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Source: Jean Chung for the NYT
OK -- maybe not the most tasteful lead-in for this post, but I have to chuckle bitterly and shake my head. Even as I am glad to see the dots being connected in public this way.
See, people who've read the literature and seen the footage and taught the issue, as I have, in a class I teach every year called "Korean Social Issues" maintain the clear line that the Korean government is every bit as morally complicit in the exploitation of Korean women for the sake of the development state as the Japanese government had been before it.
In a post I wrote back at the beginning of 2007, called "Sins of the Fathers", I basically point out that the Korean government has a vested interest in not getting too deep into the fight over apologies and recriminations about moral responsibility for sex work and other related wrongdoings, because many very recently revealed documents show just how much the government sold not only the so-called "comfort women," but women under the Pak regime completely down the river.
In my own class, I've shown the documentary "The Women Outside," in which I value the actual footage of a rally put on by apparently low-level, local government officials praising camptown prostitutes for "gathering capital for the nation." It's shocking, but given the moral/ethical laxity of the "anything goes" mentality of the time, it's completely logical. I do find it disturbing, though, that few Koreans believe that to be true until I show them the footage.
What also disturbs me is how little attention is given to contemporary history in school here -- but given what you'd find if you look closely, one can't blame the curriculum's being designed to essentially stop when the Japanese occupation of Korea happens. After WWII and the US intervention in the Korean War, the story gets so sad, complex, and morally disturbing that it's difficult to rally around the flag and foster simplistic nationalism around the history of the 1960's.
The problem is, the lack of any deep historical knowledge of Korea's recent development period among the youth is matched by an equally strong moral indignation against a black-hatted and evil Japan, or a hatred of the "great powers" run by a few men in suits who sat smoking cigars in a dark room as they actively worked to divide the peninsula. Yet, there is very, very little historical/moral introspection inwards, to ask the question of "What are we reaping, and what in God's name did we sow?" If you look at the dark spectres of Vietnam and camptown prostitution as a kneejerk nationalist, it's a hard thing to swallow.
The general answer for the former dark question is that the US twisted Pak Chung Hee's arm into sending troops to Vietnam for cash and developmental support; but given the historical evidence, that's reaching. What I see is an activist president/dictator who was very good at manipulating Korean/US interests, while being very capable of ignoring US demands/desires when it wasn't beneficial to the nation.
And now, the deepest, darkest secret -- camptown prosititution and economic development. The evidence has been there, but few in South Korea wanted to put it together, sit it in a museum display, and then study its meaning for the world to see. Now, thanks to the New York Times, the final and key historical issue that I see beneficial to have fleshed out in public discourse in Korea is about to be opened up, put under a lamp, and slowly dissected.
I expect a firestorm of "How dare you?" and many recriminations from those who've never loooked far beyond the official nationalist historical discourse found in Korean textbook or on television. But I hope that the moral ironies of government-supported sex work under South Korean dictatorial regimes and the issue of forced sexual labor under the Japanese can be fleshed out, especially since the former actively worked to suppress compensation to the comfort women who had worked as sex slaves under the latter. In that sense (and likely more), the issues of responsibility for both the South Korean and Japanese governments is intertwined and morally twisted. And I'd expect that responsible historians who continue to take a close look at this period can use this as the final hard point to smash apart the rigidness of petty nationalism and finally get to the historical core of some of these issues that can lead to real healing and reconciliation, instead of continuing denial and recrimination.
There's been a thread about race and racism going on from this post, covering similar ground and topics as when I taught the subject back in grad school. And here's an exchange I knew I'd had but couldn't quite remember the title to that I'd already talked about in-depth here on this blog back in 2005, when I wrote a detailed response to my post "Bin Laden Didn't Blow Up the Projects."
In those conversations about race, I referred to these well-reviewed and respected books in the field:
- "Black Wealth, White Wealth," written by Oliver and Thomas Shapiro - "The Declining Significance of Race" (before actually reading the text, or at least about it, please refrain from harping on the title as me "contradicting" my arguments) or any of his subsequent monographs, written by William Julius Wilson, a black Harvard sociologist who is anything but what you would call "liberal."
- "The Truly Disadvantaged," also by Wilson.
- "Racial Formation in the United States," written by Michael Omi
One I've added to the shelf since then is "The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics," in which Wilson, taking a surprising turn to the need for coalition politics outside of the economic arguments he was known for working in, talks about the strategic alliances that need to be socially built and how race itself has to be differently imagined.
Point of all this is that yes, black academics, intellectuals, and social figures have been wrestling with the difficult problem of black disillusionment and victimology, thank you very much.
And again, Dave Chapelle deals with the complexity of this from both sides, which is why his comedy is smart and connects with ALL people, not just blacks (it wasn't just black people buying the DVD's that made it the #1 seller in history), because it isn't pure victimology, nor is it shameless beating up on black folks, a la Bill Cosby (although most black people KNOW what the man is saying -- it's just the sudden rancor and public shaming that bothers people).His comedy connects because it's smart and very much in touch with what people in general are thinking about, as well as what's on the minds of BLACK folks. There's more common ground there than anyone thought. But sticking one's face in the sand and making race the Dark Ring of Power, which must be defeated-but-not-touched-or-mentioned is just plain stupid and unrealistic.
This is the last time I will post here. My time as the "Metropolitician" is up.
I've realized a lot of things over the last week or so, since falling for a certain young lady of a more conservative persuasion, who has quite literally rocked my world. I realize that a lot of the liberal ideas I had formerly and formally adhered to were largely misconstrued notions I had held, distortions of ideological ramifications that simply had no precedence in either established fact, dilapidated fiction, or even (and not either) the demonstrated dialectics of most people's dystopic desires.
In short, a new kind of love has made me into a harder, more turgid man.
No longer will I carry the torch for a a deluded liberalism, nor be the voice for lefty illiberality. What I truly hanker for is a haughty helping of a hunk of cheese that isn't defined in terms of a mere neo-Freudian kitsch, but the kind of cheese one can count on, like money in the bank; indeed, one needs sustenance so solid and reliable one can literally stick it in a pipe and smoke it.
So I can no longer continue to write here, after having fallen for someone like the one who has learned to call me "oppa." Such is an experience I never thought I could have had, either as a black man, or a Star Trek fan, and her highly-developed sense of what I have previously called here mere "fetishized femininity" has caused in me an emotional rise that is quite epic in its tense and torpedo-like tautology. Indeed, they didn't call Moby a "Dick" for nothing, as they say. Unlike the proverbial Ahab, my little lady has actually caught her whale.
When wondering why I have decided to forgo any further forays into formalism and endorse not Barack "Aladdin" Obama, but rather John McCain, the answer becomes perfectly obvious, does it not?
When you ask yourselves these questions, as you struggle for the answers, yet still can't bring yourself to face the truth, realize that Tom Cruise once said, quite poignantly, that the "truth could not be handled" and that in a similar situation, Al Pacino pointed a finger and said that the entire Supreme Court was indeed, very much "out of order."
In the same way, I was once out of love, and was so lost without her, but believe you me -- I now realize that it's hip to be square. Or did not Huey Lewis not give you that news?
So, it is with heavy hands that I make my last entry here, since the Metropolitician that was me has completely and totally ceased to be he.
For Pak Geun-hye's youngest daughter knows how to hit me where it counts, and to not just do that to me once, but likes to hit me, baby one more time, all the time, if you catch my meaning, number one Negaroni! See, I don't shrink away from saying, loudly and proudly, what needs to be said. And if you didn't get it from the passage above, you need a double dose of dis doubletalk. April mothafuckin' fool's, bitches!
Word to your mother, yo!
Here's a repost of a fun thing I did almost 1.5 years ago on this blog, when I was railing against identity politics and the silly gesticulations of "who we are" that waste shelf space in American bookstores. I thought it a funny post and a more interesting way of communicating my New Year's resolution to try and be more creative and varied in my posting on this blog. I was considering today writing my own mock self-revelatory and free verse poem, an exercise that I'll save for later; badly-written poetry and novels focusing on the superficial aspects of "racial" identities are just too easy pickins for this biracial boy. Happy New Year, all!
American identity politics is a tricky, contradiction-laden, and sometimes neurotics thing. Well, that's what happens when you navel gaze, so it's not surprising. And often, the very construction of the "identity" of "Asian American" involves a reproduction of the very assumptions and values that Asian Americans are trying to leave behind.
In the interest of satire, I've written a book description of the work that I'll never do, one that I would be loathe and embarrassed to ever sign my name to. My friend back in that States suggested that if I ever write a book, I should change my name to Michael Hurt-Song – "reclaim my mother's name" – to lay claim to my own "authenticity." Well, in my blurb, I "fancify" my name as far as I'd ever think possible if I ever did ending up publishing a book such as this.
Recycled cliché and recurring bouts of self-exotification of oneself as part of a mysterious and inscrutable "culture" are both things that permeate Asian American literature and popular understandings of identity, and are nearly sickening as found in the most extreme and egregious examples. So of course, I try to fit as much of that sort of stuff into my fantasy book blurb, which follows below.
Soul to Seoul: One Man's Journey into His Own Morning Calm
Like a side of blackfish served on a bed of rice, the contrasts posed by such a combination may seem plain unpalatable, an unlikely union better left unmade.
This memoir tells the story of a man torn between two opposing worlds, who finds synthesis of soul in the city of Seoul. Written with the emotional sensibilities of Helie Lee's Still Life With Rice, the sensuous exoticism of both The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife, and laced with the boundary-breaking boldness of the erotic classic On A Bed of Rice, M.W. Hurt's first work is an inspiring yet unsettling account of Blackness adrift in a sea of Yellow.
On the course of the journey are revealed several discoveries that shatter the traditional notions of cultures separated by the dictates of blues and buttermilk, han and hanboks. Hurt struggles with trying issues: I am more than black, but less than Korean. Who am I? Who will lay claim to me? Can a brother eat kimchi and collard greens? From the Korean steppes, hills, and plains that bore his grandmother, mother and by extension him, Hurt struggles to answer these questions while trying to make sense of the Korean blood that still burns through his veins. Peppers and the redness that it imbues into Korean cuisine are the stuff of life here in the "Land of a Thousand Miracles." From it does not actually originate the color of Korean food, but surely there is something about the indomitable Korean spirit that shares the spunk and spice of its culinary mainstay. But this begs the question: what is the color of the soul?
Eww. I think I'm going to hurl now.
OK, I'll bite.
I think the kid's right, and I've written about the same things, although I think he's just guilty of thinking he's showing the expat community "the light" with his undergraduate Ethnic Studies tools (I should know, since I've taught, at some point, most of what he's regurgitating here) when he's pointing out the perfectly obvious to anyone who's lived here a long time.
And I don't think he's talking "mumbo jumbo" or getting too deep into "critical theory" – it's pretty simple and straightforward, actually. I HATE critical theory, but it is sometimes useful, even if it's fun to bash its most many bad writers and the egregious cases of mental masturbation onto paper. I'm one of the ones who rolled my eyes and groaned the most in my department's core course seminars; I also got a reputation for being the "conservative guy" in my department. Oh, the irony.
In any case, I think it's pretty simple: There is the fact of European and American colonialism, and the power of English, whiteness, and American policy does exert force on the world. If one is "white," you cannot exist outside of it (nor can anyone who is not "white"). The problem with calling it "white privilege" is that you can't talk about WP within the United States and WP outside as exactly the same thing, although they are linked.
That's the mistake I made with my first major post on the topic, and the comments to that post (mostly rude and irrational, but a few made some real valid points) made that critical slip in logic clear; I think I defined WP too broadly, painted it with too large a brush, especially when we're talking about the real fact that whites are indeed "raced" in a place like Korea, and do not enjoy social power here. This is an important and easy-to-miss fact that many US-based considerations of American power vis-a-vis Asia continually miss, since extending American hegemony from slaves to Indian policy to Hiroshima to camptown girls is an easy thing to do rhetorically, but to leave the analysis at that masks the complexities of the issues and cultures and history involved.
That's why Chungmoo Choi's piece in the book Dangerous Women seemed so thin and her lead-in to her part of the book so hard to swallow: to argue that primping to show a good face to the white highway patrolman who's pulled her over, as the alleged symbol of white male American power, and link that to the camptown prostitutes whom she imagines does the same to American GI's, implying that both her (as a comfortable American academic with most likely a pretty nice car) and a Korean woman in a markedly different situation (a prostitute who lacks social options and advantages for a whole lot of reasons besides just American hegemony) share some essential subjectivity – that's a crock of shit, to put a fine, academic point on it. And it comes from not examining one's own point of privilege and and critical difference (being an upper-class American academic who has likely never been in the socio-economic position to even consider selling her body to any man, let alone an American GI) from the people with whom you claim to share a common point of view.
Americans have to be careful before looking at things in terms of identity politics that really only apply on the American side of the big water; and too many Asian American scholars, theorists, and undergraduates often make this mistake – and I include myself in that group.
"Whites" may enjoy advantages over people who are stigmatized both by Korean cultural patterns as well as the influence of say, the American media, which has perpetuated the same stereotypes of blacks as dirty, dumb, and dangerous across the world – but in the end, foreigners here are generally in the same boat when it comes to being part of a social group devoid of any real social or political power. And what that means for whites who live say, in Vietnam or the Philippines, also depends on how American (white) power connects to the actual, lived conditions of life in those countries, which depends on their particular histories, cultures, and other more specific factors.
That's why I think many whites here in Korea – from what I see in my comments, as well as here, as well as talk about with friends – bristle when people start talking about "white privilege" in the Korean context.
Which is also why I think Lee's being careful to point out the immense privilege enjoyed by some kyopos – especially, in Korea's case, American kyopos – is key; in a way, there are the benefits of being both insider and fetishized Other, and even the apparent disadvantages of being a kyopo (being held to unrealistic linguistic and cultural expectations of native Koreans, for example) are a function of what is an expectation – an affective inclusion – that few "real" foreigners ever get access to.
I think this is a point worth emphasizing, much more than the "white privilege" allegedly "enjoyed" by so many here. Lee's talking on a level much higher than the standard "git yer hands off 'my' wimmin!" mode that defines a base level of critique for many (male) kyopos and Korean nationals, so I think to attack him on that point is a bit straw man in itself; but I also think that Lee's missing a major point, one that I missed myself in the critique (and link) I mentioned above.
In the end, I think Lee's critique to be totally valid, he needs to have a real point; that's what I think is wrong with his analysis. So whites get treated differently here than most Others? Sure. But you gotta complexify it and think about what that means here – not just extend one's American Ethnic Studies learning, which can be arguably valid in the specific context of America. One has to nuance any critique with a consideration of what it means in terms of historical/cultural factors, i.e. being "white" doesn't help apparently white women from being stigmatized as Russian hookers and bar girls, and being "black" in a certain way gets you treated a whole lot better when you are an American who speaks American English, as opposed to a Nigerian laborer with an accent, demeanor, and different "look" that even Koreans instantly pick up.
Why do you think so many Nigerians here bend over backwards to show off the accoutrements of being unmistakably "American," with the hip-hop clothes and other "American" affectations? That's the power of American hegemony, too.
I just think that what we see as "white privilege" here isn't the "white privilege" that we see back home. If anything, the fetishization of, preference for, desire to experience "things white" are simply one more manifestation of American hegemony in general, more than the extension of the power that comes with having white skin in countries in which whites have always enjoyed the majority of economic, political, and social power.
To say that WP here and back home are the same is a critical mistake, an easy-to-make elision that can really undermine any attempt to delve deeper, or have a real conversation about this.
And a P.S. –
To those who simply dismiss this as "mumbo-jumbo" and the product of "Equality Studies", which I guess, is a sarcastic stand-in for real-world departments such as "Ethnic Studies" or "Peace and Conflict Studies" or "Women's Studies", all of which many in the academy would have to admit, no matter how begrudgingly, have contributed a great deal to the way even the most conservative departments and disciplines such as History, Anthropology, or Political Science conduct themselves – have you actually read a lot of the work in those stodgy departments before these new fields from the 1960's and 70's shook things up? One shouldn't be so quick to write off these new ways of producing academic knowledge, even if one doesn't like their styles or most extreme practitioners.
Well, that's about the level of complexity of thinking that goes with this inanely ahistorical diatribe printed in The Korea Times. The author starts off by asking some good questions, which require historical answers argued in terms of structure, processes, and other specifics:
Why is it that the Japanese are incapable of expressing the same remorse as the Germans about the atrocities they committed? Japan was defeated just like Germany in WWII. One reason is that WWII’s victors imposed a rigorous “denazification” program on the Germans, through aggressive social and political reform, as well as outright propaganda.
No such “deimperialization” program was imposed on the Japanese. The Japanese did not in fact ever “endure the unendurable.” In the light of Koizumi and Abe’s offenses, perhaps the Allied Forces should consider implementing the deimperialization program, belatedly, today.
But the article ends, even as it talks about some of the factors and actors that went into the process of creating a certain kind of "Japanese people", all arguments that he dismisses altogether:
In the decades prior to WWII, the Japanese people watched as their Emperor and military began a campaign of mass killing and conquest across Asia. The Japanese people could have overthrown their government and halted this barbarism, but they chose not to. The Japanese people made a choice to support a government, which raped, tortured, and murdered thirty million other human beings.
The Japanese people today are not unlike the Japanese people in the decades prior to WWII. Due to the absence of any postwar deimperialization program, they grew up in an amoral environment free of guilt or remorse.
Their view of Japan’s WWII war criminals is not shame and revulsion; instead, they think they should be honored. Their view of Japan’s WWII sex slaves is that they deserve no apology, because they were just a bunch of whores. If they did not hold these views, they would certainly not have voted for atrocity-denying Ahmadinejads like Koizumi and Abe.
Talk about some ahistorical history. And "ahistorical" doesn't refer to a lack of names, dates, or events in history, but rather a complete ignorance of the complex process that goes into creating the Japanese, Korean, or just about any "people" in the first place – whether you call that das Volk, the minjok, or minzoku.
Good history isn't just listing facts; it's also historicizing concepts, categories, identities, into the processes that created them. The concept I always use is that of the "minjok" ("race" or "people" in Korean) – it's a concept that's just over 100 years old, yet people employ it as though it spanned over the supposed 5,000 years of Korean history. It didn't, and I have yet to have anyone meet the challenge of finding a reference to minjok (民族) as a referent to a singular people or national identity before the turn of the 20th century. No one has because no such reference exists. But the power of such concepts lie in the ahistorical way people use them, even as they falsely believe the concepts themselves to be historically ancient. It's like the Matrix – the illusion relies on you not even questioning the reality before your eyes, or the logic of the "obvious." This even goes back to Plato's cave, man.
Looking at the Japanese people as some singular historical agent, irrespective of then or now, who should be blamed for the crimes of "their" government is as historiographically irresponsible as saying that "the American people" are "responsible" for the "crimes" of everything from the present Iraq wars back to invading Vietnam, to bombing Hiroshima, to committing clear acts of genocide against Indians, and building the institution of slavery.
I didn't vote for Bush, nor do I approve of the war, nor do I want to have any truck of racist, sexist, or any other-ist policies in my society. Yet, these things do happen, even when many historical agents within a society do exist.
But there is an "America" that is responsible for those things, because governments represent the people and exist as a singular, responsible entity for the sake of their "people." So governments can owe apologies. They can and should owe compensation.
As examples, I think the former "comfort women" deserve(d) apology and compensation. The question of whether or not they received legal compensation is the one that sticks with me; the question of "if" isn't even one.
As an American example, I think American blacks who can trace their roots to slaves brought to the United States, or as late as GI's denied the benefits of the GI Bill after WWII because most colleges wouldn't accept blacks and the Feds generally wouldn't pay for tutions at historically black colleges, or the then legal practice of denying blacks the low-interest loans that was responsible for creating a white middle class and suburban America – blacks were legally, fiscally, and socially discriminated against in concrete and calculable ways; only the historically misinformed (and that's a lot of people, unfortunatley) think that "reparations" is just a general handout for "slavery."
Naw, brah. It's the fact that my father's father's generation was subject to the legal discrimination of the Federal Housing Administration's official policies of not offering loans to blacks that resulted in specific and traceable financial harm to blacks as a group, the effects of which are visible to this day, especially in the form of the black ghettoes that formed as white took flight, and blacks were legally and financially crippled from leaving.
And that's just one reason. You don't even have to get to slavery to talk about the possibility of "reparations." Just take me back to the 1950's and it's easy to demonstrate clear and specific harms committed categorically against blacks as a people in the US. Yeah, most white people didn't own slaves; but a whole lot of white folks lived in houses that blacks weren't allowed to buy with loans forbidden to them and the option of receiving higher educations blocked because the GI Bill didn't apply. The routes of access to middle-class upward mobility were legally and socially blocked. There were laws in place. On the books.
So all the middle-class homes, against which many whites borrowed to fund open their own businesses, make investments, and send kids to college – a lot of white folks materially benefitted from things that blacks weren't allowed to. Are individual white people responsible? Well, no, technically. Is that a part of "white privilege," as argued in group terms, in the US? Sure, but that's a different conversation. Is the US government responsible for its past actions against black people? Damn skippy. So where's my check?
But when you get down to talking about how the "people" are formed, and past whole "peoples" being responsible for things and not specific entities and as the result of real and specific policies, you get into complexity. There is ideology, education, indoctrination, and force. There is collusion, collaboration, and willful giving over of one's loyalties. When you start saying "all Japanese are responsible" or "white people are responsible" – what use is that, on top of being a historically specious argument?
In other words, if you want to historicize "them," then do so. Back to the "Land of the Rising Sun," look at the fact that "Japan" went from being a feudal society under lords and military chieftains – and with no singular national or racial identity in the modern sense of the concepts – into a revolutionized nation-state from 1868 in which most of the population did not even know the Emperor's name, nor did they care, to a state asserting its power and authority in the 1870's and 1880's and which often had to put down peasant rebellions in order to do so, to a state that had begun to form a real identity after the "success" of the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education turning the school system into an ideology factory teaching that killing Chinese was actually morally preferable to killing a useful cow or pig.
By the time we get to the kids in the early 20th century becoming soldiers and adults in their 20's and 30's who would commit the "Rape of Nanking" and myriad other atrocities, the question of "why" isn't really one, is it?
And given the fact that Koreas under colonial rule in the 1910's, 20's, and 30's were being subjected to the exact same processes that had turning a nation of mostly civilian farmers, peasants, merchants, and artisans with no particular common interests into a "Japanese people" in the 1870's, 80's, and 90's – one should be so careful about so glibly labelling an entire people a singular, Otherized "Them."
Because looked at another way, the Japanese "people" were as much ideologically victimized as the Korean people had been. Thank God someone stopped the Japanese war machine and ended that process, though, right? Imagine the state of Korean national identity if the Japanese had held the peninsula until the present day.
Given as much time as the Japanese had to turn peasants into "Japanese", one wonders if the Japanese programs to erase Korean culture (which actually began in earnest very late in the game, in the late 1930's) had been held for three or four generations. The most die-hard nationalists would decry the idea that Korean identity would be erased, but a true scholar of history – not a ideology-blinded patriot – would recognize the power of education systems and total social control.
Hey, the very same system was successful in creating a strong Korean nationalism under Park Chung Hee, wasn't it?
The point is that the Japanese "people" were subjected to the exact same processes as the Korean "people" were and are, as most "peoples" on God's not-so-green Earth are.
The "facts" of most of this history isn't in dispute; all the bluster over who invaded whom, who owns which rocks in the sea, who apologized or didn't when and why – that's all child's play and pretty un-fucking-important against the context of the history that made all this possible in the first place: the problematic construction of national identity itself and the suspect interests such identity engenders on the individual and collective levels.
Yeah, that may sound complex, but it's a complex issue, and should be treated as such. That's one of the problems with such matters; no one doubts that the economy, the political system, or breaking down the nuanced meanings of a culture's classic works of literature requires theory, a deft hand, and an elevated level of thinking.
Yet, when it comes to clashing nationalisms, lay idiots who should even know better as lay idiots, write inflammatory pieces with absolutely no thought being given to the argument than "they" did this or "they" are responsible.
If you want to look at "who" or "what" is responsible, then it might yield the answer that kneejerk nationalist governments who utilize processes of extreme ideological control are at base, the culprit.
Problem is that once you look at things that way, you realize that the Korean "us" under Park in the 1960's was not too different from the Japanese "them" under the Meiji regime in the 1870's, when Japanese peasants had to be taught how to bow when the Emperor's procession passed.
In that sense, to talk about the Japanese as a singular historical agent, with a common set of interests and identifications over decades or even centuries at a time, is about as stupid as it is wildly historiographically irresponsible.
And that's the triple truth, Ruth.
It's unfortunate that something so obviously a valid argument (English and Korean) – that there were Koreans who collaborated, especially in the recruiting of the so-called "comfort women" – are still beyond the bounds of scholarly debate.
Given the fact that there is a good bit of evidence to show that there were Koreans who collaborated in this horrible, ongoing act, making the assertion is a reasonable thing for a scholar to do.
What makes me suspicious about any "correct" vs. "distorted" history is the political context in which certain issues are raised, and the fact that there is a "right" answer before the question is even fully articulated. The Korean government and media seem to want to construct a history of black-and-white absolutes, in which Korea was a hapless victim; and even beyond the issue of the colonial period itself, if we're assigning national "blame" and talking about collective guilt, then isn't the Korean government, by having fostered, protected, and developed a sex industry (based in no small part on Japanese roots) around the US military for the gathering if capital for the nation – if we're talking about guilt on national and government levels, how is the Korean government also not morally culpable for having perpetrated a continuation of nearly the same kind of oppressive system of sexual labor?
Put another way, from the perspective of the so-called "comfort women," was being forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers much different from returning to Korea and having no other social option than to do the same for American soldiers, especially at the behest of the Korean government?
On a related note, it is also scary to me is how convicted Korean war criminals can be absolved of responsibility after having been convicted of war crimes from eyewitnesses who identified them as having been infamous to their cruelty in the prison camps where they had served as guards over captured American servicemen. There's even a site demanding that compensation be given to the Korean war criminals, with no additional evidence other than they were Korean, and couldn't have really been morally culpable.
The rationale, in a nutshell? They were Korean, and just doing what they had been told. Well, the Americans tortured under certain of these individuals apparently couldn't make that distinction as their guards went above and beyond the call of duty to psychologically and physically torture them.
Huh? Even the Jews had the kapos in the death camps. But Koreans are somehow, by virtue of being Korean in the colonial period, with no additional evidence presented, impervious to guilt, because a court in 2006 assumes so?
So basically, being Korean during the colonial period absolved individuals of any responsibilities for their actions, and by retroactive extension, the then non-existent Korean nation under colonial rule.
And then for the Korean government to sell away future moral culpability for past wrongs – without informing the victims nor ever having compensated them since (which declassified documents talked about here and here and here and here and here revealed to be true in 2005) – isn't that enormously problematic?
And then there's also the fact that the government actively suppressed any talk of this stuff for decades, since it seriously contradicted with the state's interests in keeping this quiet?
How is that not sharing in a great deal of moral culpability for the lifelong pain and plight of the "comfort women" who lived on for far, far longer than 1945? Does anyone really think their suffering was due solely to the Japanese before 1945, or that that suffering ended immediately upon liberation and thereafter?
In other words, when did I step into an alternate universe in which Korean society has valued women's bodies at all throughout most of Korean modern history?
Was that when the Korean government was sending representatives to encourage prostitutes in the "camp towns" around the US military bases to gather capital for the nation? Or perhaps that was when the Park government was exploiting feminized labor throughout the 1960's and 70's? Is that why there are estimated from 300,000 to a staggering one million prostitutes working in the Korean sex industry in South Korea today (4.1% of the GDP by the government's own 2002 estimates)?
Why is this news, from a hardcore feminist perspective, at all surprising? There were Koreans who colluded in the kidnapping of the comfort women. Wow – not surprising, since most of the Koreans involved in the ongoing sex industry employing Korean women, as well as the importation of Filipino and Russian women under the same conditions that Korean women were kidnapped in the colonial period, as well as in the recent upsurge in the human trafficking of Korean women now all over the world since the 2004 Anti-Prostiition Law crackdown...
Seriously – are people around the nation holding their hands over their mouths and fainting in disbelief? In a country in which there are "masturbation rooms" and brothels next to elementary schools?
And all the accounts you see present serious problems for the serious historian (as opposed to the kneejerk nationalist kind). As I tell my students of history all the time, refrain from using the passive tense as much as possible. This is not just for stylistic reasons, but also because it's an easy way to elide concrete historical references and credible evidence, which is what good history is based upon.
Most accounts read "were abducted" and "were taken" or "were misled into thinking they were applying for domestic labor" – something like this. If we have the facts evenly laid out and they are apparently distributed such that they offer a similar level of credible density across the entire argument, then why don't the histories tend to read, "After having been kidnapped by a roving band of Japanese soldiers searching for young candidates to be recruited into the ranks of the so-called "comfort women," Yumi found herself placed on a train and bound for..."
Too many of the accounts tend to skip right over recruitment and procurement and emphasize only the horrors of being a sexual slave itself. I'm not pooh-poohing that description, but merely pointing out that I know; I get it. I fully acknowledge the horror of that experience as well as the Japanese military and government's well-documented and historically compelling participation in the entire process.
But the question no one on this side of the East-Sea-of-Japan/Tokdo-Takeshima divide wants to look squarely in the face is the extent to which the overall low value of women's bodies in both societies at the time (which is still partially reflected now) contributed to not only the easy operation, but the relatively easy procurement of soon-to-be "comfort women."
Given the fact that the Japanese state and Korean/Japanese-run industry were in collusion at the time (which brings up the thorny issue of Korean collaboration), and that industry and organized crime were also closely linked (and were well into the development period as well), and that we know that many of the Korean women were brought into the industry by paid domestic recruiters, why is it akin to career suicide to pose the same question of collaboration, especially since the same historical actors – the state, industry, and organized thugs, for example – were on the scene.
Because that's a messy question.
But we forget that historical narratives are constructed around political purposed. The "Holocaust" didn't gain that moniker until the mid-1960's. It didn't become the historical lesson for the world that it is until a significant amount of time after the fact.
This doesn't change what happened. It changed how it is represented. "The Holocaust" happened like a motherfucker, but it took some time for the West to make sense of it, for the considerable political power of both Israel and those who support her to makes its presence felt (and not as a worldwide conspiracy, but as a political force like any other that exist in the world of politics, especially one enabled by a mixture of nationalism and a recent historical "quickening"), as well as for the rest of the world to begin to mold a coherent historical narrative out of such an overwhelmingly horrible act.
The situation with South Korean politics and constructions of "correct" versus "distorted" history makes for any true, deeper exploration into the painful, complex, and stomach-turning morass of the Japanese colonial period nearly impossible, quite ironically, in South Korea.
Think this isn't true? Look at the reactions to professors who even hint that Korea might have benefitted materially from the colonial period – they are summarily fired and their names turned into mud. And to the crazies who don't tend to read very closely before hitting the comment area, I'm not concerned with whether Korea benefitted or not at the present moment; I am only concerned with the fact that, given such a complex period with so complex and dependent factors, this isn't even considered a legitimate historical question.
"Did the Holocaust happen at all" is not something I consider a legitimate question, given the staggering, mind-boggling amount of evidence that anyone who has taken even a passing interest in the subject is faced with. Holocaust denial is political extremism because it is so very historically untenable a line of reasonable inquiry. You would have an easier time convincing me that Neil Armstrong never went to the moon (and yes, I've seen all the conspiracy theory videos and been to the web sites). And it is even more suspicious because it is usually only political extremists who are ever behind it.
However, "To what extent did Korea materially benefit from colonial occupation" is a legitimate historical question. "To what extent was there Jewish collaboration in the camps?" is also a legitimate historical question. And outside of a very narrow zone of unreasonable, undocumentable, and untenable extremes, most historical questions are at least worth asking, even if they may not be fun to hear answered.
And what is frightening about the Red Guard, knee-jerk reactions to Koreans in difficult moments in history, the logic behind people wanting certain professors' heads for even broaching certain historical topics seems to essentially stem from the idea that "they were Korean; that couldn't have happened."
It such professors were met with overwhelming, damning evidence of just how daft and dumb their arguments were, I wouldn't have a problem with this; but most of the reaction, as in the past with similar incidents, is simply knee-jerk nationalism guiding historical and popular discourse, even in the face of someone who might have something worthy of hearing. I'm not saying she's right about her historical assertion; I'm just saying that anyone covering their ears while calling for her head on a silver platter is most unequivocally wrong.
And given all the other sacred cows of Korean national ideology that poses as history from the colonial period, I think I'd like to hear what she has to say. And I'd like to hear more about who did the recruiting, how it was done, and what role the Korean government played in covering up this entire period after the war.
My site has also talked about Hitler and fascism, specifically in relation to aspects of Korean national ideology. So one would think I would tend to agree, right?
Here's the problem with the assertion, as is the case anytime people starting throwing Hitler's name around – there has to be more than an aesthetic resonance with the concept; in other words, there has to be some meat to the assertion.
Quoting Susan Sontag? Leni Riefenstahl? Triumph of the Will? Armies marching in procession? The fetishization of physical perfection? Sound compelling?
The problem is the missing factor – ideology as a function of state interest.
Riefenstahl's hauntingly beautiful imagery in Triumph of the Will (which, unlike most people who quote the film, I've actually seen, taught, and sits on my bookshelf) is employed in a lot of films since its initial showing, and her cinematic techniques have become part of the filmic grammar used down to the present day. It's no wonder that film is commonly described in film theory classes as "the most greatest documentary ever made" – because, by definition, it was.
And the imagery in Riefenstahl's Triumph (and the far less visible film Olympia, which has been made available for the first time ever from last year on DVD, and is in the cue for my next Amazon run) have been quoted far more deliberately, all over the cinematic map, than in the film 300.
If simply glorifying the general ideals of physical perfection through the depiction of ripped abs and pink, perky nipples is "fascist," then surely the direct quotations of Riefenstahl's technique – shot for shot in the film Gladiator – when the camera comes down through the clouds to merge into a low-angle profile shot of the Roman armies standing in relief as the crowds chant with fists thrown in the air, with all the Roman regalia on full display (which is the historical "quotation" that Göbbels used in constructing the pageantry of Nazism in the first place), this is much more fascist.
Or the film Starship Troopers, which was indeed accused of being fascist, in that it used oodles of fascist imagery lifted directly from Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will as well as Capra's Why We Fight series and Know Your Enemy – Japan, which were produced for the U.S. Army during WWII, which themselves quoted Riefenstahl. In fact, Capra made it a point to procure a copy of Triumph of the WIll before making his own films for US propagandastic purposes, and borrowed her techniques even as clips from the films were used to show just how crazy the Germans apparently were.
If you watch the humorous opening sequence of the troops in Starship Troopers standing in formation as the camera moves across their proud, youthful, perfectly-formed faces, you'll see a direct reference to Triumph even as director Verhoeven playfully lays over the very American style WWII-era prompting "Are you doing your part?" with the kid "surprising" everyone in his little battle get-up and affirmatively answering, "I'm doing my part, too!" Ha ha ha – ah, I just love little child soldiers. So cute!
And that's just the beginning. What most people didn't get – including the Washington Post and CNN – was that fascist imagery was being used as part of an anti-fascist, anti-militarist message (although Heinlein's original book was fascist as a mofo), a fact I pointed out in a graduate paper I wrote during the film's premiere.
In that film, the humans are the bad guys. And the significance of the young, eye-candy actors, bombastic fanfare with trumpets, along with clear and obvious quotations from just about every actual fascist and propagandistic piece of film ever made, was missed by even movie reviewers, who simply saw some of the imagery and accused the film of being fascist, and not getting the fact that he was poking dead-serious fun at it.
Indeed, in the middle of the film, when the fictional commentator for the "Federal Network" asks Johnny Rico his response to the accusation that it was actually the human race that had infringed upon "Bug" territory, Rico replies "Kill 'em all!" as the commentator looks suspiciously into the camera.
The quotations of Hitler's "breathing room" policies as the leader of the Federation talk about making space safe for "human, not insect civilization," or the images of Doogie Houser, M.D. machine-gunning a captured enemy warrior in front of the camera for the sake of a medical experiment – they were so over-the-top that one would think any film reviewer would have gotten the obvious fact that the film wasn't "fascist" on its face, but was rather being so ridiculously fascist that it could be nothing other than parody.
Starship Troopers was the Naked Gun of Triumph of the Will, yet too many people didn't seem to get it as anything other than an imagined "Triumph of the Will 2."
My point is that mere accusations of utilizing the aesthetics of fascism, or the fact of utilizing them, do not in themselves constitute fascist art itself. If this were the case, Starship Troopers, Gladiator, and even Lord of the Rings – umm, especially that one – would all be guilty of being "fascist" art, regardless of the purpose behind the work.
Well, in the latter case, I think LoTR would more guilty of "Orientalism," which is another inappropriately and too liberally-applied term, one confused with being simply "anti-Asian" or somehow depicting "the Orient" in a negative light. That's not what it means, and I'll use a quick explanation of it to get back to my original point.
In the sense that Edward Said constructed the term, it was clearly a trope in British literature, a conventional way of representing "the Orient" as an ideological part of the very real and very bloody imperial plan to justify the continued domination over and subjugation of "inferior" peoples by the British empire.
It's about ideology used in the service of real goals, those of the state. In the "fascist" art that one sees in Nazi Germany, Communist China, or even in North Korea, there is a clear ideological imperative to sacrifice the needs of the individual for those of the corporate body; written into the aesthetic of the imagery is the desire to make that sacrifice – it is beauty defined, like the shining face of an Aryan warrior, the forward march of youthful maidens, or the proud, beaming stare off into the horizon of a strong and sturdy farmer.
Does mere fetishization of the body, of courage, or even violence itself constitute "fascist" art? I argue that if this is the bar, then many artistic works would fit the bill, and the movies I could quote here would run down my keyboard: The Matrix, The Terminator, Rocky, etc.
The latter film definitely relies on existing tension between whites and blacks, through the Italian-American lens of race and manhood. As each blow pummels Apollo Creed into submission, The Great White Hope has been rekindled, re-empowered, reborn.
White pride itself is on the line, as it has been since the beginning of boxing history, and had been dethroned with the rise of Mohammed Ali and other black boxers to domination of the field. That film was every bit racial fantasy as personal journey.
And by the time we got to Rocky IV, and the racial trope had been exhausted with a match with Mr. T in the previous installment, the fantasy had become more national, as Rocky's homegrown American fists violently chastise the hypermodern, freak-of-fascist-science that was Drago, the Soviet superman. Rocky wins, and is draped in Old Glory, but only to make a speech about cooperation that gets brings the Soviet premier to his feet. But that step towards Soviet-American cooperation was crucially contingent on American victory and magnanimity.
Was the first Rocky "racist" because race was used as an emotional anchor in that film? I'd say no. Was the latter Rocky film "fascist" or even merely jingoistic or propagandistic because national pride was a theme? Slightly more so, but it barely got above the level of kitschy pap that was mere fodder to set up another character for our hero to pummel, and the race card was looking pretty ragged by the fourth installment.
But none of these films were "fascist" in style or intent. They didn't even effectively imply a role for the citizen, nor a destiny for the nation, or anything nearly that coherent for the viewer. Nor does 300.
The popular reading of King Leonidas as Bush, Xerxes and his empire as Iran, and the 300 who go into battle against the wishes of a corrupt and reticent people is superficial and facile at best, given the fact that this is one of the oldest and most retold stories in Western civilization on the one hand, and finds its origins in a comic book written well before the present crisis was at hand.
The styling of Xerxes as exotic, erotic Other is as old as British Orientalist depictions, and an ancient, decadent Orient steeped in mystery is a trope as old as the hills.
The muscles rippling on sweaty soldiers marching off to their sacred duties to orchestral fanfare and the sentimental, vaguely ethnic wail that started in Gladiator and continued through to Troy, Black Hawk Down, and now even the opening sequences of Battlestar Galactica) didn't strike me as "fascist" any more than The Rock did.
If anything, all the talk of Maximus and others fighting and preserving "the glory that was Rome" was truly "fascist" – and hey, at least the main characters with whom we were meant to identify were busy defending an empire that spanned continents, subjugated entire peoples, and was the actual, historical inspiration for Mussolini's fetishization of the fasces itself – his "fascismo," a term that this would-be modern Roman emperor coined.
In contrast, and if anything, 300 is heavily laced with a heady dose of American-style emphasis on free will and its importance to democracy itself. Importantly, Leonidas could have chosen a situation of subjugated suzerainty to the Persians, without bringing down the hammer of war and destruction upon his people; but it was a matter of both pride and principle for this Spartan king, and he could not bear to live without free will.
In the same way, it is also crucial that the 300 warriors were true volunteers and through their sacrifice, led their nation to fight by virtue of their example, not by taking over the reins of their nation by force, nor by pressing anyone to do anything outside of their own, individual volition. Even the psychological bait of "duty" wasn't dangled before hesitating members – the decision to fight and die for the state was intensely personal, which gave their deaths even more meaning.
And in the film, the intrigues and corruptions of the Senate were solved internally, not by sway of the sword (except through the gut of one obvious traitor who had obfuscated the "truth"), but by sway of logic and reason, something else that came up as a recurring them in the film.
So to facilely apply Sontag's argument into a simplistic argument that echoes of fascist style, or even fascist style itself is actually fascism in resurrected form seems pretty flimsy. The bar is too low, the definition too broad, and the depth of analysis too lightweight. Indeed, in the very Sontag article quoted in the review, the relationship between fascist art and the state are made far clearer than Applegate indicates:
“Fascist aesthetics,” wrote Susan Sontag, “endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude.” Fascist art is a dance between a leader and a growing mass of identical, devoted subjects, shifting “between ceaseless motion and... ‘virile’ posing.”
Fascist work “scorns realism in the name of ‘idealism.’” It “glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.”
The subject of Sontag’s essay was Leni Riefenstahl, the notorious Nazi propagandist who constructed her twin propaganda masterpieces, “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” for Adolf Hitler.
But Ms. Sontag’s words are also a perfect description of the special effects bloodbath that is “300.”
But one important thing is being forgotten here, and left out of the quotefest from Sontag's landmark 1975 Sontag's landmark 1973 article:
What is interesting about art under National Socialism are those features which make it a special variant of totalitarian art. The official art of countries like the Soviet Union and China aims to expound and reinforce a utopian morality. Fascist art displays a utopian aesthetics—that of physical perfection. Painters and sculptors under the Nazis often depicted the nude, but they were forbidden to show any bodily imperfections. Their nudes look like pictures in physique magazines: pinups which are both sanctimoniously asexual and (in a technical sense) pornographic, for they have the perfection of a fantasy.
As a special subset of "totalitarian art" – which she defines as having a specific, official message, "fascist art" is especially employed as part of an argument that physical perfection in the individual is in itself a sign of the overall perfection (health and superiority) of the body politic.
That is the function of the fascist art Applegate thinks he sees in 300, that physical perfection is a reflection of the state itself, but is really little more than eye candy for the girls and macho inspiration for the boys.
That's why Riefenstahl got off the hook, to some extent, in going down to Africa and filming the physical perfection of the Nuba tribe, which she published as the book Sontag was reviewing in the article in question – she was thereafter able to say that she had never been engaged in worshipping the aesthetic of beauty specifically in the service of fascism, but that she had been merely obsessed with the pursuit of beauty itself, quite apart from any political concerns.
From her film Olympia:
From her later work in The Nuba:
Whether or not that ship holds water in terms of Riefenstahl's spotty and suspicious past, as well chronicled in an amazing recent article on the subject in The New Yorker, it does hold water in terms of this film, which is not all that original in style, although visually quite compelling. But the point isn't to rouse crowds into action, or even, I think to do something so mundane as justify an American incursion into Iran, or justify the recent war in Iraq.
The film exists squarely within a genre of epic battle pictures populated by men with ripped torsos, beautiful women writhing in sheer fabrics, and dying for the sake of king and, ahem, cuntry.
And speaking of which, even in pornography itself, where images are lifted directly from Nazism itself, no one is confusing the fetishization of the body – in its ultimate, pornographic form – as anything remotely fascist, even thought the imagery is clearly such. Sontag notes:
Of course, most people who are turned on by SS uniforms are not signifying approval of what the Nazis did, if indeed they have more than the sketchiest idea of what that might be. Nevertheless, there are powerful and growing currents of sexual feeling, those that generally go by the name of sadomasochism, which make playing at Nazism seem erotic. These sadomasochistic fantasies and practices are to be found among heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, although it is among male homosexuals that the eroticizing of Nazism is most visible. S-m, not swinging, is the big sexual secret of the last few years.
Between sadomasochism and fascism there is a natural link. "Fascism is theater," as Genet said. As is sadomasochistic sexuality: to be involved in sadomasochism is to take part in a sexual theater, a staging of sexuality. Regulars of sadomasochistic sex are expert costumers and choreographers as well as performers, in a drama that is all the more exciting because it is forbidden to ordinary people. Sadomasochism is to sex what war is to civil life: the magnificent experience. (Riefenstahl put it: "What is purely realistic, slice of life, what is average, quotidian, doesn't interest me." As the social contract seems tame in comparison with war, so fucking and sucking come to seem merely nice, and therefore unexciting. The end to which all sexual experience tends, as Bataille insisted in a lifetime of writing, is defilement, blasphemy. To be "nice," as to be civilized, means being alienated from this savage experience—which is entirely staged.
In the same way, when engaging in the construction of a film such as 300, which is so overtly and obviously a visual spectacle, especially given the comic book form and over-the-top violence that is the trademark of Frank Miller's style of writing and drawing (in this way, 300 does not differ much from Sin City), fascism, if you can find it, is indeed theater, but nothing more.
300's visual elements are designed to give us the thrill of violence-as-pornography, which is the virtual, sensual draw of pornographic experience in the first place – to allow the virtual chance to do things you could not or would not do – such as participate in group sex, run a spear through another man's heart, or eat an expensive German chocolate cake made by a master Swiss chef.
Hence, graphic depictions of sex, violence, and food are often labeled "pornographic" – because they are. Indeed, Ron Jeremy, 300, and the Food Network all have something in common. We like the images hot, extreme, and served up on a silver platter – or screen.
The roots of the word "pornography" actually mean "graphic depiction", and when it comes to sex, violence, and food, there is no way we can sate our desires as they exist in our minds. So we sate them with our imaginations, with still and moving images, with the words of literature both great and vulgar; but to mistake the superficial pageantry of something that titillates for the thing itself is a pretty silly thing to do.
Wow – I'm sort of impressed.
Given enough time and preparation, The Korea Herald, newspaper I've been known to take potshots at on quite a few occasions, seems to be able to put out some pretty decent coverage.
Take a look at the series they did – in PDF form – on the Korean education system, which actually covers quite a bit, from the equalization policy to problems on the college entrance exam – good job.
For someone familiar with the basics of the how the education system works here, but wants a bit more in-depth information, this is a report that hits in the right spot. I wish they had been more hard-hitting with certain issues, such as the problem of suicide, but I think they were trying to cover a lot of bases fairly honestly.
It's a good read, especially for those of you as interested in education reform as I am. One bonus for me was finally getting to see a good picture of Kim Shin-il, whom I've known as the only obscure scholar writing about the education system when I was writing my first seminar paper about the subject in 1994, but who is now the Minister of Education.
His scholarship was always frank and brave – let's continue to watch how he does as a politician.
I've punctuated this post with videos uploaded to YouTube by an ambitious student somewhere out there. It echoes my experience of working in a real Korean school to a T – although my memories were even more harsh, and were they on camera, would be even more indicting.
Before you say this site is "anti-Korean" or bashing Korea – read this: "Why Be Critical?" Chances are, if you're simply angry because I am a social critic in Korea but not actually Korean, see if your argument isn't just a kneejerk response that follows these patterns.
Session 1: Just the Basics Dealing with the basic operations and functions of your DSLR, explaining each function, button, and doo-hickey. The bulk of the session is likely going to stick around the relationship between aperture and shutter, as well as depth-of-field. Basically everything on your camera has something to do with this relationship.
Session 2: Composition and Shooting (Shooting Session 1) We'll take those examples and look at them on the big screen, while also answering the concrete questions that will pop up about the stuff we learned before. Then we'll talk about composition and other framing issues, including lens lengths and why some lenses are worth $100 bucks and some are worth $10,000.
Session 3: Flashes and Advanced Exposure (Shooting Session 2) Dealing with flash, in terms of compensating above and below exposure levels (bracketing), as well as other bracketing techniques in general.
Session 4: Final Session/Critiques Keeping it open, determined by the class.
Four 3-hour sessions, as well as shooting sessions, photo discussions, and critiques. An individual photo essay will also be done as part of the ongoing class assignments. Inquire at the email address at the top right of this page.
Here are some key posts, for those of you new to the blog, which are a sampling of some of my thoughts about race and ideology in Korea and in general, my view of what it means to be a true American, my answer to the question of "Why don't you talk about more positive things?", my thoughts on why the Korean media is so unprofessional, thoughts on the Korean education system (here and here), my post about and examples of racism in three countries' media and the difference in the way they're handled, my posts (here and here) channeling my anger about Katrina, my post about being black in Korea and the whole Hines Ward thing (here and here and here), a post directed against the fashionable racism of even so-called "progressive" Asian Americans, my first attempt at online activism – a petition against KBS, and even random posts such as why I love Apple and have used an Apple computer, why I think Korea doesn't like Star Trek but should really love Battlestar Galactica, and I am ashamed to say that I have even blogged about my cats (here and here).
As for my photo book (now in limbo due to editorial differences with the publisher), you can see the representative chapters from the "Seoul Essays" posts below. Note that Chapter 3 remains undone and in limbo on my computer:
Chapter I: On the Surface
Chapter II: Pleasures of the Everyday
Chapter IV: To Hell and Back
I have much, much more, but this is a random yet representative sampling of my work to start with.