Tuesday, May 26, 2015

webtoon: existential authenticity

My Golden Goose coworker pointed me to this Korean-language webtoon, which I don't understand fully, but which appears to be a social commentary about Korean conformism, social pressure in terms of what to wear, what and where to study, and generally how to live one's life in a way that's socially acceptable to Koreans. The cartoon's protag (he's a protag at least in the first part of the strip) encounters a fellow Korean who's lived in England, and who is much happier for having been exposed to a certain level of je m'en foutisme (don't-give-a-fuck-ism) that allows this fellow to live more individualistically. A series of panels and existential crises later, we come down to the final scene, which shows a ghostly Steve Jobs (an icon in South Korea) saying that you shouldn't live another person's life. Next to him is a sad, stooped Korean who whines that it's difficult, so difficult, to live one's own life.

The title of the strip is "jeongdap-sahwae," which I suppose might translate as something like "the society with (all) the answers." (It's literally "the correct-answer society.") I suppose this refers to the Korean cultural mindset of knuckling under to social pressure and settling on a one-size-fits-all prescription for living. The comic's message thus seems to be that happiness comes from living more individualistically (according to the Jobs-ghost) and not worrying so much about others' expectations.

That's my poor, confused take on the comic, anyway. I understood less than half the slangy, idiomatic content, but the strip struck me as advocating a kind of existential authenticity: live according to your own choices, make your own truth, be your own person, and never muck your way through life as a slave. Easy advice to give on this neurotic peninsula, but hard advice to follow if you're Korean and not a foreigner.



Charles said...

Wow, great link. Not that the webtoon told me anything I didn't already know... but somehow it really struck a chord with me. I, too, have suffered at the hands of the "correct-answer society"--although, as you point out, not nearly as much as I would have had I been Korean.

I think this also came at a timely moment. Been thinking about a lot of things these days, and this seemed to fit right in with all of that.

(Incidentally, I don't know if I would translate 정답사회 as "the society with all the answers." The whole point of 정답 is that there is only one answer--that is, there is a single right way of living your life, and if you don't conform to that, you are looked on as an aberration. A more context-sensitive translation might be something like "the single-path society," although that dilutes somewhat the idea of there being only a single correct path, making the idea implicit rather than explicit.)

Charles said...

Also, that smurf comic in your Twitterfeed was brilliant. The truth about the smurfs, indeed.

Kevin Kim said...


Those are good points re: mistranslating 정답사회 as "the society with all the answers." You make sense.

I do, however, think I should write about the flip-side of this phenomenon, which is the other half of the Korean paradox (well, it's a paradox from a foreigner's point of view, if not a Korean's), namely: Koreans also have a tendency to act as if they don't give a shit what other people think. At the local/personal level, I see this in people's general rudeness/selfishness towards each other—the line-cutting, the shoving, the crazy driving, the verbal squabbles that break out on the street because of some perceived slight. At the more abstract, cultural level, we see this in how Korea, on the one hand, seems concerned about its global image but, on the other hand, it makes gaffes like having performers in blackface, or fielding a Nazi-themed girl group like Pritz, etc. It's a weird admixture of extreme concern about what others think and extreme unconcern, possibly fueled by ignorance about the world.

Charles said...

True! And probably worthy of another webtoon.