Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Crucible (도가니)

From The New York Times:
Since its release on Sept. 22, 4.4 million people, including President Lee Myung-bak — nearly a 10th of the country’s population — have seen it [The Crucible]. The film has tapped into widespread anger over official reluctance to take sexual crimes seriously, and over how justice is served, or not, in South Korea.
The cabinet has vowed to inspect all facilities for the disabled and minors to ferret out teachers with records of sexual abuse. The head of the Supreme Court admitted that “society is simmering with resentment” toward a legal system long criticized as “yujeonmujoe mujeonnyujoe,” or “not guilty for the rich, guilty for the poor.” 

The film deals with the sexual abuse that occurred at the Inhwa School for the hearing impaired. Those incidents, along with the courtroom drama (no sign-language translation was provided) and the resulting sentences (some found guilty were released with suspended sentences), inspired a book of the same name by Gong Ji-young.

What's of special interest here is the foregrounding of disabled individuals as human beings who deserve some protection--or, at the very least, some recognition--from a society that often seems to prefer to forget they exist.
Here, disregard for the disabled is so entrenched that the subway authorities began installing elevators for wheelchair access only in recent years following protests by the handicapped in which they chained themselves to the tracks with signs that read, “We want to use the subway too.”
“What people see in the movie is a capsule version of their society,” said Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Sogang University. “There is anger over how the strong bully the weak, despair over how the system protects the well-connected, and fear that the same can happen to the rest of us.”
In my own classes, there are some students with various learning disabilities, and, for the most part, no special attention is paid to them by the school.

One of my students told me she was reading 도가니. She said it made her angry. I was unaware, at the time, though, just what an impact it, and the film, were having on Korean culture. For comparison sakes, if 10% of the U.S. saw a film, that would equal about a $300 million box office--which, you know, is pretty good for a socially conscious and fairly ugly  indictment of "the foul underside of society."

Koreans excel at being outraged about things (see the above mentioned chaining oneself to the tracks or the protests over imported American beef ). Let's hope this outrage does some good.


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