[Viewpoint] ‘Connection Korea’ at full throttle

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[Viewpoint] ‘Connection Korea’ at full throttle

Who would have thought Korean pop music could raise such a feverish pitch in Paris, the epicenter of romantic chanson and legendary singers like Edith Piaf.

In their first European performance, Korean pop groups and singers rocked the 7,000-seat Le Zenith de Paris concert hall for a two-day show that sold out in 15 minutes. Teenagers as well as grown-ups from all over Europe swooned and wailed while singing and dancing after the Korean stars.

Korean pop, dubbed K-pop, is a well-packaged composite of Korean popular song, dance and acting, carefully designed to create a thrilling experience.

In Europe, there were songs produced by European composers, dance moves choreographed by American artists and the final products were delivered around the world by fans through the Internet and social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The work of intricate connection is behind the K-pop storm.

The K-pop connection on the global stage has spurred an explosive self-confidence, energy and appeal. But sadly at home, Koreans are sinking into a pit of disgust, suspicion and self-hate.

The society is sinking under the weight of nepotism, where nothing can be done without connections, where the weak are knocked over by the powerful, and where having the right connections is more important than one’s ability.

Few can be safe from the prevalent traps and temptations of corruption. The Busan Savings Bank Group scandal is the epitome of connection corruption, and the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs is the epicenter of bureaucratic corruption.

Elite bureaucrats are at the top of the pyramid of corruption, feeding on entertainment and bribes provided by the private sector. The tradition of the corruption network remains intact.

Hwang Yoon-seok, who served in the late 18th century as the village administrator in Mokcheon, Chungcheong, headed for his hometown after being sacked. His return home became even lonelier after his aide and servant ran away.

The reason for his dismissal was simple. He failed to suck up to a traveling auditor. The supervisor stopped to examine the village administration because his boss was busy with other state affairs. Hwang did not entertain him with bribery. The enraged supervisor falsely painted Hwang as inept and corrupt.

Trudging to his hometown, Hwang wanted to kick himself for failing to make few acquaintances with people higher up on the hierarchical ladder. The royal emissary, the boss of the auditor who plotted against him, had been Shim Hwan-ji, who was said to be favored by King Jeongjo.

Local aristocrats frequently visited Seoul to make connections with court lords, expecting that bundles of money could one day help their social ascendency or protect their families from conspiracies.

The snarls of shady connections have lasted for generations and still ensure political security.

It is as if a living organism evolved over the centuries and decades to breed and sprawl hybrids of corruption on this land.

Now, the summer air in May and June has instead stunk with the rotten smell of corruption from the financial, corporate, governmental and political sectors. The givers let out a gruesome eulogy and the receivers return the favor with condescending rewards.

The supervisory watchdogs were at the center, fattening themselves up in the web of corruption.

The highly educated, professional and elite class is given a quick pass to access the upper ladder. Such connections of added power culminate into massive corruption. Others are still being made.

It is the epic series of “Connection Korea.”

We should hear rebellious outcries from the hard-working bureaucrats at the bottom of the ladder. Even if the country runs out of prison space, the government must clamp down on corrupt bureaucrats and rebuild society on cleanliness and equality.

First, we must do away with the deeply rooted view of connections as either a disgrace or honor.

Four out of every 10 adults active in society spends 60 percent of their nonworking time with alumni and various personal association groups, 30 percent on leisure and religious activities and 10 percent on volunteer work. The theme behind the country’s rags-to-riches success story may have been the power of connections.

We must ask ourselves if we want to continue breeding the intricate network of connections that is still contaminating and sapping our society.

Acquaintances should be a virtue. They should also help us discover our differences, not serve as instruments for our self-serving aspirations.

*The writer is a sociology professor at Seoul National University.

By Song Ho-keun
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