[VIEWPOINT]Prepare for a festival of sharingQuestion: Why is the Earth round? Answer: Because the Creator is a soccer fan.
The season has come when billions of eyes focus on a soccer ball.
As the World Cup, one of the biggest events in the global village, draws near, waves of red outfits are undulating in the streets.
Just as the country presented a fantastic spectacle to the world by creating a national performance of cheering for its soccer team four years ago, South Korea is once more preparing for a festival in the plaza.
The World Cup is an extremely powerful adhesive to integrate Korean society perfectly, despite our hopeless politics and uncertain economics.
But what is the source of our passion for soccer games?
We are tired and heavy-hearted in our daily lives. Our minds and bodies are worn down by fierce competition and our hearts are bothered by trivial feelings.
Above all, circumstances that make it hard for us to have a sense of our own existence also wear our spirits down.
In the climate of uniformity where one’s “self” is measured in comparison to others, every one of us is degraded into a mere nobody. There are too many somebodies elsewhere in the world.
Seized with an inferiority complex or jealousy toward those somebodies elsewhere, the self in Korea is constantly twisted and contracted. There are no prospects for getting better someday.
Cheering for our World Cup team is a fascinating outlet that allows us to escape from this reality. While cheering for our team, we can forget our wretched and miserable daily lives, at least for a while.
But we do not just passively escape from reality. We discover other people anew at the plaza. Strangers who have each lived confined to a secret room or in a closed communication circuit clap their hands and embrace each other without hesitation.
In addition, we are not captivated while there by the sense of superiority or inferiority that comes from comparing ourselves to others.
Watching soccer player Park Ji-sung, we are not intimidated by his excellence.
We neither envy him nor feel a sense of relative deprivation just because he gets a high annual salary and enjoys international fame.
On the contrary, his excellence is our pride and his victory is our glory. Likewise, the others whom we meet in that time and space when the borders of our self expand boundlessly are no longer “other” people.
We could hardly find any signs of showing off in the gestures of tens of thousands of cheering people in the park in front of the stadium immediately before the warm-up game last Friday.
The borders between “you” and “me” had disappeared naturally.
Of course, such a fusion has its limitations in that it was a bout of passion formed through the medium of nationalism.
We hear poignant criticism that Koreans love their national soccer team, not soccer itself.
Would we be able to share our passionate cheers and applause for a team in the K-League or other sports events?
Would there be any way to capture the energy of “dynamic Korea,” which has suddenly risen again, to form a culture in daily life?
Would we be able to embrace the socially weak and defeated with the earnestness and beautiful sense of unity with which we share the joy and sorrow over our team’s winning or losing the game?
On the other hand, would we be able to acquire the language and sensitivity to communicate with other citizens in the global village more intimately?
While asking these questions, we are preparing for a fantastic new performance.
A drama in which crowds of total strangers create an amazing order, and an act of a devil’s play in which red devils become good beings will be performed soon.
Our hysterical fever over soccer games can clear ourselves of all kinds of impure spirits for a while.
Set free from our daily lives in which we have been locked in the obsession of comparing ourselves to others and trying to read their minds, we can wholeheartedly celebrate being alive and being together with others.
Let’s get lost in the ecstasy of transcending ourselves, and celebrate the pure hearts that can fall into that free state, in a festival of life in which we can get rid of collective narcissism and envy of others to declare our own selves openly.
* The writer is a professor of cultural anthropology at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Chan-ho