Critical minds

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Critical minds

Impolite, inappropriate and disarmingly direct language has swept through TV dramas and entertainment programs like brush fires this year. The character Maestro Kang in the hit drama “Beethoven Virus” came to people’s attention because of his slanderous tongue, and barbed comments from the comedian Wangbiho in the TV show “Gag Concert” gutted celebrities like fish freshly hauled from the ocean.

Another comedian, Kang Ho-dong, verbally attacked guests with tough questions on his talk show “Knee God” as he teased them into divulging their private inside stories. However, a world-renowned ballerina, a conductor, famous film directors and producers and literary magnates kneeled down before the Knee God and refused to take offense at the jokes.

Why the aggressive popularity of vituperation in popular culture? Perhaps it’s because people want to deny authority and rules to get to the reality behind the mask.

Slander and verbal condemnation raged in all its fury on the Internet this year as people aired their views, often achieving temporary catharsis rather than mutual understanding or even agreement.

What is the antonym for vituperation? It would be praise and well-wishing remarks. Recently, a young literary critic named Cho Young-il criticized his peers for being too soft on authors. He called into question the “carefree criticism” that seems to pervade Korea’s literary circles. He mentioned by name big-name writers such as Hwang Suk-young, Paik Nak-chung and Shin Gyeong-sook. He was particularly critical of Hwang, who showed off his verbal verve and wordplay on Knee God. “His latest novel was not up to par,” Cho said. “However, it received great reviews from literary critics due to his reputation. He is trying to dazzle the readers using his seductive words, resting on his laurels.” He also took aim at the silence over Cho Gyeong-ran’s novel “Tongue” and the plagiarism controversy.

“Korea’s literary history has developed dramatically because the new generation took on the old,” said Cho the critic. “However, young critics and writers these days allow themselves to be drawn into the existing institutions. Korean literature can only move forward after young writers and critics ignore the power of existing literary circles and follow their own path.”

Kim Jin-sok, a professor at Inha University, has also underlined the importance of challenging recent trends in criticism. “Critics trying to advertise books deserve criticism.” Critics should look again at why criticism is of such significant value.


The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Yang Sung-hee[shyang@joongang.co.kr]
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