21 May 2009

Politics through karaoke

I really enjoyed karaoke during my time in Virginia. And even in California, karaoke continues on - though for now, it takes the form of the Asian karaoke studios where I can get a "score" for my singing (and where, of course, I can sing hits of various Asian nations).

I was doing just that last night, and decided to make a political statement to be shared with my party. Thumbing through the Korean selections, I picked out two songs to be sung back-to-back.

One of them sounds like a love song, but is really about the failed May 1980 pro-democracy uprising against the military government of Chun Doo-hwan, which had risen to power via a December 1979 coup. Hundreds of demonstrators were gunned down in the southwestern metropolis of Gwangju, a traditional hotbed of left-wing political activities. Chun insisted, for years, that this was simply a Communist insurrection that had to be put down, and only with the 1990s civilian governments was this tragedy seriously revisited. The US was alleged to be doing some of the shooting alongside South Korean troops, and of course, from 1981 on, the Reagan Administration gave Chun tons of moral support, orchestrated by the Moonies. (When democracy finally came in 1987, the Moonies were the ones panicking the most.) The 1980 bloodshed made up for countless anti-American protests all over South Korea throughout the 1980s (and again, organizers would often find themselves in jail for trumped-up charges of collaborating with the northern Communists).

The other was a 1984 government propaganda song, which celebrated South Korea's continuing fast economic growth, the supposed freedom and opportunities of the society, and the upcoming hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympics, which was probably the greatest honor that the Chun government could boast. It did prove to be a huge hit in South Korea thanks to its cheerful lyrics - even among critics of the military government - and was revived for the 2002 FIFA World Cup as host South Korea's national soccer squad was having extraordinary success.

By singing those two songs, from the opposite sides of the political divide, back to back, I had a chance to share stories about South Korea's decades of military dictatorship, as well as its McCarthyist mentality that still lives on with the Korean-Americans.

For those who actually know Korean pop culture, the following are the actual songs I sang:
  • 신형원, 불씨 (the song about the failed pro-democracy uprising)
  • 정수라, 아! 대한민국 (the government propaganda)
In the future, I look forward to the opportunities to tell more stories via karaoke, regardless of which language I sing in (or which country the songs come from). Too bad my J-Pop knowledge is nonexistent, and I won't be singing J-Pop anytime soon! And on my next visit to South Korea, I will surely be visiting Gwangju, which now has a special cemetery and memorial dedicated to the dead protesters of 1980.