Youngju Ryu, Institute for the Humanities Hunting Family Faculty Fellow and associate professor of Asian Languages and Cultures, spoke to approximately 40 students and faculty in Osterman Common Room Tuesday afternoon about the role of new media in South Korea’s protest culture.
The talk was part of the FellowSpeak series, a program allowing faculty and visiting fellows to discuss their area of study outside the classroom.
Ryu discussed the history of political activism in South Korea and the relatively new influence of cultural texts in helping citizens be informed and mobilized, specifically in regards to the transition of power in South Korea in 2017.
“It was all very, very peaceful and was celebrated by press around the world,” Ryu said. “An example of very robust people’s power and democracy at a time when there is so much hand-wringing over the crisis on liberal democracy around the world and the rise of corrosive nationalism in those parts of the world where we are used to thinking about democracy.”
In May 2017, South Koreans voted a new president into office after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye on charges of political corruption. Dubbed the Candlelight Revolution, the shift toward democracy was a result of street demonstrations.
Scholars, including Ryu, credit the spark of the Candlelight Revolution to new media types, specifically the podcast. South Korean government mass censorship skipped over podcasts, meaning the people had more access to unregulated information and news than ever before. This, in turn, energized the people of South Korea and lead to the formation of “poli-tainment,” the practice of bringing politics into entertainment programs.
Business freshman Madeline Adler said she was interested in the talk because of its focus on how media engages citizens in politics.
“I’ve always been interested in program politics, especially things like this, how digital media gets people involved in their politics more,” Adler said. “I was really interested in her talk about accessibility and just talking about how the use of podcasts and satire are making politics more accessible to people and making people understand their politics more.”
Noah Bland, an Institute for the Humanities fellow, introduced Ryu at the event. Bland said this talk had a bigger turnout than similar events and noted her expertise in the area of study and her book, “Writers of the Winter Republic.”
“A few days before Thanksgiving break, we appreciate this enormous, huge crowd. It’s wonderful,” Bland said. “Her areas of research include aesthetics of dissidence, cultures of authoritarianism and philosophies of reconciliation in 20th-century Korea.”
Ryu said there was significant movement in two areas in recent history: K-Protests, a form of grassroots political activism, and K-Pop. Protestors weaved elements of K-Pop into the revolution’s message.
During the Candlelight Revolution, Ryu said people were coming up with new slogans and artwork for their protests based on global popular culture. Ryu also said one podcast in particular, “I Am a Petty Cheat,” had a large impact on generating interest in the revolution.
Throughout the event, Ryu emphasized the peaceful nature of the Candlelight Revolution. She attributed this as an explicit shift toward a new era for South Korea and is hopeful this trend will change the country’s diplomacy in the future.
“The fact that it was peaceful — not a single window was broken — even though some 16 million people came out on the streets was itself also a departure and paradigm shift from earlier histories of more violent protests,” Ryu said. “It brought about a complete change in the way South Korea has engaged with North Korea and a possible path to ending the Korean War that now seems to be a real prospect.”