image taken from Worth1000’s Star Wars + Classic Art contest (http://fx.worth1000.com/contests/20242/missing-title)

Labeling a work as classic status undoubtedly bestows a high honor.  It implicates that the work will be remembered and revered over time, that its material is thought to evoke the imagination and stimulate intellectual fodder to chew on not only in the present, but for future generations to come.  It champions the creator’s innovative thought processes which in turn, like a double-edged sword, champions the generation the creator thrived in.  Listening to the symphonies of Brahms brings to mind the Romanticist society of the 19th century, Jane Austen causes us to remember Victorian sensibilities, Da Vinci the golden era of the Renaissance. 

However, once something is judged to be a classic, it seems to undergo a metamorphosis in the public mind.  Even criticisms against it seem to stem from a new reverent standpoint — the banter of the educated.  Theorists scrutinize and analyze every last detail to the death.  In some instances, it is not enough, say, to merely listen to Debussy — you are expected to know the terms and political history that inspired his composition style.  How is impressionism different from romanticism?  Actually, IS Debussy considered impressionist?  What Asianic music styles did he draw influence from? — and so on and so forth.

In classes I have taken, the things that were once our friends — certain books, certain pieces of music, certain works of art — were dissected so thoroughly by teachers and professors, every minute detail taken into fullblown force.  The part in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield shatters the record he purchased for little sister Phoebe ceased to be an event; instead, it became a metaphor because, see, the shattered record was the shattered pieces of his childhood (and god forbid if you did not see it that way!).  Every time Beethoven made a transposition in his Eroica symphony, we had to mark and analyze and listen to on a neverending loop.  Suddenly everything Sylvia Plath penned had MEANING (in capital letters).   If one were given a poor instructor who seemed to champion his or her own interpretation of a work above that of the student’s, paper-writing time became a strenuous time of debating whether to suck up for a decent grade or fight for one’s interpretational integrity.  Often at the end of the semester, we realized that these works we once used to enjoy ceased to become our friends.  Nor were they necessarily enemies — they simply became too scholarly to enjoy. 

This mindset towards the classics also exists outside the school.  We tend to take our classics seriously — even if they were considered a farce in their time.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical numbers, for example, were operatic parodies that tickled the audience of their period.  Today, they are viewed with respectful silence and respectful laughter tucked neatly in their proper places.  Monty Python sketches presently provide laughter material for the intellectual familiar with Che Guavara, Mao TseDong, Karl Marx — whereas in their hayday, they were a comedic troupe that performed comedy for the common man.  Remember when The Beatles used to be fun to listen to without all the baggage of considering the history and evolution of Brit rock, what each and every song is supposed to mean, and what it sounds like when played backwards?  For that matter, remember when The Sex Pistols actually used to sound raw and angry instead of being an important example of the archetypical sound of Brit punk in its day?

While appreciating a work throughout the ages and understanding its historical background is imporant, there is a certain chore to it.  It is not easy to fully appreciate, for most of us, outmoded works — most of them are not outwardedly relevant in the present and the vast majority of them have become objects of Study.  They have, in short, not become relics to appreciate as much as relics to gruel over and memorize.

To raise something into reverent classic status also poses dangers.  Take, for instance, Sherlock Holmes (you may scroll some posts down for the full article).  When Conan Doyle penned Holmes, the stories of Holmes was probably like the CSI of the 19th century — good, solid entertainment for all.  Unfortunately, judging from some critic reviews of the new Holmes movie, Holmes has sort of become Victorian Shakespeare — and Holmes engrained in imaginations as stoic, noble, intelligent, brainy instead of how Doyle envisioned him — strong, a sturdy boxer, a bit of a slob, arrogant, intelligent but socially inept.  How will Harry Potter, I wonder, be envisioned as to the future generations to come? (for I do think the Potter novels are destined to become classics).  Perhaps they will view him as noble and courageous, as he undoubtedly is, but will probably forget that he was prone to lose his temper, an occasional prankster on the side,  ill-dressed on account of wearing Dudley’s old clothes, and scrawny as a result of being constantly underfed by the Dursleys (come to think of it, the movies have forgotten a great deal already).  Somehow with classics we want to make everything prettier, to largely remember the good over the bad.  Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, for an added example, is considered today as an epic masterpiece of choral-symphonic writing but remembered less for the numerous drunken orgies and horny virgins that sing from the pages.

Is there a way to make old works appealing to new generations — to present them in a fresh, creative manner that captures imaginations as they have done in their time?  Pithly put, it is not an easy task.  I remember more Fails than Sucesses — Romeo and Juliet in tube tops and switchblades, Don Giovanni scarfing McDonald’s before being pulled into the underground alleys of New York, Swan Lake excerpts with clumsy shadow puppets, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Now with Ultraviolet Mayhem! are just a few contestants for the Fail bin.  Ideally, there should be some way to preserve our classics and make them interesting for new generations but I suppose that depends on one’s answer to the question: is it better to love a work for what it is, or is it better to become thoroughly educated about it — every gritty detail– and its implications in history, etc? 

I just want to finish by saying that it has been a very long time since I’ve listened to Brahms’ Fourth — the love of my 5th grade year — and marveled at its beauty and ingenuity instead of listening to it and thinking, “Oh, that modulation again.”

The Death of Klinghoffer

January 12, 2010

The opera The Death of Klinghoffer is based on the real-life events of the hijacking of the liner Achille Lauro by the Palestinian Liberation Front in the mid-1980s, in which the Jewish passenger Klinghoffer was murdered by said terrorists.  It was written by post-minimalist composer John Adams.

The opera was composed in 1991 (I do not know when it made its American debut, exactly) and though at its premiere it garnered some criticisms from the viewers, it wasn’t until the events of 9/11 that it was brought into considerable attack by Richard Taruskin who claimed that Adams was romanticing terrorists (“If terrorism is to be defeated, world public opinion has to be turned decisively against it . . . no longer romanticising terrorists as Robin Hoods and no longer idealising their deeds as rough poetic justice”).  Others viewed the work as anti-Semitic or un-American.

However, there were those who championed the work, drawn to the idea of the human protrayal of terrorists rather than a black-and-white/good-and-evil mindset.  Some critics felt that Adams’ depiction of these terrorists as humans may help us broaden knowledge as to the underlying causes of violence.  And although one of the portrayals of the terrorists is almost touching and almost garners sympathy from the viewers, there is no question about the immorality of their actions–Klinghoffer’s brutal murder is shown on the stage, an event that still leaves its horrific scars on his spouse.

Should we consider that terrorists are human like the rest of us?  There is a definite danger, as Taruskin put, of romanticizing the terrorist but there is also a danger in purely putting them into the category of Animal.  For to do that means that our acceptance of people becomes limited, causing extreme nationalism to rear its head and cause us to think that people of a certain ethnicity are dangerous and righteous victims of hate crimes.   Where is the rightful balance between over-romanticizing criminals and understanding them?

A Salvation Army in Charleston, South Carolina, received a 25,ooo-dollar donation during the winter season.  After depositing the check, the agency went ahead and provided food and other necessities for local families.  However, the bank later called to say that the check had bounced — the check had been a hoax — leaving the Salvation Army on a tight budget to help those in need during the cold season. 

Stories like these leave me with a feeling of the humanity blues.  On the street where I live, college students party without regard for neighbors who’d like to stay asleep during the hours of the wee dawn; brawl with loud drunken slurs in the streets; and litter the area with all sorts of debris from beer pong cups, aluminum cans, thongs, cigarettes.  I found the whole lot of them obnoxious yet underneath it all, I was always willing to believe that there was a heart that would actually care, say, if I were to carelessly leave my keys in my lock and enter my apartment.  A student, I was almost sure, might care enough to knock on my door to tell me of my error. 

Stories like the one of the Salvation Army, however, puncture these thoughts of trust.  I trade in my rose-colored glasses for ones that see the world as an abstract impressionist piece of art (“what the hell is it supposed to be?  light or dark?  ugly or beautiful?  meaningful or meaningless?  good or bad?”).  The moral is one we hear from our parents over and over but never seems to register until much later: you can’t ever be too sure of other people.


image taken from New York Times, Jessica Kourkounis/Associated Press

Caption: Members of the Lakewood Church, the nation’s largest, Saturday night at the first service in their new home. 

In their latest issue, Time magazine’s David van Biema published an article entitled “The Color of Faith: Sunday Morning Remains the Most Segregated Time in America.  How Some Evangelicals are Bridging the Divide.”  Van Biema, through investigating the history of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, finds that although megachurches are slowly becoming more diverse, such diversity  is not attained passively — rather, the congregation of Willow Creek worked through “racial-educational” small group conferences and a change of philosophy on the part of the pastor to bridge the racial divide bit by bit.  In spite of these efforts, writes Van Biema, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.”

 Though Van Biema’s article is insightful, I felt that there were some points worth mentioning that he either only touched upon or ignored completely.  For one, unlike the apartheid era, religious segregation between races is one made today by choice

What are the factors that lead to this?  The most obvious factor is probably language.  For example, many Asian churches  preach in their own language, as many in the congregation are more familiar with their native language, or are first-generationers from their homeland. 

Less obvious is how religion, in the past, functioned in their community.  Take, for example, how differently the white and black communities used religion during apartheid era.  The white community often used religion to strengthen racial boundaries.  It was God’s will, they claimed, that the white race had the right to rule over and exploit the lands of the “lesser civilized.”  Missionaries teamed up with trading companies and settler groups in foreign lands.  While they introduced essential concepts such as reading and writing, there remained, for most, a hidden agenda to aid the trader companies in occupation of the land.  On the other hand, the African American community used religion as a pulpit to preach about their equal rights.  As segregation affected and shaped their everyday lives, forcing them to undergo the poorest of educational and labor conditions, churches started to fight back.  It was not God’s will, they proclaimed, that they should continue to live in such a pitiful state.  They took to heart Paul’s words that in Christ, there was no Jew or Gentile, male or female, master or slave.  Protest groups mobilized from the church, usually advocating protest through non-violence.  It is a hypothesis but the different roles each race assigned to religion planted the seeds for the schism that lingers today, and the use of religion as a tool of oppression on the part of the white community still unfortunately harms its reputation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, each race has its distinct worship style.  Simply congregating different races under one church roof does not make it a successful interracial church.  In order provide an atmosphere conducive to all, the worship style has to somehow accomodate and compromise a different style if churches truly seek to become interracial.  Thus far, I have attended Korean Presbytarian churches, American churches, and currently worship with an African American congregation (for personal reasons that I may divulge at a later time).  I have observed Catholic, Methodist, Luteran, Presbytarian, and Unitarian services — in large part due to my touring around different churches with my girl’s choir back in the days I used to sing (eons ago).  I’ve noticed that even within churches of the same ethnicity, there exists the subcategories that separate them from each other — conservative views on abortion and homosexuality, more liberal outtakes on societal issues, traditional versus modern worship, differences in how elders are appointed, differences in sermon styles.  This plays out to be more than just a mere racial schism — there exists a philosophical schism and a style schism, causing each church to have its own distinct atmosphere.  

There is a sense of freedom in the African American congregation that I have not yet experienced in Korean or American congregations.  During the sermon, for instance, it is not out of place to openly encourage the pastor — as many congregants do by applause, standing on one’s feet to wave arms, etc.  There is a sense of reciprocity in energy, a sense of involvement.  When the choir sings, congregation members often rise to their feet with accompanying accolades of “Sing it, boy!” or “Sing it, girl!”   This — not only the history of how they used religion to overcome — helps give the African American congregation a strong, united sense of community that I have not experienced elsewhere.

By contrast in the older generation Korean worship, any noise or cheering could potentially be taken as a sign of disrespect.  The intensity with which Koreans worship can date back before they were even introduced to Christ.  The original Korean monotheistic Sun god religion was very similar to that of Christianity, with emphasis on “repent or go to hell.”  This served to make the transition smooth between their original religion and Christianity (unlike in Japan, where they had a polytheistic religion).

In the African American church I attend, many — not all, but many — of the families are currently, amidst this recession, suffering financially, a few of them having lost their jobs.  When worshipping, there is a deep sense of hope amid the burden — the feeling that they must believe in something that provides hope.  In the American churches I’ve attended, I have not yet experienced this feeling.  There is a comfortability that pervades the atmosphere, as many of those in attendance are in the middle to upper class and do not need to worry where their meals are coming from. 

The question is, for all these differences — music, style, history, philosophy — where is the middle ground?  I personally have no answer to offer as to whether one day America’s churches will all be interracial, despite the US not containing any dominant race group by 2050.  But for now, churches remained segregated — and it is done out of choice (and oftentimes necessity).  What is perhaps more important than having a racially diverse congregation is the ability of a church to truly and sincerely welcome its visitors despite their ethnicity.  Even as a Korean American, my family and I often undergo some embarrassing treatment (well-meaning, but embarrassing) from some congregational members who automatically assume that we don’t speak English or would like to give us a “welcome to the States” when we’ve lived here for over 23 years and can speak English perfectly fine.  Being more tactful, I believe, when it comes to welcoming members of the congregation who are of a different ethnicity, is a babystep into forging multiracial churches, but it is a gigantic babystep that needs to be conquered if progress is to be made.

Time Magazine’s recent article “Can Megachurches Bridge the Racial Divide” stimulated a lot of food for thought but because of the  seriousness of yesterday’s topic, I am postponing such thoughts for something more light-hearted.

My brother and I, during road trips in the back of our family Nissan van, voraciously feed the old VCR included with the vehicle with our old VHS tapes.  Most usually we end up turning the volume all the way down and dubbing over the script ourselves.  (This may be too much information for some, but bathroom humor and Lord of the Rings go surprisingly well together).  A few of our favorites, however, are watched in honorable silence.  For The Empire Strikes Back, for example, we clasp shut our potty mouths. Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master (remember back in the day when he used to star in movies that were actually worthwhile watching?) deserves the same treatment but for the animation department, we have only one nominee for Honorable Silence: Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, quite arguably one of its underappreciated materpieces (The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, and The Sword in the Stone also run in this same vein).

Having seen the Robert Downey Jr. version of Holmes quite recently (and having enjoyed it, despite criticisms from A.O. Scott and others), we felt inclined to take The Great Mouse Detective to our family reunion in NY.  Seeing that we had to suffer through Jennifer’s Body while we were there (oh, the cousins.  And their taste), Basil of Baker Street eased and assuaged our brains during the ride home.

Before I rave about the movie, I’d like to go over and lightly rebuke some critic reviews in regards to Holmes.  It seems as if many of the critics have never cracked open an anthology of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes.  Many reviews I have read — both on the part of professional critics and on the part of audience members — lament the same questions.  Where is his deerstalker hat?  Where is his curved pipe?  Why is Holmes protrayed as a fist-wielding James Bond-ian action hero instead of the intellecutual crime-deducing superhuman in the original stories?

The 2009 film was actually quite faithful to Doyle, moreso than the public imagination pertaining to his supersleuth.  Never does Doyle say Holmes sports a deerstalker cap and a curved pipe.  That image of Holmes was forged courtesy of the illustrators of Doyle’s stories in The Strand magazine, where serialized short stories of Holmes were published.  In addition, illustrator Sidney Paget only capped off pictures of Holmes with the deerstalker hat whenever Holmes had a case out in the country — never when he was out in London public.

As for Holmes’ brawling skill, Doyle does write not only of Holmes’ impeccable strength (in one case, Holmes shows Watson he can bend and unbend an iron poker) but also of his fighting prowess.  According to Watson, Holmes was an expert fencer.  In A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes boasts to Watson of his boxing skill and explains to the good doctor that he found a means to use boxing to aid his sleuthing in that case. 

I may be incorrect if I say Doyle never really gave us a clear description of Dr. Watson, save for in Charles Augustus Milverton where Watson was generically described as being of medium height, medium build, and possessing a square jaw.  These descriptions, however, were ascertained by the police when it was dark outside and when Watson was on the run.  Unfortunately, in adaptations and illustrations, Watson is portrayed to be a bit stupid.  In Guy Ritchie’s Holmes, Jude Law proves to make Watson an intelligent sidekick — and who could imagine — a Watson with character!  That rendition was actually very refreshing. 

Some have criticized the supernatural aspect of the plot.  What about the famous Hound of the Baskervilles where Watson and Holmes pit their brains against the supposedly hound from hell?  Were complaints lodged against that masterpiece?

Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Holmes was refreshing, removed from the stoic portrayals in the tv adaptations and though, arguably, many claim he cannot top renditions by actor Jeremy Brett, Downey’s Holmes is not as far removed from the original Doyle vision as is largely believed by those who can only claim to know their Holmes.   I felt that A.O. Scott’s belittlement of Guy Ritchine (and here I quote from the celebrated film critic: “intelligence has never ranked high among either Mr. Ritchie’s interests or his attributes as a filmmaker.”  Ouch) was put out of line as Ritchie was, for the most part, faithful to the stories and even to the little nuances that detailed Doyle’s works (the pit bull, the shooting of the Queen’s initials into the wall, Lestrade and Holmes banters, Watson complaining of Holmes’ mess, Holmes’ wacked chemistry experiments, and I could go on).  Even the inclusion of Irene Adler, The Woman as dubbed by Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia, was not as distracting as I had assumed.  In fact, I felt that Ritchie handled her part tastefully without making the love story excessive or overboard.

As for The Great Mouse Detective, the story follows the expeditions of a mouse named Basil (named after Basil Rathbone, one of Holmes’ portrayers) who lives under 221B Baker Street.  As Holmes and Watson attempt to solve The Case of the Red Handed League (the hint is subtle but Holmes readers will pick up on it), in the mouse universe a toyshopkeeper by the name of Flaversham is abducted and his young daughter Olivia comes to Basil for aid.  A doofy old mouse Dr. Dawson (obviously a parody on Watson) and evil Professor Ratigan (mousedom’s Moriarty) round out the main cast of characters.

For those of you who have loved the original stories of the Grimms’ brothers for their ingenuity and all their resplendant creepiness, no doubt you were disappointed by some of the waterdowned Disney versions of the stories, and annoyed by those who championed the Disney versions but have never read the original stories (some people to this day are still actually unaware that the movies are derived from original stories).   Take Cinderella, for example.  In the Grimms’ brother version, blood is easily shed as Cinderella’s stepsisters, in an effort to fit their feet into Cinderella’s slipper, take a knife from their stepmother to saw off parts of their heels and toes.  In the end, as an act of retribution, birds flurry down to peck out their eyes — a Disney no-no.  Happy endings have been unabashedly substituted for sad ones (The Little Mermaid most crassly of all) and character deaths written completely out (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).  Suffice it to say that if you are reading these original stories for class, never use the Disney renditions as a form of Cliff Notes to help you.  They won’t. 

But where they fail is where The Great Mouse Detective excels.  It is unafraid to be intense, dangerous, and a bit lewd at times (even going as far as to incorporating a semi-queasy stripper scene in the midst of a bad guy bar).  Professor Ratigan, fabulously voiced by the late Vincent Price, can possibly wipe the dojo floor from under the feet of every other Disney villain — combined.  Yet in spite of that, he sizzles with elegance, for no one else can be as gentlemanly as Ratigan when he is abducting the mousedom Queen or feeding his henchmen to his overgrown cat.  His character has both evilness and class, and the two serve to complement each other beautifully.  There is a finesse there that few other Disney villains — and even mainstream movie villains — have mastered.

The Great Mouse Detective was based upon the novels by Eve Titus but here is an example where a Disney movie actually improved upon the book (another example that comes to mind is The Rescuers).  Titus’ writing is a bit wooden at times and her Basil is too stoic and noble.  The Basil in the Disney version is invariably more rounded.  He tends to be a bit of a scallywag at times — that is, he is often excessively pleased with himself and his prowess but at the core, presents a solid heart of heroism that leaves us forgiving of — and even charmed by — his shortcomings.  Also, in no place in Titus’ series does she present a villain of the same caliber as Ratigan.  Top that with Vincent Price’s superb voice acting and the ingenuity of Basil (using balloons and the British flag to quickly make a flying contraption?  Sweet!).

The movie is not afraid to be gritty, even presenting some scenes of intense violence that may be somewhat Family Unfriendly but in all honesty, if Ratigan and Basil didn’t duke it out as hard as they did, one would take the movie less seriously.  There is a pent up hatred that reverberates with such intensity between Ratigan and Basil that to resolve it in a fluffier manner would greatly damage the story quality.  The sleuthing scene in the toy shop is no less than eerie, but the eerieness lends to its ingenuity.  Atmosphere is at its finest here, the darkness of the scenery a serious reminder that Basil is battling forces diabolical and unrelenting.  The fight scene in the Big Ben tower is…frankly, still hard to watch years later, all 3 long minutes of it, but the outcome is one of the most satisfying of all Disney films. 

The movie actually once saved Disney’s behind as after the flop The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective proved that yes, Disney CAN put together a satisfactory story.  It took CGI and animation on its first tottering steps — the clocktower scene exhibited CGI effects we would now poo-poo but at the time, it was revolutionary.  Even now, viewing it with 21st-century eyes, the result is aesthetically satisfying.

There is no love story, which is a personal plus, as Disney love stories tend to be over-milked (Robin Hood would have been excellent, save for the gigantic romance that managed to eat out the rest of the film).  The songs are not distracting (like in Oliver and Company where that poodle just wouldn’t stop singing) and are in fact, in one word, AWESOME.  Price’s singing is simply priceless, no pun intended.  With distractions aside, there is only brains — both Basil and Ratigan are frightfully ingenious and try to out-maneuver each other, resulting in a cat-and-mouse — or rather, rat-and-mouse — battle for control.  There is always a solid hold on the plot.  At stake amidst the battle are the lives of Olivia, her father, the British mouse Queen, and the future of all mousedom — a lot of fodder for one mouse to chew on.  At the outset of the film is the satisfaction and appreciation one feels after viewing a film well worth the time.

The reason for this pimpery is because, watching The Great Mouse Detective again recently, I still have no idea why it is buried under the more well-known (but less deserving) Disney films — The Little Mermaid, Cinderella (and pretty much every Disney movie touting a princess save for Sleeping Beauty), Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland …   Basil and Ratigan definitely deserve their fair dues in the masterpiece circle but, alas, that has not happened. 

I am hoping this movie gets its fair share of love.  But maybe I just take my children’s animation too seriously.

Whilst checking out the new posts on drunkencamp.com, my mind was challenged by the most recent article concerning TigerJK’s current struggles with the media pertaining to his son, Jordan.

For those of you who are not aware, TigerJK is probably South Korea’s most influential artist and the reigning king of hip-hop in that peninsular region.  His name has also made breakway into the States via collaborations with big namers Rakim, Rakka, and friendships forged with Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Missy Elliot to name a few.

But TigerJK is more than just an entertainer.  Reading up on his history and how he introduced the art of rap to Korea back in the early 90’s proves that he is more than just an emcee.  He has, whether he is aware of it or not, singlehandedly did much to clean up the ugly racism that was rampant in that homogenous society.

To be fair, much of this racism came from the lack of education on the part of the Korean.  They were not educated on how African Americans had to fight for their equal rights in the Civil Rights Movement, and thus mistakenly attributed their poor working conditions and housing settings to assumptions that blacks were “slackers” and “unprincipled.”  Koreans were simply not educated on the matters of apartheid in the States and how this affected and shaped the lifestyles and oppression felt by the African American people.

What does this have to do with TigerJK, you ask?  Many things.  For one, he grew up amidst the LA Riot Acts in 1992, an event that greatly shaped his worldview and eventually led him to rap.  

A nutshelled-version of the LA scene during this time is as follows: Korean immigrants in LA largely turned to the shopowning business even though many of them had had a decent education in Korea.  Because of the language barrier, they had to turn to more “humble” means of living.  Many of their shops were located close to the black neighborhoods, as buying buildings in such spaces were cheaper.  Because of this, and because they were unaware of the struggles of the African American society, they saw their African American patrons as “undisciplined” and “uneducated.”  On the other hand, African Americans were also unaware that in Korean society, it was often tradition for the shopowner to follow around their patrons in case the patron might have any questions or might require service.  Because of this, they resented the way Korean shopowners followed them around the store, thinking that this was because of a lack of trust and an assumption that they would shoplift. 

The lack of understanding between these two cultures intensified until, in 1992, a Korean shopowner shot an African American girl in the back in his store, thinking that she was shoplifting.  Outrage instantaneously spread like wildfire through the African American community.  TigerJK witnessed firsthand this tension and outrage during his years of adolescence in LA.   He had wrestled with stereotypes lodged against him through his middle school and high school years (because he was Asian, he was told, he could be smart, but not cool.  Never cool) and, during the riots, came across Ice Cube’s Black Korea.  Black Korea, strangely enough, would be the song that buoyed his future.

Ice Cube’s rap was an aggressive rant against Koreans, labeling them as “oriental one-penny countin motherfuckers.”  For TigerJK, who had grown up fighting off every stereotype thrown his way (he was famous for brawling to the extent that the leader of Criminal Minded Kings, an LA-based black gang, invited him to join), this posed to be the breaking straw.  Although he was aware that he might be razed, he went to an open mic rapping event in downtown LA and, in the midst of the “go back to China!”s and “ching-chong”s, presented a Korean rap so efficiently that silence descended upon the room and those in the audience could only gape up at him.

Not long after, he formed the rap group Drunken Tiger with DJ Jhig and DJ Shine (both of the latter have left the group to attend to their personal affairs).  Rap was still relatively kept underground in Korea (despite the efforts of some pioneers, such as Seo Taiji) and Drunken Tiger managed to knock down that wall between the underground and the popular stage, bringing their music to the heights of mainstream music.  Along the way, they had too many battles to recount–the criticisms they received for “trying to act black” and incorporating African American and mixed race artists into their works.  Most famously, there were the falsified drug charges against TigerJK in 2000 planted by the government in an effort to silence him and purge Korea of the music of Drunken Tiger.  In spite of these toils, however, Drunken Tiger has remained and still remains one of the best-loved and most respected Korean music groups of all time.

TigerJK, recently wedded to the half-African American half-Korean musician Tasha, showcased his son Jordan onstage on the first day of 2010.

From this act came a sorry reminder of how far Korea must still go to quell racism in their country.  Bloggers turned to their keyboards and bashed out racist insults against Jordan and Tasha, some going as far to use the N word in relation to them.  As TigerJK wrote on his Twitter, people “would say anytihing behind the walls of matrix to say things that would get em attention.” 

This mudslinging at a small child who has done nothing to offend is a sad example of cowardice and ignorance blown full-tilt, a sorry reminder that the color of one’s skin is still considered the basis of hate.  If anything, there is a personal sense to me that some Koreans are unaware what they owe TigerJK and Tasha for driving the country towards racial tolerance and tolerance for the second & third generations growing up in the States.   They used music not as a passive and merely entertaining medium, but as an active medium.  Whether they know it or not, their music has shaped a lot of the social and political demographics in homogenous Korea.  Whether they know it or not, their works, which were born and shaped from previous oppression, flourishes and teaches through such oppression.  Their words are effective because they don’t preach — they simply tell their story — and those receptive enough to heed to it can take so much more from it.  By simply Being, they make this world a better place — a trait that is more difficult to emulate than it sounds.

In a world that cheers on its progressiveness, in a society such as Korea that is business-oriented, scenes such as this show large flaws that we have neglected.  Our technology has evolved a stupendous amount over the last 10 years but can the same be said for our racial tolerance?  Korea’s industry and world-wide exports have grown immensely over time but has this larger contact with the rest of the world shaped any of its political-correctness?  Perhaps in a way it is good that 2010 started off with this setback — rather than hide the problem, what better way to cure it more quickly (hopefully) with its exposure? 

On a final note, this is not just Korea’s problem.  It is a universal problem.  Korea’s smallness of size and homogenous society may give the illusion that they are more prone to racial intolerance; however, this may not be completely true.  Judging from certain areas in the States, racism runs rampant in such places (regions of Indiana where the Ku Klux Klan once ran rampant and various towns in Alabama and Tennessee are a testament to this).  The difference is, countries like America are large enough to mask such areas, whereas Korea’s land is so small with more incoming population than it can contain that such problems are brought straight up to the surface.  Let it be the goal of 2010, for the sake of a progressively interracial universe, to neither jeer at or ignore diversity but to celebrate it, and to learn to know people for who they are rather than the color of their skin whether you live in America or Kazahkstan or Ethiopia.  It is a mindset we should have mastered long ago but have sadly left untamed. 

As for TigerJK, Jordan, and Tasha, I wish them an excellent Year of the Tiger 2010 with many blessings coming their way.