I just returned to SG this past weekend from BAKS (British Association Korean Studies) 2008, and wanted to post as the film panel in particular intersects nicely with something posted earlier this summer. For those interested in a brief summary of the conference as a whole, please see Philip Gowman’s take at: http://londonkoreanlinks.net/2008/09/12/baks-conference-report-looking-forward-looking-back/.
To return to the issue of film, the Tuesday afternoon panel (9 / 9) offered a number of interesting film clips, one of which featured two scenes from “Homeless Angels” / 집없는 천사. To be fair, I would have to see the entire film to say more; but for now, I agree with a basic reading of the film which reads the placement of these Korean orphans in terms of a paternalistic Japanese state and ithe attempted formation of new imperial subjects through tutelage. The scene I’m referring to specifically in making this claim comes near the close of the film, and features one of the characters saluting / reciting while the Japanese flag is being raised: in effect, the perfomative force of the scene is roughly equivalent to a recruitment pitch.
The speaker / presenter also raised an interesting point in conjunction with this film–and I want to be careful, as I’m operating here on jet lag, and may be conflating points made across the entire panel–pointing to the recurring popularity of the trope of the displaced orphan, with (1) “Boys Town” featured as one of the earliest films approved and shown by USAMGIK, and with the subsequent appearance of (2) Douglas Sirk’s (1957) “Battle Hymn.”
While I’m not comfortable with making sweeping juxtapositions from the standpoint of history–would want to know much more about the circumstances underlying each of the three films before making any links–the loose observation in the previous paragraph does lend itself to some interesting comparative questions. Namely, what were the economic / social / political / communitarian ideals informing the practice of dealing with refugees (particular orphans) during and in the aftermath of the Korean War? I’m familiar with an overall take that places New Deal reformers, broadly construed, in Japan and Korea for the respective occupations, but does this suggest potentially that 1930′s American-style social welfare practices were simply mapped onto the issue of dealing with refugees and orphans? Can we complicate this further with the recognition (see Dan Rodgers and Atlantic Crossings) that much of the New Deal was informed by an eclectic set of borrowed practices from earlier European practices related to social welfare?
What I’m fumbling at here, in a none too articulate fashion, are ways of comparing the social welfare practices adopted under USAMGIK (and during the subsequent Korean War), and the comparable practices mobilized under Japanese Imperial authority only a decade or two earlier. In what ways were Americans attempting to form new subjects of Korean orphans (perhaps new “South Korean” subjects?)–if we put this to the same litmus test as the Japanese Imperium–and how were American practices distinct / different? My recollection of images of orphans from the Holt folks (see the historical introduction at the Holt International website, which links the 1955 founding of the organization to Holt’s viewing of a film about Korea) is that they were generally designated as ”Korean,” but is this an innocent designation or does it assume a case where half of the peninsula subsumes the whole?
I’m trying to do this kind of work for medicine now (looking at material and pedagogical changes in medical education pre and post war), and wondering what this might look like in a similar context. I also recognize that the question of distingiushing between categories and attributing sources of authority becomes almost hopelessly muddled, as what’s “Japanese” and ”American” is rarely clear, and there’s a signficant difference between the offical rhetoric and on the ground practice.