Friday, June 06, 2008

culture of protest

from the Korea times:

Gone Is Solemnity at Rallies

The words under the photo of a baby squeezing President Lee Myung-bak’s nose reads: “Don’t breathe as oxygen is wasted.”
/ Courtesy of Newsis
By Kim Rahn

Staff Reporter

``I drink every day because of you.'' This is not a lament by a jilted lover but a witty criticism written on a placard at a candlelit vigil against President Lee Myung-bak.

The mood at recent candlelit vigils against the resumption of American beef imports is quite different from the past. Far from somber, catchphrases and parodies jeering the authorities often take on amusing and humorous tones ― enough to make onlookers fall about laughing.

In the past, demonstrators, tying red ribbons around their heads, used to try and look as grim as possible, punching their fists in the air and chanting serious make-or-break slogans.

However, these days the atmosphere is lighter.

Students are using short, simple, sarcastic phrases on their placards. A schoolgirl holds a picket saying: ``I've lived only 15 years,'' insinuating that she doesn't want to die of mad cow disease at that age.

Others use funny cow costumes to get their message across. A protestor in a cow outfit was seen holding a flyer that read: ``Mr. President, you go and eat mad cow ― a message from angry Korean cows.''

With many middle and high school students participating in the gatherings, a picture of a girl in her school uniform holding a candle has become the symbol of the rally. A picket held by a teenage girl says: ``We are doing what we've been taught to at school,'' indicating she felt she was doing the right thing.

A demonstrator in cow outfit holds a placard saying: “You (Mr. President) go eat mad cow.” at a candlelit protest against the imports of U.S. beef. / Yonhap
Protestors also ridicule the police. When water cannons were fired on demonstrators, they shouted, ``Why don't you give us hot water?''

When riot police officers stood atop patrol buses to warn demonstrators to disperse, ralliers said, ``Sing for us!'' and ``Dance for us!'' as if they were at a the concert of a pop group.

Demonstrators also put parking tickets on riot police buses parked on the street to block protestors from approaching the presidential house.

After attacking the Web sites of the Seoul Metropolitan Mobile Police and the ruling Grand National Party, hackers also attempted to make fun of the authorities. A picture of a polar bear that looks scared popped up at the main page of police, with the bear saying, ``It.. it hurts when you be.. beat me!'' satirizing police's recent use of violence against ralliers.

Analysts say that the words and phrases written on placards and various Web sites reflect changes in the culture of rallies here, underlining a shift from analog to digital.

``In any country, as democracy improves, protests turn from militant ones to peaceful ones. Rallies are becoming a sort of cultural festival here. We are witnessing a change with this cheerful mood and these funny slogans,'' Yonsei University professor Kim Ho-ki told The Korea Times. ``Parody is one of the most representative forms of postmodernism.''

Seoul National University professor Han Sang-jin said, ``In this modern but risky society where varying interests groups confront each other, parody will become an important ingredient of protests by the younger generation.''


  1. As soon as you try to define this thing it turns into something else. Things got ugly early Sunday morning and the bad-blood the police were feeling after a month of holding back (relatively) and being ridiculed mercilessly was on full display. They were taunting the protesters at Kwanghwamun, lobbing bottles and other projectiles at them and in the end they busted out the clubs and shields and cracked a few heads. Of course, the protesters got their licks in too and a number of bad-asses decided to up the violence as well. Things are set for the final conflict on Tuesday. I also heard that a contingent of 10,000 New Rightists will also come to the party and make themselves heard. True madness may ensue whether we like it or not.

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  3. Interesting point on risk, conflicting interest groups, and parody. So the parody acts as a nuanced statement that makes you less likely to severely offend the other interest groups and possibly the target of the protest?

    I just can't get my head wrapped around such interesting placards and slogans. You don't see as much parody at protests in other countries, I think.

    By the way, GREAT BLOG!!

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  5. we need to pay attention to every culture.