more confidence and brash not only to declare of our strengths but of our weaknesses. It may well be too early to expect people to come forth to say “I am…” whatever that difference or failing may be. It took several decades for confidence to creep into Korean language. But that would be the step needed for better communication with others and respect for other’s individuality, rather lip service.