[Outlook]An era of their own

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[Outlook]An era of their own

Choi Yang-lak, an old-time comedian, has come back. He is suddenly one of the most sought-after people on Korean Internet portals. Why do major TV stations want him again? It seems related to a retro trend in entertainment. The music program of another middle-aged star, Bae Chul-soo, has also been moved to prime time.

Comics who were popular in the 1980s and 1990s have come back one after another. Some female comedians like Park Mi-sun have continued to be popular. But her husband, Lee Bong-won, was once a top star and has not been on TV for a long time. Now he is appearing on major channels. Middle-aged stars making comebacks are symbolic of a wider societal trend. Lee made people laugh by saying, “The era of ajumma [middle-aged women] is over and the era of ajeossi [middle-aged men] has begun.”

Why are TV programs reaching out to older stars? TV’s influence is diminishing because youths don’t watch as much TV as their elders did when they were young.

Ironically, with the advent of the digital broadcasting era, the digital generation has started to break away from TV. Teenagers and youths in their 20s prefer the Internet or computer games.

TV is not the only media they are turning away from. Consumption by people in their 20s is going down, from newspapers to books, music CDs and concert tickets. In the intellectual sphere of media and culture, those in their 20s have already become the minority.

They also are not active in intellectual debate. Politically, they have become powerless 20-somethings. Financially, they are labeled the “880,000 won generation,” meaning that their average monthly wage is about $640.

While those in their 20s don’t have much consumer power, those in their 30s do. The latter is from the analog generation and was politically active when they were college students. They maintained their influence in the digital era. Particularly, mothers in their 30s and 40s use the Internet to find information about how to care for their children.

When IPTV becomes commonplace, mothers will be even smarter. These people with strong political and financial power are capable of recreating the world as they see fit.

One wonders then why the digital generation does not take a central role in the digital era. Why is the digital generation still governed by the analog generation? Is it because the digital generation does not exert political power?

There has never been a time when 20-somethings had financial power. Their power comes from their interest and engagement in political issues. Those now in their 30s began their era when they were in their 20s, using political power. A firm sense of political identity helped them remain powerful in the digital era as well.

In 1960, a legislative election was held on March 15. Charging that the election was corrupt, people, mostly college students, staged the April 19 revolution. From then until a 1963 protest against normalization of ties with Japan, those in their 20s controlled the entire country. These people were later called the April 19 generation, or the 63 generation, and have governed Korea for decades.

Twenty-five years later, in 1985, a legislative election was held on Feb. 12. The New Korea Democratic Party led by Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung was reformed. Universities were given autonomy. University students and other youths did not miss their chance. From then until the June uprising that year, people in their 20s once again shook the whole country. Presidential candidates attended student conventions and events. The political assets that youths accumulated then still serve as a basis of power for those now in their 30s.

Fast forward another 25 years to the year 2010. Local elections will be held that year; there will be a legislative election and a presidential election. Those in their 20s must not miss their opportunity then. They must seek their due political influence and open their own era.

To demonstrate their political identity, they must vote. Writing comments on the Internet and attending candlelight vigils cannot serve as weapons to change the existing political order. No political weapon is more powerful than the vote.

President Barack Obama won the election because the digital generation voted for him. In the future, today’s youth will realize their era began in the 2008 presidential election. Young people must instill fear in political circles. Only then do they deserve a political voice.

The digital generation is much more strongly armed than the analog generation. The latter cannot beat the former, just as a horse cannot run faster than a car. What’s needed is to show their political power through votes. Then the era of the digital generation will begin.

The hour of battle is drawing near.

*The writer is a political consultant and the chief executive officer of Min Consulting. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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