[Viewpoint]Brutal artistsThe Korean People’s Artist Federation and the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea, representing the progressive and conservative trends in Korean cultural circles, respectively, came to blows with each other a few days ago. Culture Minister Yu In-chon’s demand that heads of cultural organizations who had been appointed under the last administration resign, angered the activists of the Korean People’s Artist Federation. Kim Yoon-soo, director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, and Kim Jung-heun, chairman of the Arts Council of Korea, were among those asked by Yu to take early retirement.
The Korean People’s Artist Federation issued a statement on March 17 calling Yu reckless and politically motivated.
“A new red guard wearing a red armband, who takes shelter behind the artist-turned-minister’s mask, is consistently presenting his wickedness,” the group said. Yu’s call for the resignations is “an immoral deed directed against the entire artistic community,” the group added. “If you get drunk in the daytime, you will not even recognize your father, the proverb says. The recent behavior by Minister Yu reminds us of a drunken rascal who wields power like a reckless sword.”
The following day the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea weighed in. “We strongly demand the resignations of the current cultural czars,” they said in support of Yu.
“Who is a rascal who gets drunk on power and flourishes a violent sword? Who are they who debase veteran cultural figures with childish attacks?”
In addition, the conservative federation asserted that, “Even a child knows that some leaders of cultural organizations have been appointed to their posts based on the ideological personnel policies of the previous administration.”
Taking aim at figures supported by the Korean People’s Artist Federation, the conservative group said, “We call for these artists to step down because they are trying to keep their posts through sheer political power.”
Given the vehemence on both sides, one assumes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The left-leaning artists’s group cannot really believe that ideology played no role in personnel choices in the past decade, or that they have not benefitted from the past liberal administrations.
It is equally certain that the rightists in the Federation of Artistic and Cultural Organizations of Korea are hoping for better days now that a conservative is in the Blue House. We also understand that the federation’s chairman is still on the list for a Grand National Party seat in the April general elections. Therefore, it makes no sense to side with either of them.
I object to this torrent of abuse flowing from the pens of organizations that purport to represent culture and art. Indeed, who conceived this expression about a rascal who gets drunk on power and is brandishing a violent sword? I know that some well-known poets still work for the Korean People’s Artist Federation. But I doubt that the group conducted a round of internal discussions on that statement before it was released.
On Jan. 12, 1975, hooligans fought savagely in a coffee shop at the Savoy hotel in Myeong-dong, Seoul. About 30 gangsters from the Honam region attacked 20 Shinsangsa gangsters, a local fixture of the Myeong-dong area at the time. The Honam gangsters used sharp sushi knives in their attack, marking an end to the relatively restrained tradition of fisticuffs in such battles. Has the era of knife fighting entered the discourse of our cultural life? These violent words make us worry.
The two federations were closely involved in the debates on purism versus popular participation within literary circles in the 1960s. Conservative Lee O-young defended “pure” literature in his work, “Who is Ringing the Death Knell?” The late Kim Soo-young countered Lee’s argument in a piece in 1968 entitled “Experimental literature and political freedom.” They both remained civil, referring to their antagonist as a gentleman. Their assertions were limited to intellectual expressions. This would be hard to compare to these recent exchanges of insults.
These days, our newspapers are filled daily with such brutality in words. These organizations must stop making reckless criticisms. It is my sincere belief that this a matter of greater concern than who wins or loses.
*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun