A Web site that loonies will lovePhotographs are a vault for memories. Each click of the camera shutter is a lock on a piece of history. Cameras capture our culture, and in the process they are culture themselves.
The arc of modernity over the last 400 years or so is seen in the progression of the camera. Today’s cameras, joined with information technology, reflect the complexities of the 21st century. Images tell the story, and now the story can be told in more ways then ever -- and by more people. History will never be the same. Nor will the future.
The widespread availability of digital cameras has made nearly everyone a potential storyteller. Our collective memory expands every time another computer hooks up to the Internet; the recording of history is more inclusive than ever. For example, the Korean word ah-hae-hae has no fixed definition but it is heard in daily conversation and spotted on Internet logs. Pye-in once referred to a person who was in a state of fatigue, but now it is used to describe someone who sits for hours in front of a computer, eating instant noodles to keep hunger at bay. Spending hours in front of a computer screen viewing digital images can lead to strange responses. Thousands mourned the death of a dog named Gaebyeoki earlier this year.
Digital photography can even be applied to the creation of new species -- or at least the image of imagined life. Images of real people can be altered and distributed on the Web. Who will know that the pictures are a fake?
Some observers of this phenomenon say it is a fad that will fade away over time. That might be true, but as of now this new form of culture continues to expand.
In the middle of this activity is DC Inside, a Web site that provides information on digital cameras. This site, at www.dcinside.co.kr, became the mecca for the peculiar culture, which rose from this Web site’s gallery, where visitors have posted photos taken with digital cameras.
There are pretty pictures, like a shot of the sun setting on an ocean beach or a close-up of a flower at a Buddhist temple, but those are not the types of works contributing to a new language form and culture.
Rather, it is the Web site’s yeopgi gallery, filled with unusual photos. For one, there’s a picture, titled “Artificial Intelligence,” featuring a little girl sitting inside the box of a piece of computer hardware. There’s also a picture of a baby posing as the Nike logo.
The gallery of synthesized photos also opens the eye to the possibilities of the digital camera. In this gallery are found pictures of several celebrities superimposed on famous movie posters, such as “The Terminator,” “X-Men” and “The Incredible Hulk.” The stars’ faces are plastered on a parody of television commercials.
Most of the wacky, synthesized photos passed around among friends via e-mail originated at DC Inside’s Web site.
Each photo posted on these galleries is accompanied by comments from viewers. The comments may not be so easy for a layman to understand. They contain words like ah-hae-hae, bangbeop and apbak (see box for definition of these words).
Although the abnormal language and absurd photos draw people of a range of ages, from elementary school students to those well into their 30s, the bulk of most visitors to the site are in their 20s and 30s, says Kim Yu-sik, the chief executive of DC Inside.
Mr. Kim, 32, is said to be considered an icon by DC Inside’s audience, who refer to him to as yu-sik daejang, which means chief. In a peculiar twist, Mr. Kim’s popularity has inspired fans to paste his face on an “X-Men” poster.
Park Eugene, a DC Inside staffer, is another favorite among the Web site’s regulars.
Ms. Park has been a popular figure ever since she began a live broadcast on digital camera usage on the Web site. A fictitious arrangement of Ms. Park’s face is superimposed on an “X-Men” poster, as well as on the cover of a women’s magazine.
The popularity of Mr. Kim and Ms. Park extends to love letters and fan clubs for each of them. “We get love e-mails, but they don’t last that long,” says Ms. Park.
Neither Mr. Kim nor Ms. Park has been stalked by anyone.
The strength of this weird culture does not end with online galleries or the use of a newly evolved language.
According to Mr. Kim, the power of DC Inside’s members can be demonstrated by their effect on other Web sites.
“Because of our members 30 or so other Web sites have been overloaded,” Mr. Kim says, adding that they have attacked Web sites run by pro-Japanese groups.
DC Inside’s pye-in attacked the Seoul National University Web site, after a student there insisted that all of the university’s students should pay tutors no less then 400,000 won ($338) per month for working only two hours a week.
“The Web site was completely shut down,” Mr. Kim says.
DC Inside has spawned a new form of critic who pokes fun at celebrities not with words but with pictures.
Moon Hee-jun, a Korean pop singer, is a favorite target of DC Inside pye-in; the singer is called not only a moo noechung or “bug without a brain,” but his face is combined with images of a fly, the body of Godzilla and a dog.
DC Insiders made a mockery of the singer after Mr. Moon, who was once in the popular boy band H.O.T., reportedly claimed that he is a rocker but shamelessly confessed that he didn’t know who Led Zeppelin was.
Mr. Moon and his agency SM Entertainment recently sued 75 DC Inside users for libel. The agency also blamed Mr. Kim for allowing users of DC Inside to post pictures mocking the Korean singer.
The popularity of digital cameras has contributed to DC Inside’s growth. The market research company GFK Marketing reported sales of 440,000 cameras during the first six months of 2003, a 142 percent increase over the identical period in the previous year. GFK expects total sales this year to reach 900,000.
Mr. Kim got the idea for DC Inside in 1999, when he was studying in Japan. He began posting information he had gathered about laptops on an online community. “At the time the Internet wasn’t what it is today,” he says. “It was more of a blue screen and had few if any visuals.”
The notes gained wide recognition and Mr. Kim was asked to write professionally by an Internet company. The Internet company asked Mr. Kim to pick another high-tech item. Mr. Kim chose the digital camera.
Mr. Kim says he personally has little interest in digital cameras and only takes one or two shots a year.
Several years ago Mr. Kim received a 500-million-won investment from a venture capitalist and opened up DC Inside. Soon he secured a 100-million-won investment. Another Internet company provided an investment of 500 million won.
The yeopgi gallery was founded in 2000.
Han Jun, a professor at Yonsei University, says DC Inside could be simply a fad. “All these weird languages and abnormal photos are the result of the Internet,” Mr. Han says. “With the Internet, information moves really fast so people using the Internet needed to find a way to express themselves in a condensed form.”
Mr. Han says the question is whether people will use the same language they are using now and support the same photo culture when they become older.
“In order for a new form of culture to really take root, it needs time, and therefore we have to see if this trend continues in the future. It’s really hard to say culture is changing at the present moment,” Mr. Kim says.
Yet users like Kwon Han-il, 29, spend most of their days logged onto the Web site.
Mr. Kwon is the creator of Gaejuki, a dog that has been famous for a picture of it clinging to a bamboo stalk.
“It’s a place where I can feel really relaxed,” Mr. Kwon says. “I spend a lot of time posting cartoons and pictures of my daily life.”
Mr. Kwon says he is hooked on the Web site because most of the photos there are so hilarious they brighten his day.
“My girlfriend knows about the Web site but she’s not interested,” Mr. Kwon says.
“It’s fun and hilarious. I’m sure she’s not a pye-in.”
These words mean something to somebody
Pye-in - People who spend most of their time surfing the DC Inside Web site. Pye-in ease their hunger with instant noodles eaten at the keyboard.
Yeopgi - Anything that’s abnormal, like hunting for the grotesque.
Alba - People who manage the DC Inside Web site.
Haengja or haed-ja - Refers to pye-in who spend their time mostly at the DC Inside Web site’s Yeopgi gallery or the photo composite gallery.
Duekhaeng or duekhaed - On the road to becoming a true pye-in, overcoming everything from marriage to job, friendship, money, cloth, hopes and greed. A person who is on the trail of true duekhaeng is believed to find happiness only with the Internet and a roll of tissue paper.
Ah-hae-hae or Ah-haed-tae - An Internet word created by pye-in. The word can be applied to every situation and therefore it has no specific meaning. It could be used to express a feeling when looking at an attractive woman or after falling into a ditch filled with worms.
Bangbeop - To take revenge. This word originated from a poster supposedly created by an elderly person, who said she would bangbeop the person who took her cushion.
Apbak- Apbak in Korean means pressure and the original definition has not been altered. However, the term gained popularity after the 2002 World Cup tournament when a Costa Rican journalist put the word apbak on the back of his T-shirt when he was supposed to put unron, because of a misunderstanding.
Saeuda - Is used on the Web site as a verb. It is used as any kind of verb and has more applications then the word “do.”
by Lee Ho-jeong
More in Features
[Shifting the Paradigm] With one epidemic under control, another is threatening Korean society
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it