Darryl Coote in the Nov. 12 Editor’s Column [Issue 37] called for a blossom of subculture on Jeju: “From the diversity of ideas comes greatness” is a maxim, but diversity of ideas springs not only, nor even chiefly from counterculture. Subculture may consist of malcontents, anarchists, rebels and punks, “fists held high in anger,” but also of nerds and scholars with their noses to the grindstone, and hard-working folk assuming entrepreneurial risk.
The “passion, fire and fight” he seeks can be the stuff of competitive sport, strictly channeled, everyone obeying the rules. And, yes, wearing the orange uniform of Jeju United. Passion, fire and fight can emerge anywhere from the refreshed and exhilarated mind of a tourist who treks to the top of Mt. Halla, to within the gentle camaraderie of a school of haenyeo.
Surely Mr. Coote couldn't have missed the “brethren of dissonance” with fists held high in anger who “damn the man loudly” against the Gangjeong navy base, and who failed for lack of local support. Protesting the construction of infrastructure has long been a Jeju pastime. Is this an example of what he believes will globalize Jeju?
He says “art movements, social and revolutionary political change … are fueled by conflicting dreams.” Fine, but do such subcultures always “improve the cultural fabric?” They may “expose us to new forms” and take us out of our comfort zone which, as he says, is good. The fallacy is, “through conflict comes growth.” Instead, real progress comes through a harmonious give-and-take relationship. Healthy stress is an important element of harmony, but to mistake that for conflict is to fall into the same trap as did Marx and those who applied his now thoroughly discredited idea.
Coote says Jeju wants to become an international city — yes, but not after the mold of Amsterdam. The models to which Jeju aspired through designation as a Free International City are Hong Kong and Singapore. They rose not through anarchists damning the man but through pragmatic diligence. There are moments in history that demand revolution, but progress typically comes through compromise and consensus. (Jeju’s experience with revolt has been brutal: remember the 4.3 tragedy.) Some breakthroughs in science or medicine may be initiated by rebels, but development is almost always upon the foundation of what has already been learned.
Even in the arts, while a radical Picasso sometimes makes a splash, the quiet figures such as Chusa contribute more, overall. As were many others, Chusa was exiled to Jeju, in humble obedience to unfair persecution as he crafted his beautiful new calligraphy. Didn't Dae Jang Geum of historical drama fame also gain medical prowess while she was here in exile?
If boisterous foreign residents are “cavities on an island of straight teeth,” it seems nonsense to believe more of the same is what Jeju needs. I honestly don't see how Jeju fails to “let those who wish, let their freak flags fly.” Coote may not have noticed but nonconformists, including many artists, saturate the island. To what degree they will help internationalize Jeju I don’t know, but whatever it is he seeks will probably not be what spurs Jeju to greatness.
Eugene Craig Campbell is an English teacher in Jungmun.
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