Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Lesson in Korean History: IU and Seotaiji's Sogyeokdong

Hello, FISHies! After a long hiatus, I am finally returning to my part in contributing to the blog with an article that may be potentially boring to a few; however, extremely informational to those who shall read it. Now without further ado, I shall explain to you the historical significance of IU and Seotaiji's newest release, 'Sogyeokdong'.

The three videos released to go along with the song each play an important part in bringing across the atmosphere and key elements of 1980's South Korea. Each expand upon one another, and the whole story cannot be understood if they are not watched all together.

Some see the video as a simple tragic love story of a young boy and girl who were parted by harsh circumstances, and though this may be true, this is only but a small section of the image that the directors/Seotaiji were trying to get across.

During the 1980's in South Korea, high political tensions arose after the coup d'etat of December Twelfth. As a result, military General, Chun Doo-Hwan, took over Korea as president

General Chun Doo-Hwan
After his gaining of power, Chun Doo-hwan enforced strict martial law over Korea: his reign put and end to democratization; minimum wage; and freedom of press. As a result, university students formed unions to protest against his unfair ways as they were tired of their needs being constantly ignored by Chun Doo-hwan.

Protests were most prominant in the Jeolla region, especially in Gwangju. On the morning of May 18, students protested at the gates of Chonnam National University as a result of it closing due to the recent expansion of martial law in the region.

A map of the Korea; the green area is the Jeolla Province
The students began by protesting peacefully; however, Chun Doo-hwan sent 30 paratroopers to the event. As a result, the two opposing forces clashed - students armed with rocks, while the paratroopers carried guns. By the end of the day, the ROKA SWC (Special Warfare Command) had sent in 686 more paratroopers to deal with the situation at hand. This event marked the beginning of the Gwangju Uprising, which ended in the defeat of the citizens on May 27th, 1980.

Now you may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with the video? And more importantly, how do you know this is what the video is trying to get across?"

Actually, it's pretty obvious that this is when the video occurs. The first piece of evidence is in the description of IU's video on the 1theK channel, which simply states that the lyrics reflect 1980's Korea.

The second piece of proof is displayed through the uniforms that the boy and his class are seen wearing in the video. They all wear uniforms that resemble those that military troops would wear. During the 80's, it was common that boys would wear such clothing at school, and is strong evidence of the importance of the military in Korea during that time period.

If you would like to read more about the Gwangju Uprising, I would advise you either read the Wikipedia article, or this one called 'Dying for Democracy'.

After getting all of that aside, I will now analyze what each part of the video represents during this time period.

The first time that we can see the girl and the guy, Song Hyun-soo (or so his nametag reads), directly interact is when the girl is seen on the streets late at night, standing by the door of her house and seeming slightly panicked upon seeing the boy. Rushing into the house, she picks up a radio from her sleeping father, being quick and quiet about it as not to wake him up. Returning back outside, she lures Hyun-soo to the steps, on which they listen solemnly to the radio.

It is important to note that during the 80's, freedom of press was limited, and stricter restrictions were enforced as a result of Chun Doo-hwan's declaration of nationwide martial law. The radio that the girl is in possession of can access frequencies which are restricted to normal citizens. Much like in North Korea today, house radios and those such as the one in the taxi at the beginning of the video are restricted to government controlled stations, a form of propoganda used to support Chun Doo-hwan's reign.

It is also important to know that during the Gwangju Uprising, the citizens were catagorized under two distinct groups: Doves, who were ready to surrender to the troops; Hawks, who would not surrender and fight until their needs were met.

The girl's father/family represent the Hawks, as they had access to information that was otherwise restricted to the rest of the citizens. It is assumed that the girl wasn't supposed to take the radio out of the house, as the father slept by it, guarding it and hiding it from plain sight as to not alert troops of its existance.

However, by taking it outside of the house and waving it around carelessly, it's possible that either troops or other citizens either saw her in possession of it, or heard the radio broadcasting speech that wasn't supposed to be accessed. This event plays a significant role in the result of the video, which will be discussed later.

As the boy walks down the street, the girl gives him a note in the form of an origami crane. Traditionally in Asian culture, cranes are thought to be signs of happiness and eternal youth, which is ironic considering the time period of the video. During the Gwangju Uprising, many of the protestors who were killed were young teenagers, who were, in spirit, given an eternal youth.

The note that he recieves reads, "Meet me when the lights go off." This refers to the curfews that were in play during the 80's. During these, most people would stay inside with the fear of being shot, but some others also took this as an opportunity to set fire to cars; broadcasting stations who had misreported the events, and tax offices. (South Korean Democracy: Legacy of the Gwangju Uprising, 167)

However, the video does not end happily as many hoped it would. The girl's father is a Hawk, therefore, if the army found out, they would track him down and try to arrest him - even kill him. The girl has exposed her family as Hawks, giving the army the information they needed so that they could make the arrest.

As she sits, possibly shortly after the boy had passed by with his class, army troops are seen running up the steps in the direction of her house. Shortly after, a scene is presented showing her father struggling with one of the army members, while she cries in the corner of the room.

As expected, when Hyun-soo goes to meet up with her, she is not at her house, as it is seemingly abandoned. The look on his face shows that he knows what could have happened, as it was very common during that time for people to be persecuted for standing up for themselves.

In short, these videos tell the struggles of the citizens, especially young teenagers, during an unfortune time in Korean history. Seotaiji has grown up during this time period, which is why he could have possibly wanted to bring attention to what his early life was like, along with shedding light on the harsh conditions of life during the 80's. Because of these videos, many people such as myself who previously did not know what had happened are now aware of the Uprising.

Personally, I find it amazing to know that such an awful event happened just over 30 years ago, and since then, Korea has changed so much. It's possible that Seotaiji wanted to show how he feels about this change, having gone through it in real life, even if only a small portion of how he must feel.

Now before I go, I must say that I'm very pleased with the song and music video. Personally, IU is one of my favorite artists, and as some of you may know, her 'Modern Times' album is among my favorites. I was fairly surprised that the song was as good as it was, and it has earned its part among my top played songs in iTunes.


  1. One thing's for sure, there's no bitch in K-Pop that is more boring, generic and just plain than the ui.
    The name's also shit.

  2. If you're interested in this particular part of history, SPEED went through similar territory with their That's My Fault/It's Over double-drama MV. A lot more violent than the IU video too.

    Part 1:
    Part 2:

    1. And a lot more interesting. :-P

    2. More violent isnt the same as more interesting. E.g. Hwayi, Monster Boy is violent, but pretty darned boring.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Gotta find some way to wash over the consumerism. ironic since the Korean music festival decided to do a advertisement act for Gwangju without mentioning it's "history" of something as horrible as this.

  5. I love this article. I think it's your best. This is definitely your strong point in my opinion!
    I know that you may not want to write like this on AKF, but if you continued to or opened up a different blog where you blogged about stuff like this, I'd most definitely read it. I'm not trying to push you or suggest anything.

    I too loved the song when it first came out, and now I love the MV even more than I did.

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed writing this article so if I find more material that is suitable to write about, I may as well continue this series, or possibly as you suggested, start up a new blog revolving around articles like this. ^^

    2. Keep it here pls, we need more articles. LOL

  6. Whenever I listen through a track that ends up being shit (Crush album, ouch) I listen to some of Modern Times to soothe my ears... It's a palate-cleanser of sorts. Thanks for explaining Sogyeokdong!

  7. Thank you for the article. I was looking for a more clear explanation when i read the song has a historical theme.

  8. is SPEED's two-parter drama MVs show the same event too?

  9. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well..

  10. So South Korea had also experienced Martial Law just like Philippines.