Go to contents

[Opinion] The Ministry of Finance and Economy

Posted February. 15, 2002 09:30,   


Recently, conflicts over the distribution of profits from ticket sales between movie producers and theatre owners led to the movie theatre association to insist on dissolving the screen quarter. The Ministry of Finance and Economy jumped on this opportunity, announcing it decision to reduce the screen quarter and drawing public criticism as a consequence.

The confrontation between filmmakers and intellectuals who shout `cultural freedom` and officials in the MFE has been going for several years already.

Watching these debates, I have never understood why the people who manage our nation`s economy are so shortsighted in their perspective. May be it is because they only care about the economy and know nothing about culture. Even if they have to submit to the urgent demands of an administration at the end of its term, should they not still think about the nation`s long-term welfare?

Moreover, this administration has been more concerned about promoting the movie industry than any other administration in history. When we look back to the promises that the President made to the public during the elections, it is as if this has always been the case.

Yet, high-ranking government officials are using the conflict in the film world as an opportunity to sacrifice the screen quarter. I wonder what they will get back politically and economically for doing this.

The screen quarter will not be in existence now if filmmakers with real depth and commitments did not fight hard to keep it and public opinion put pressure to support it. The government would have immediately submitted to American demands. Old phrases like `humiliation diplomacy` and `foot mat policy` come to mind.

Why are Korean politicians and high-ranking officials trying so hard to look good to the U.S.? Do they think that they will get in really big trouble if they look bad before the American authorities (although it is not clear who these authorities are)? Or are they merely bowing to the ground because the U.S. happens to be the most powerful nation in the world? Or could it be that they see American culture as the most advanced and universal, and that our following this trend is inevitable in the global age since everyone is doing so and we can`t be the only ones left behind? They may also be thinking that there are many artistically powerful American films and that we should purchase those films instead of watching `primitive` Korean films.

We will be uttering empty mantras if we were to say things like `cultural identity` or `cultural diversity` to these people. They will think that French and other European nations` motto `cultural exception` (the idea that films and other cultural materials are connected to each nation`s cultural identity and cannot be dealt with in the same fashion as other products; the idea emerged during international negotiations on export tariffs and WTO meetings) is harmful to market principles. May be this is just my own thought.

In the eyes of a `cultural independence activist` like myself, today`s `Korean culture` or the Korea seen through its culture is nothing but the fringes of American pop culture.

Dongdoocheon, Lee Tae Won, Kangnam - the entire country is like this. It will be difficult to refute the charge that Korea is the outlands of American culture or its colony. We will have to work very hard to escape the clutches of American culture and recover cultural independence.

From this perspective, the screen quarter and the compulsory showing of Korean film is not only necessary but has symbolic meaning.

Yet, when I look at how things are going today, I wonder whether we are truly an independent nation. I feel like I`m losing it.

What is the use of crying about the screen quarter in this situation? We should just give it to George W. Bush when he visits Korea, make English our official language, change the textbooks from grade school to college in English, and then campaign to become the fifty-something state of the U.S..

Sometimes I think that there are people in Korea who wish that the U.S. will fire its high-tech missiles on the North Korean regime and destroy it overnight like Afghanistan, so that Korea can be reunited without any effort. Just thinking about this makes me shudder.

Choi Min (The Korean National University of Arts, Professor of Aesthetics)