Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Korea, Mumbai, and New Ulm

Name three locations that get riled about their image. 

Some folks in the Korea blogosphere whinge about how Korea is so nationalistically caught up in promoting and protecting its national image. I do agree that many native Koreans can get rather sensitive about depictions of the country, which is still seen as a war-torn backwater straight out of M*A*S*H where crappy goods are churned out and dumped in American stores. That image is so 1980s.

What bothers me about that meme is that some folks who have never lived outside their home country until they came to Korea seem to think that it is a uniquely Korean response demonstrating Korea's unique insecurity, when in fact it is a fairly common national sentiment in many countries, and a fairly prevalent regional sentiment in parts of the United States.

A lot of Koreans were quite upset about depictions of Korea when the 2002 James Bond flick "Die Another Day" came to the peninsula. Among a number of things to get upset about in that film (like James Bond and Jinx having sex in a Buddhist shrine), some people were quite irked at the site of a water buffalo being used as a beast of burden on a farm believed to be in South Korea.

[above: Wait, don't pull it out. I'm not finished with it yet. It's a perfect fit. Leave it in.]

Korean-American actor Rick Yune, who played one of the villains in that movie (Zao), was ambushed in his press conference, where the agenda-driving press decided to make "Die Another Day" an object of the anti-American Zeitgeist they had largely engineered that year. Poor Rick (and I don't say that sarcastically) didn't know what hit him.

Fast-forward to India in 2009, when "Slumdog Millionaire" has become a surprise hit at the Golden Globes and an Oscar contender. Some are quite happy that Indian cinema (Indian actors, moviemaking styles, and venues, if not directors) are being brought to mainstream Western audiences. But others are disappointed that up-and-coming technical power India is being depicted yet again as an impoverished backwater (related story here). Sound familiar?

And then there is New Ulm, Minnesota. Some would be happy that their small burg is being put on the map with the movie "New In Town," right? Not so fast: More than a few New Ulmians (Ulmites? Ulmers? Ulmese? Ulmisch? Ulmiaks?) are a little taken aback that the New Ulm in the movie is actually Winnipeg in neighboring Manitoba and that the accents are from another movie. 

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