[OUTLOOK]The rallies aren’t the same this yearIt was during the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002. On the day of the match between South Korea and the United States, the older generations were worried that the street cheering would turn into anti-American rallies. The police took precautionary measures around the U.S.-related facilities in town. The press, both domestic and foreign, were on alert. But things went fine.
Although the game ended in a draw, disappointing the enthusiastic cheering squads, most of the young people on the streets cleaned up the garbage left behind, then dispersed quietly. How could hundreds of thousands of young people and students gather in the center of Seoul and disperse without incident? It was a strange scene to the eyes of the development generation, those who made a dash on economic development under the military regimes, and the 386 generation, those in their 30s who were born in 1960s and educated in colleges in 1980s.
According to the book, “Understanding Digitalized Korean Society,” the emergence of the R (red) generation was a surprise to everybody. The development generation and the 386 generation have indulged in collectivism, nationalism and a sense of unity. To the contrary, the N (network) generation, those who were born in 1980s, tends to be individualistic, open and diverse. And there runs a vast river called “online” that runs between the N generation and the development and 386 generations.
It is an era in which people were asked to choose between the two groups. Under the circumstances, a generation that is armed with collective individualism, open nationalism and unity in the middle of diversity has suddenly emerged. An era of paradox in which the conflicting notions join forces has arrived.
They exchanged messages through the Internet and voluntarily gathered on the streets. Although younger generations formed the main group, they also accommodated older generations. On the day of a semifinal match between Germany and South Korea, a historic record of 4 million people poured onto the streets nationwide. But they never showed any hysteria or violence. They also radiated the energy of a voluntary festival. Four years since, the R generation has returned.
There seems to be no objection that the street cheering rallies this time have dramatized the dynamics of our society. I am happy to see the World Cup soccer matches have become a festive occasion. However, why do we have less sympathy this time than we did for the R generation in 2002?
On the day our national team played against Togo, Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall was decorated with scores of big ad placards and the ground was covered with leaflets.
Telecommunication companies and broadcasters had sent out messages for months, saying, “Come to Seoul Plaza, or to Sangam World Cup Stadium!” They make the excuse that they only are supporting the cheering rallies, but they actually staged the rallies this time.
The atmosphere of the rallies this time was not suitable for people belonging to different generations to mingle together. Although the match was scheduled to begin in the middle of the night, teenagers and young people in their 20s gathered together at their “designated areas” and did not give way to others. The space given for older generations to participate was smaller than before. Citizens who came with family members were also obliged to stay in the periphery. A middle-aged man, whom I met in front of the main gate of Deoksu Palace on the day of match between France and South Korea, jokingly said, “As a majority of them are young and some are females who are exposing themselves excessively, I couldn’t go in there because I’m afraid I’d be called a molester.”
An article posted by an Internet user on a bulletin board is creating a stir. The man, who was pushed by the crowd, shouted out that there was a pregnant woman. A dozen cheering squad members surrounded the woman and shouted out “Dae Han Min Guk,” repeatedly pressing their faces against her belly.
Another person wrote that he was horrified “because the cheerers on the street shook his car violently.” Although it was only a few people, there were R generation people who damaged vehicles and threatened pedestrians with their motorbikes. During the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, there were seven street cheering rallies in Seoul and a total of 10,480,000 people gathered on the streets, but not a single security-related accident involving violence or a disturbance was reported.
It is, of course, not right to exaggerate the problems of street cheering rallies too much. Korean cheering squads are not as violent and cliquish as the football hooligans of European countries.
But compared to the street cheering four years ago, they aren’t as civic-minded in nature and aren’t as sympathetic to different generations.
The World Cup soccer matches take place every four years and we will come out in the streets again. Taking the shortcomings of the street cheering this time as a mirror, I hope we can develop it to a more harmonious and voluntary festival of the people.
* The writer is the investigative news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Kyu-youn