Do bring Seub back
Before the excitement of the 2002 World Cup was over, an exhibition entitled ˇ°Local Cupˇ± opened. Countering the phenomenal event World Cup, the exhibition presented alternative and critical views onto the event. This is where I saw Jo Seub's photograph, ˇ°Save Seub!ˇ± for the first time.
At the time of World Cup, there were two stark opposite views on the event: the critical view of it as a ˇ°collective madnessˇ± and the glorifying view as a ˇ°national self-esteemˇ±. Standing aloof both from this conflict, I found myself casting a sarcastic laugh on the one hand and being thrilled on the other hand. Due to this contradiction in my own attitude, I couldn't help but reserve any critical stance to this photograph. The Artist's overlapping the World Cup fan's blind zeal with the historical seriousness of June Democratization Uprising stirred my feeling of indebtedness to the extent that it made me unbearable. At the time of the historical incident, what I did was only to be a bystander which gave me a lifelong sentiment of indebtedness to the period. This photograph forced me to confront my desire to pay off the debt by voluntarily willing to accept the feeling of historical guilt. It even exposed my shrewd desire to turn myself away from this current injustice while constantly being cheated by purely superficial, illusory imagination of justice.
The June Uprising in 1987 was an incident when all the systematic contradictions that had been piled up in Korean society have erupted at once. People of different classes from the proletariat workers to the white intelligentsia united to achieve the goal of ˇ®patriotic amendment of constitution' fighting against the military government's insistence not to allow any amendment for ˇ®the security of the nation'. Only to prepare themselves for the big battle against the ultimate enemy, that was, the military dictatorship at that time, minjung(the people) chose to compromise themselves over the internal differences and heterogeneity for the big aim of patriotism.
In the Minjung's history of democratization movement, the June Uprising surely was successful in speeding toward democratization, but failed in extracting an agreement on the method and pace of democratic reformation. This minor failure, however, denoted an underlying fissure between an ideal and the reality, which, without being resolved, compelled minjung to make a choice among the two options, that is, either to be a fighter or to be a skeptic.
Should we remain as fighters? Or should we be degraded into skeptics? In the dichotomy between the choices, minjung conspired to create a world based on an illusion where they can flee from the failure denying the current reality. This collective conspiracy and self-deception of minjung was culminated by honoring Lee Han-yeul, the victim of riot suppression by the police as one of the martyrs in national democratic movement. As minjung deny the failed reality more, the martyrdom of Lee has been embellished. The minjung blinded by the embellishment vanished behind the collective agreement on patriotism, with rich multiplicity and dynamic difference being concealed and conceded.
What is the status of the minority today? The internal difference within the minjung that was sealed off in the past emerges as the social presence of the minority. However, the comprehensive self-deception that was used to seal off internal conflicts was transferred to the minority in entirety. The minority comes to be in an awkward position to identify themselves as victims and thus as objects of pity. Forced to compromise their own ˇ®otherness' with the ˇ®sameness', the minorities have to assimilate themselves to the majority by pretending to be the nice disabled, a gentle gay, and hard-working migratory workers. These lives are no more than a continuation of the self-denial.
In the minority who has had to deny themselves in order to get admitted into the reality, I seem to find again the look of minjung in the past who rather chose self-illusion to be securely posited in the society. Or is this my own illusion?
Towards the self-esteem that was expressed during the World Cup, many criticize it for being based on exclusive nationalism. This concern is rooted from our own experience of the similarity found in them. Though being understandable, we have to examine whether this kind of concern might have let our self-esteem grown into exclusive nationalism. We have to be cautious whether this self-examination works as a general cynicism or a belittling of the ˇ®self-esteem' of the nation itself, instead of being a healthy criticism of exclusive nationalism. This caution cannot be overemphasized because the self-denial has embedded not only in the concern but also in the unconscious of Koreans as a domineering norm.
We all know about the dignity of human beings. However, we do not know why human beings should be dignified. We just know that it is from the self-dignity that self-autonomy is formed. And, the logical path from human dignity to human right is filled with many individual experiences of such self-esteem layer upon layer. If there remains any uncontaminated, undirected self-esteem in us, we should turn its way from self-denial that have monopolized our minds to the potential strength of self-affirmation.
Now Look Back at Jo Seub Again
Let us put all things that could be imagined on the table. Let us postpone any response to the common saying that ˇ®this piece depicts an individual sacrificed by the collective madness.' And there comes a possibility that a criminal could be, not inside the photo, but outside the photo. Then, who is outside of the photo? There must be someone who interprets, justifies the interpretation and prescribes the photo. Can this person be except from being an offender?
How about this other possibility that Jo Seub is sacrificed by this analysis being registered as official reading of the piece? Can we see this piece from a different angle as we identify the self-esteem that has got blinded and wounded by the hard grip of categorized analysis of it as ˇ®exclusive nationalism.'
I want the interpretation of this photo to be wide open. And I do also hope that the definition of the term I used in this writing, minjung is expanded as well. Through this opening up the definition, I expect that the concept of ˇ®minjung' will be broadened to be an open signifier by which it can imply the intersection and competition of otherness and differences. ˇ®Minjung' shouldn't be a term restricting the scope of definition, but extending it.
The color red of Red Devils is no longer a symbol or an emblem. This is no other than the eruption of the ˇ®otherness' that cannot be assimilated and conformed to the ˇ®sameness' any more and the minjung's shouting the word, ˇ®Minjung' as an expression of self-affirmation.