Saturday, November 20, 2021

K-drama: Cream Rises

In my twenties I was obsessed with The Whole Earth Catalog. I studied its pages and imagined doing all the crafts and activities laid out on the pages. I really enjoyed the inset boxes labeled "Cream Rises." These underscored items that were special in one way or another. As milk that had not been homogenized was something we had from time to time, cream rising was a vivid image for me. 

I recently re-watched Romance is a Bonus Book, a K-drama that tackles discrimination against mothers in the workplace. It is built around the transformation of Cha Eun-ho and Kang Dan-i's lifelong friendship into romance. There is one scene that rises in my memory, like cream rises from milk, to borrow from Stewart Brand: Cha Eun-ho's celebration scene.   

Dan-i, struggling to get back into the force after raising a child, hides her qualifications to get a job at the publishing house co-founded by Eun-ho. When her omission is discovered, she is forced out against Eun-ho's strenuous opposition, and after she anonymously enters a contest for new publishing ideas. On the day that the contest winner is to be revealed, Eun-ho sits at the computer to link the winning entry to the entrant's name. He reads it, abruptly stands up, says, "I'm going to get some coffee," and walks out of the room, leaving his colleagues to learn the news for themselves.  

Eun-ho goes to the office kitchen, puts a pod of coffee in the coffee maker, and begins to take in the delightful news that "oori Dan-i" has triumphed in this way. He shakes his head in disbelief, he grins, he does her favorite power pose, and finally just lays his head down on his arms in delight at the magical affirmation that has been offered -- balm to the suffering of the woman he loves. 

I think Eun-ho's savoring of Dan-i's triumph is key to the whole situation story.  It is, indeed, a story of "cream rising," as Dan-i over and over again shows her skills and commitment. Yet the social opposition because she is re-entering the workforce nearly kills her. The story, in giving her an opening, asks the Korean futurist question, "What if we give people a chance?" The answer is clearly magical. It reminds me of a review in the Times of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which asks the Afrofuturist question, "What if we hadn't destroyed Seneca Village, the black community leveled to make Central Park?" 

If we don't destroy people -- if we love them and give them a chance -- we will blossom and have joy unimaginable, just as Cha Eun-ho has in Dan-i's affirmation. 

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