Sunday, August 28, 2022

K-drama: Is the Tao (of K-drama) inherently subversive?

My mentor, Rod Wallace, always reminds me that Confucius said to strip the peasants' of their wealth every ten years to prevent them for gaining too much power. He compares this to the policies of the US government that had displaced poor populations on average every ten years. We called this process "serial forced displacement." 

Confucius, it is said, met Lao-Tzu, who is credited with being the founder of Taoism. The two reflect, I think, a fairly deep contradiction between religions that authorize empire and those that strive for inclusion and balance. Buddhism was the dominant religion of Korea, but Confucianism pushed it aside, and became the justification for further class and gender oppression. For example, women lost many of their rights, such as the right to own land. Such traditions have lost some, but not all, of their power. The restoration of balance -- in opposition to Confucianism -- calls for new philosophies. Those, in turn, take from the older religious ideas, including shamanism, Taoism and Buddhism.  

K-drama is fascinated by this trope in the culture. Romance is a Bonus Book, for example, examines the profound difficulties of a woman trying to reenter the workforce after staying home with her child. Misaeng deals with the struggles of young man trying to enter the business world without formal education. Itaewon Class deals with a young man who, having spent time in prison, is working to get on his feet and avenge the death of his father. He is highly stigmatized for having been convicted of a crime. He is joined by others who are ostracized by Korean society, including a transwoman and an African man. Their ultimate triumph is built on their ability to include others. 

The concept of the Tao is that everything -- everything in the world -- is included and in relationship. The Itaewon five-some represent the force of inclusion in the face of the exclusions of the larger society. We could interpret the success of the group as a modest shift -- what they want is to become capitalists like the dominant group in society. 

But some ideas are so powerful that they actually shift the whole world. One example is the idea of "inequality." This idea was developed and promulgated by the ruling oligarchy of the southern colonies -- Virginia, South Carolina, etc -- to justify the institution of slavery. It was inserted into every system of the society. Bishop Rev William Barber has described this as the "seven sins of the United States." This "inequality" has been countered by the concept of "equality," with some success. More recently the concepts of diversity and inclusion -- which are the heart of the Tao -- have been put forward. 

What happens when an idea like "inclusion" starts to work in a society in a time like this? As the world is in deep crisis because of our abuse of the ecosystem, we are forced to rethink our relationship to the All, and certainly to the sentient beings. Once we start to ask about sentience -- as an example -- the ground shifts under our feet. All people -- including ex-convicts, orphans, Africans and transwomen and men are sentient -- of course. But whales and dolphins are also sentient, and so are dogs and cats. Trees, it seems, communicate via networks of fungi, so that the whole system of the forest is perhaps a sentient being. There is no stopping an idea whose time has come, and this is the moment in which "inclusion" is moving into that space. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

T-drama: Starring Teo and Taiwan

Sometimes we are watching a show and get to meet a really special person -- in this case, watching A Thousand Goodnights and meeting Nicholas Teo. Teo is a Malaysian Chinese actor and singer who works in Taiwan. He stars in the 2019 Taiwan series, and sang on the soundtrack. The show, despite its many strengths, is confused and confusing. Teo stands at its center, holding it together with his spirit. The character he is playing is able to take in advice on his own unhappy family situation, at the same time as he is able to ferret out the problems in other's lives and help them move on. His gentle persistence in supporting others is heartening. It is in his very special smile and careful gestures that he communicates his faith in relationship. He holds up values of love and independence. He is constantly fending off his mother's desires for his life. At one point, he says very firmly, "Will you stop using emotional blackmail?" He chips away at her impossible position, which liberates them both. In addition to the warmth of his acting, I love the song he sings, Holy Tree

One critic said that the confusion of the show could best be understood by acknowledging that the show is really a Valentine to Taiwan. It uses the wonderful aerial photography of Chi Po-lin, whose 2013 film, Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above, won many awards. It addressed the environmental crisis of the world, as well as the beauty of Taiwan. The shots are so breathtaking and charming that I could not help but wish to visit Taiwan.  At a fraught time in the history of the island, it is good to get to know the people and the place in contention.