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At the close of 2013

Publication Date : 30-12-2013


For the Korean film industry, 2013 has been a year of bountiful harvest, with more than 200 million movie tickets sold. Koreans have watched four movies at theatres on average this year, making them among the most avid moviegoers in the world.

Film industry representatives do not hesitate to say that this year’s ticket sales boom is testimony to the high quality of Korean films, which have been improving phenomenally in recent years.

Their assessment cannot be far off the mark. Indeed, most of the local blockbusters were Korean-made films, including “Miracle in Cell No. 7”, which drew 12.8 million moviegoers. Who would like to pay to watch shoddy, boring movies?

But is it the cinematic quality alone that has drawn so many people to movie houses? Maybe not. The ticket sales may have also been boosted by the desire of so many dispirited people to escape the harsh realities of life and take refuge in movies.

Another such symptom is the handwritten protest posters that spread like wildfire earlier this month. On these wall posters, which began with an apparently disillusioned university student, are questions asking, “How are you doing, all of you?” In answer to the question, the commentators invariably have said they are not doing well.

What is driving poster writers to the point of frustration? The causes range from a smear campaign the spy agency launched against the opposition presidential candidate a year ago to the difficulty that graduating college students find in landing jobs and such social issues as the rise in the number of suicides.

As 2013 draws to a close, it may not be just university students who would like to ask how people are doing. At this time of the year, many other people, such as corporate employees, the self-employed and government officials, may be tempted to ask similar questions or more self-reflective ones, such as “How have I been doing for the past year?”

Not many are likely to say that they have been doing well. One indication of how people have been feeling in general is given by many similar questions and naysaying answers that have been posted online. Indeed, throughout the year, there were few political, economic and social developments that have made people feel good.

On the contrary, a cursory look shows why people are not feeling great about life in general.

Politics have made no substantial progress since the presidential election a year ago. Political parties are dithering over a disagreeable election legacy.

Few people have had more money to spend this year than last year. One corporation after another is restructuring itself, forcing many employees out of work. No wonder students graduating in March will have little luck finding jobs.

Primarily responsible for the low morale are politicians, more specifically the president and members of the National Assembly, who have failed to build a national consensus on issues ranging from the reform of the spy agency that is accused of meddling in domestic politics to a fairer redistribution of wealth.

President Park Geun-hye, whom critics denounce for failing to connect to people, is experiencing a decline in popularity. Moreover, she has had few achievements to boast of. Of course, this is not to deny the claim by her aides that the 10-month period since her inauguration is too short a time for her policies to produce any tangible results.

Nor is the National Assembly doing well, with the rival parties squandering time and energy over the reform of the National Intelligence Service, whose agents wrote online smear comments against the opposition presidential candidate. As a consequence, the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party have had little time to address such pressing, down-to-earth problems as the upsurge in the cost of renting homes.

Their inaptitude explains why a political party that is in the process of being created by an independent lawmaker, Ahn Cheol-soo, comes close in popularity to the Saenuri Party and runs well ahead of the Democratic Party, as a recent Gallup Korea poll shows. The opposition party brushes the finding aside, claiming it to be a passing phenomenon. What if this dismissal proves to be nothing but wishful thinking?

To the chagrin of President Park and her party, the economy is of no help in boosting their approval ratings. It has a long way to go until it grows to the desired level. Though the central bank said earlier that the growth rate for this year would reach 2.9 per cent, the nation may have to prepare for slower growth. The Korea Economic Research Institute on Thursday lowered its forecast to 2.6 per cent.

Stunted growth means marginal increases in pay, or none at all. It also means a paucity of jobs, in particular for those fresh out of school. Who would feel happy with hardly any money in his pocket or going a long time without a job? None of these people should be blamed for indiscretion if they are tempted to shout, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

A modicum of solace may be found in pop culture - one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dark and dreary landscape is the entertainment industry. In addition to movies, other areas of pop culture such as pop music and TV dramas have done well this year.

Now it is time to say goodbye to 2013. But before bidding adieu, many would undoubtedly like to call on the nation’s political leaders and political parties to strive to ensure that they will be able to say next year that they are better off than in 2013.


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