[FOUNTAIN]National love withheldWe have a title, “national actor,” which refers to a thespian who transcends generation and class; he or she is loved by the entire country. Beyond possessing acting skills, the actor must be a model citizen. The designation is a form of praise that embodies the public’s love and respect. Similarly, we have terms like “national singer,” “national song,” “national drama,” and “national movie.”
This appellation first appeared in the 1990s. We called people like Jo Yong-pil and Shin Seung-hun “national singers.” The phrase emerged in reaction to a younger generation who seemed to be adrift and needed inspirational figures. Soon after, it became trendy to attach “national” as a form of praise― even a “national younger sister” made her appearance. Mun Geun-yeong was a good actor and student. As real teenagers become progressively more difficult, she conformed to an image of innocent teenagers for which the older generation longed. Sports stars like Kim Yeon-Ah and Bak Tae Hwan were hailed in the same way.
In addition, movies that draw ten million viewers are considered “national movies.” The designation suggests that the movie was enjoyed by the entire nation and did as well as Hollywood movies.
Recently, B-boys (break boys) have been called “national dancers.” They went from being rebellious street kids performing a dangerous dance to become cherished assets after dominating international competitions.
In reality, using the term “national” so frequently is purely a Korean phenomenon. It reveals the nationalistic and collectivist nature that underlies our culture. Culture is looked at from the standpoint of national interest and patriotism, and regarding preferences, the collective good is placed ahead of the individual. Ahn Sung-ki, who is called a “national actor” said, “Instead of calling me a national actor, just call me an actor.” He said the weight of the word “national” was suppressing his freedom as an actor. He also implied that his most important quality is his acting ability, not whether he is a model citizen. Mun Geun-yeong, who has been dubbed our national younger sister, has upset people by trying to adopt an adult image.
Our society, which habitually uses the adjective “national,” hardly ever applies it when talking about politics. One will never hear people using the term “national president,” “national assemblyman,” or “national politician,” despite the fact they have been elected by the people. This proves that Korean politics falls short of popular culture in regard to national interest and in terms of the love and respect of the public.
*The writer is a culture and sports desk writer
of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Sung-hee