[VIEWPOINT]The wellspring of national pride

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[VIEWPOINT]The wellspring of national pride

In June 2002, we have experienced something special, thanks to the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament. On the days that Korea played its games, some seven million people infected with the "Be the Reds" virus poured out onto the streets and immersed themselves into cheering for the Korean national team. These days marked the climax of the "June phenomenon," through which we discovered and were surprised at the red-hot energy that was hidden inside us. The June phenomenon was, to put it bluntly, a massive rebellion against our normal daily lives.

The June phenomenon uncovered the other side of Korean society, where national energy was emitted in an explosion of a hot society mixed with self-confidence and burning passion.

We should take note that the energy released by Koreans was "positive energy" based on optimism and self-assurance, not negative energy stored up in the form of grudges against the world.

The phenomenon was enough to clear Koreans' minds of the cold shadow of failure that has dogged us since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and our subsequent bailout by the International Monetary Fund.

The June phenomenon even shattered the "red complex," ideological shackles that dragged down the Korean Peninsula that is still divided in large part based on ideological differences.

The sea of red that Koreans created with their T-shirts tore down the ideological preconceptions that have bogged down Koreans for half a century. Bringing up the red complex now became a thing to laugh at.

The June phenomenon captured the change that has been taking place within our society: Korea was transforming from a society where goals and achievements were cherished into one where people start to enjoy meanings and processes. The new generation of high school seniors who -- in the view of adults -- are supposed to put their time and energy into preparing for tests to enter the renowned universities of Korea, say that instead they want to participate in the street cheering even if that costs them success in the college entrance examinations.

The bold members of the Korean national team, unabashed by European soccer heavyweights, said they would fight to the end even if they could not win. They are no longer the slaves to numbers or goals; they are masters of fun and meaningfulness.

The June phenomenon was not the result of conformity. They all wear red T-shirts, but inside the red tide were alive, breathing, different beings. That was the harmony of likeness and differences and single and group. That was a grand mosaic created by the generation of Let It Be.

The June phenomenon gave us an opportunity to understand that nationalism can be expressed differently by the new generation. In contrast to the old generation's stern and almost sublime attitude toward the mother country and whatever symbolizes it, the young generation took out national flags preserved in closets and made them into skirts, T-shirts and hoods.

The June phenomenon reminded us of the importance of "followship" as much as leadership. Thanks to the followers, who are more mature than the leaders, the street cheers of the Red Devils were themselves a great victory and a birth of myth.

The June phenomenon was also the expression of our nomad streak. Like nomads who wander around looking for green grass, Korea's Red Devil cheering squad traveled to find big, high-resolution screens, in front of which they would sit for hours cheering for their team. They only had cell phones and bottles of water with them. The sites that Red Devils left were clear of garbage, like nomads who would not leave evidence of their stay.

It is interesting to see that the joie de vivre of the Red Devils would not have been possible without Korea's top-notch communications infrastructure.

The June phenomenon, impressively, did not degenerate into collective hysteria. It turned our lives upside down but it ended here on Saturday and in Japan on Sunday. The tournament is over but the energy that engulfed us will be embedded in us forever, and will serve as a resource that we can tap in the future.

We will never be able to forget June 2002.


The writer is a professor of communications at the Korean National University of Arts.

by Chung Jin-hong

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