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Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Watch the Man, Not the Light with Michael Breen

michaelbreenNotebook on Cities and Culture‘s Korea Tour is brought to you by Daniel Murphy, David Hayes, and The Polar Intertia Journal, an outlet for artists and researchers documenting the urban condition.

In Seoul’s Insadong district, Colin talks with Michael Breen, author of The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies as well as other books on Kim Jong-il and Sun Myung Moon as well as founder and CEO of Insight Communications Consultants. They discuss what you can infer about Korean society from the way Koreans drive versus now versus when he first wrote wrote The Koreans; the difference in the role of the law where it has traditionally oppressed people, as in Korea, and in society like the United States; the permanently red traffic lights in front of the president’s house, and how you get through by “looking at the man”; what effect the sinking of the Sewol and the “third-world accidents” that preceded it had on the country’s psyche as a developed nation; why those from already-developed countries have a hard time advising less-developed nations on matters like corruption; how “the politics lags behind the quality of the the people” in Korea, why the skills of rhetoric matter less there than elsewhere, and what the situation might have in common with Yes Minister; the dictator Park Chung-hee, “son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch” who ordered the country into development; why the South Korean government has no long-term plan for unification with the North; what sort of country he thought he’d got into in 1982, the extent of his ignorance about it at first, and the theoretical frameworks and attitudes he thereby escaped; the moment he found himself taking the side of journalist-beating cops; how Korean dictators, not just “random brutes” who rose to power, got put there by a particular system; why the potential “Seoul Spring” after the fall of Park Chung-hee didn’t immediately lead to democracy, but to conflicts between the citizenry and the police; what he heard (and couldn’t hear) in North Korea; how many branches of Starbucks he could hit with a stone (and how different were the old coffee shops in which dissidents met); what got stamp collectors arrested in the “old” South Korea; what lengths the South Korean government goes to not to allow its citizens their own judgment on North Korea; the lingering sense, in South Korea, that the North may have taken the high road; the issue of how unbroken Korean history really could have remained over the millennia; the Korean lack of an idea of Korean philosophical tradition; what got him interested enough in the Koreans to write The Koreans; the traditionally condescending (if thoughtfully condescending) attitude foreigners had toward Korea; what may change in the next edition in The Koreans, especially its coverage of culture; whether modern Korea remains recognizably the same place he came to in 1982; and what issues might make the most impact on the country soon.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

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