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· Culture Notes: Channel Surf (Anne)

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Culture Notes: Channel Surf (Anne)
by Anne

My family was an immigrant family, and consequentially, we marked such holidays as Thanksgiving or Christmas with minimal ceremony, if any, at the same time we had little occasion to celebrate Korean holidays, cut off from the "Motherland" as we were.

Which is a rambling way to say that turkey and gatherings, the traditional accoutrements associated with the winter holidays, were for me supplanted by TV marathons, there being little else to do on long stretches of blank days off. Therefore, most holidays are, to me, associated with one television series or another, especially since I rarely watch TV otherwise.

Thanksgiving: Hourglass

Probably every Korean over a certain age has seen Hourglass: indeed, such was it's popularity that, for the first time in possibly the history of urban life, people were hightailing it to home as soon as work let out just to catch the latest episode (it can be said that Hourglass nearly ruined pubs nationwide).

The storyline follows the lives of three young people from their youth in the late seventies and early eighties—at the height of a military dictatorship and a large-scale, mostly student-led countermovement, all the more furious for the persecution it suffered—to middle age in the turmoil of modernization, globalization, and political restructuring of the early nineties. Go Hyun-Jung's feisty revolutionary—later doing a complete about-face to follow in her father's footsteps as a casino mogul—is arguably the show's center, around whom the three main male characters seem to orbit. (On a totally unrelated note, I was often compared to Go Hyun-Jung's character when I was a little girl, both in terms of looks and personality.)

The trajectory of their lives shadow the history of Korea itself, coming to maturity as Korea "grows up" and develops its presence in the modern world. As such, Hourglass was the first network television show to directly deal with politically loaded topics such as the Gwangju massacre, kidnappings and torturing of dissidents, suppression of free speech and press, and other abuses of civil rights that the then-government would have swept under the rug. Such a history makes ripe fodder for melodrama, but Hourglass is the first of its kind to combine socially relevant criticism and much-needed reflection with good storytelling—following the success of Hourglass, 7080 history has been downgraded to cliché in Korean drama, which attests to the lasting influence of this show. Which brings me to...

Summer Vacation: Friend, Our Legend

Americans are said to "root for the underdog"; in contrast, Koreans are underdogs. Maybe this is why Friend, Our Legend, the "hero" of which is an underdog like no other, feels so quintessentially Korean to me. Based on Friend, a hugely popular movie from the nineties, it follows Han Dongsoo from boyhood, as he comes of age under the stunting influences of prejudice, poverty, and the distant threat of political corruption and turmoil looming like a thunderhead in the background, to adulthood. His only comfort in such a bleak world is his best friend Joonsuk, and it is the vagaries and complexities of their relationship that the show focuses on. Ironically, Dongsoo's friends are no help to him, even proving to be a destabilizing influence in his life. It's a true tragedy that Dongsoo is helped on his way to a painful death by the strife of his relationship with his closest friend. There is no help or consolation in Dongsoo's life, whos as "unlucky a bastard" as they come.

Train Scene
Dongsoo: In the movies, they just jump straight down onto trains, from this height, you know?
Joongho: Yeah, but that's movies. You try that in real life, and you're gone, just like *that*.
Dongsoo: Would someone really die?
Joonsuk: [spits] Oh I dunno. Just the unlucky bastards.
Dongsoo: Unlucky bastards? Why, then I guess I'd die.
Joonsuk: You're not gonna die.
Dongsoo: Wanna bet?

Timeline and theme-wise, Friend follows in the footsteps of Hourglass, but it is more than just an Hourglass clone, for while Hourglass dealt mainly with the effects of large-scale historical movements on individuals, Friend focuses on the interplay of human relations within a certain historical context. This makes the latter series a more complex variation on the same theme, which is befitting, considering that the time gap between the the two series is 15 years.

Spring Break: Neon Genesis Evangelion

How's a little bit of psychobabble, scattered with references to the Bible as well as to obscure biology?

Neon Genesis Evangelion is most often seen through a lens of psychology, and yes, such a dysfunctional cast and a background so obviously Freudian, with religious overtones, = in its set-up (giant robots called "Eva", referred to with feminine pronouns, who house child pilots encased in phallic pods, and which go berserk in moments when the safety of their "children" is threatened, usually by equally monstrous "Angels"... and a Saturnian father figure seeming to control the strings in the background) make fertile ground indeed for shrinks to play in.

However, I personally like to interpret the themes of Evangelion from a biological angle. (Typical med student...) At the beginning, the angels are seen as heavenly destroyers, immortal and almost divine in their capacity for destruction, or alternately, lean and flawless fighting machines not too different from the robotic Evas. Slowly however, it is revealed that both the Angels and the Evas are not only mortal, but very much flesh-and-blood beings, not too different from humans themselves. Their final goal is survival, pure and simple, which in Evangelion is abstracted and conceptualized as "Instrumentality," a beatific state reserved for one species alone... correlating to the biological principle that the equilibrium between species sharing an ecological niche is unstable, that one must drive all the others to extinction in order to survive. Similarly, the angels and the human race are all competitors in the race to achieve instrumentality, which means eternal survival, which is only a step away from immortality.

The beauty of the biological view is that despite being a scientific concept, it meshes seamlessly with the psychological and religious themes of NGE: the garden of Eden, the trees of knowledge and life, salvation, separation from the mother figure and the lifelong yearning to reunite with some higher meaning.

Of course, my interpretation is only one of many. But that's why I like Evangelion so much: it offers a potent brain kick, and every time I watch it again I get something new out of it.

Childhood: The Magic School Bus

And lastly, my fondness for this one reveals all too clearly the fact that I am a child of the nineties. As may be inferred from my description of Evangelion above, I am a dyed-in-the-wool nerd. When I was little, I used to dream—both literally and figuratively—about being in Miss Frizzle's class, sharing sandwiches with dorky Arnold, trading lame jokes with Carlos, going head-to-head with resident bookie Dorothy, and in general, exploring the wonderful world of science with the rest of the gang. Explorations such as these:

How appetizing.

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11/22/2009 [1]

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