Bwi~! and Buyeo Wives, &c.

That’s a word I think I made up myself, in Korean. At least, I’ve never heard anyone else say it, though Lime told me it sounds like the mopey protestation of a five-year-old. 븨~!

This word is occasioned because my Sado Seja story did not make it into the Datlow/Mamatas anthology Haunted Legends. I’m sure competition was fierce, though, and they’re good editors. If only Nick had had the time to savage the story, I’d have learned a lot, I imagine. (But who has time?)

Anyway, I’m going to do what I often don’t do… send the story out immediately. I think it’s a good piece, I think it’s ready for publication, it just needs to land upon the right desk. So out it goes in the mail tomorrow. (Along with another long-deferred postal obligation.)

I’m thinking of revising my nasty Xmas story, “Solvjaynghi’s Christmas Wish,” a little bit — I think there are some elements that are hollowed-out in it that don’t need to be, and a little tinkering would render the factories more vivid.

By the way, I learned a few things about the history of the Korean legal systems system today. Did you know that back in the Buyeo Kingdom, the standard penalty for wives who were found guilty of adultery, or of “jealousy” (!!!) with regard to their husbands, was death? (Apparently their remains were strewn about the mountains; that, or they were abandoned in the mountains to die; the text wasn’t explicit on this.) That’s a pretty amazing double standard, but people took it for granted in many places — not just here, but in similar form in many societies — for a long, long time. Which is a reminder that no matter what you think, no matter what remains to be done, many societies — including Korean society — have come a hell of a long way towards sanity in the last few thousand years.

Are there people still trying to stay in that world, and keep their kids trapped in that world? Yes, there are. They’re a minority, but they exist, and they’re increasingly embattled by the coolness and fun of living in a modern, open society. Failure’s in the air for people like that — it’ll take centuries, maybe a few millennia, but they won’t win. They can’t.

How can you win in an argument between, “Let’s live in the Bronze Age!” and “I wanna live the way I wanna live!” You simply can’t, especially when kids in a technological world have more doors open to them. Control-freak states will block the internet; people will find a way hack around it, like they did in Burma till the whole telecom system got shut down (temporarily). Control-freak states will ban DVDs (as in quasi-theocratic North Korea, where a dead man serves as quasi-religious sock-puppet to his son rules as Witch-King President); people will hide the DVD players under the floorboards. Every generation will be successively a little more hungry for whatever else is on offer on planet Earth, and the rest of the Earth will be just a little more eager to share the cheap, wacky fun.

And yeah, big businesses will do their best to commercialize it, and yeah, there’ll be inane beauty pageants and sex-based advertising and reality TV (or whatever lame crap people think up next) and all the rest, and yeah, there’s bound to be a lot of monkeybrain stupidity in the mix. And maybe the thing won’t be sustainable over a long, long time. (Entertainment like we have today requires energy resources like we may not still have in some non-immediate tomorrow.) And our instinctual dependency on whichever local primate has ascended to the top of the local hierarchy leaders probably won’t disappear. We’ll still want leaders, in the general sense of “we.” We just will laugh when they try to micromanage our world, or do more than set up trash collection schedules and talk nicely or nastily to the other local primate at the top of other local hierarchies nations’ leaders.

I think that the idea that people can choose things for themselves, that their tastes can vary as individuals and they have the right to choose what you or I wouldn’t, is so simple and seductive, so infectious, so natural to those same crazed monkeybrains of ours that eventually, I believe, it simply has to displace everything else. Mostly because it’s like a virus set loose from its Pandora Box-like petrie dish, and the people who are against all of that are seriously lacking in the creative imagination it would take to truly extinct the idea of freedom.

I don’t think I’m being naive, though maybe it seems I’m being optimistic. Are there people or groups who hate this freedom? Well, yes — they hate it for others, that is, usually not for themselves. (The tiny, mentally-ill fringe minority who hate it for themselves alike are the scariest people in the world, aside from psychopaths.) But you know in Buyeo, someone who dressed and behaved like Lee Hyori would have been fed to the tigers in the mountains (or maybe made a concubine to some powerful rich old guy):

Hyori being "Hyorish," to riff on the new album's title... from
Hyori being "Hyorish," to riff on the title of her new CD. Source:

Nowadays, not only is her society throwing money at her by the fistful — there’s nobody who seriously thinks she doesn’t have the right to do what she’s doing and become wealthy in the process. Nobody seriously thinks that this particular cat could ever go back into the bag.

Well, nobody in the (relatively) free world. (I’m not American, mind, I don’t mean that as in “the free world,” I mean it as those parts of the world where this wondrous infection is most concentrated.) It’s lonely, outside of this wonderful world we live in, isn’t it?

10 thoughts on “Bwi~! and Buyeo Wives, &c.

  1. Things like Entertainment like we have today requires energy resources like we may not still have in some non-immediate tomorrow and whichever local primate has ascended to the top of the local hierarchy are the sort of stuff I grouse about and everyone who knows me just smiles and nods at the grouch. Its somehow satisfying to see other folks getting frustrated about the same things that drive me wild, even while said things aren’t improving…I guess that’s a primate thing too?

    I think that the idea that people can choose things for themselves, that their tastes can vary as individuals and they have the right to choose what you or I wouldn’t, is so simple and seductive, so infectious, so natural to those same crazed monkeybrains of ours that eventually, I believe, it simply has to displace everything else

    Does it? Because another thing (which is uniquely human I suspect) is that in some societies some folks seem to need to deny these preferences to gain a sense of belonging and feel safe, both from their own desires and what they imagine of the desires of others. Not just scary people here, but scared ones. Allowing another person or persons or a book or philosophy ultimate power over your life can be freeing for people who either don’t have the tools or aren’t willing to engage with reality in all its complexity, horror, and beauty. Actually, I guess that is monkeybrains again. After all, we’re affiliative herd animals of a sort, like our relatives the chimps. Perhaps different sides of the monkeybrain war with one another, and that’s how we all end up being different just like everyone else… ( :

  2. Yeah, I think it’s a primate thing to be pleased when you see others frustrated at the same things that frustrate you. It’s kind of… well, long short answer, memes being widely spread is something we like, right? There’s a kind of gratifying identification we feel with people who seem to agree with us about something. The long answer is probably some hunk of Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine, but needing a few caveats and all that.

    Sometimes I think the people who are scariest (and who are not outright psychopathic) are the most scared. The panic and terror at, well, the world drives them to force everyone to obey and agree and nod and whatever.

    But yeah, I like to think that the basic idea of freedom of choice in one’s life is something that will wipe everything else out, functionally, because that’s what will fuel the kinds of advances that will put effective independence in more hands faster. A society that thinks all women should be relegated to the home loses half its geniuses, and half its potential advances, but the losses are probably much more than that, when you total up how much of human advancement relies on teamwork, on dissent and requirements of clarification, and the rest.

    Basically, the people who are free will have the best parties, will network better, will come up with neater junk to play with that turns into world-changing stuff, because of the diversity in their interests and voluntary occupations. (Whereas the other people will burn off a significant amount of time in whatever their community requires of them to do in order to conform.)

    Then again, maybe it’s an interface of the two that pushes change? ARPAnet wasn’t just scientists, right? Maybe the push and pull is necessary. But if we ever manage to render resources relatively less scarce somehow — really functional fabbers and home food synth vats and the like — then maybe that’ll be different.

    Or maybe that’s what Iain M. Banks missed, in The Culture. maybe all that existential crisis would spur a new fundamentalist fanaticism theretofore unknown. (It seems to me Nancy Kress had bits of that in her novella in One Million A.D., “Mirror Image.” (Maybe Banks has it in later books, too, I haven’t read them all.)

  3. Hello Sir !!
    Whats your opinion of Lee Hyori ?

    I hope you don’t think of her negatively , because she’s a good person .

    Some people criticize her way too much because of her sexy image ..
    I saw many of her interviews etc , and she really come off as a nice person to be with .

  4. aa,

    Thanks for your comment and question. Hmmm. I don’t think I actually have an opinion of Hyori, to be honest — or any other pop stars. (Well, with one exception, which I’ll mention below.)

    I think the phenomenon and discussion surrounding Hyori is more interesting than Hyori herself. Besides agreeing that, yeah, she’s a pretty girl, I don’t have much opinion about her individually at all. To me, she’s just one pop star among many pop stars. Probably the way you think of Bruce Willis or Halle Berry, if you’re Korean. You know what I mean? Just so far away from you mentally and emotionally, and kind of irrelevant.

    It’s pointless to try figure out whether she’s nice from her interviews, though, for two reasons:

    1. What does “nice” mean? I mean, sometimes I’m nice, sometimes I’m grumpy. People are more complicated than just “nice” or “not nice,” right? Grumpy, shy, tired, funny, sarcastic. I do put a few people into the “total jerk” category in my mind, but very few.

    2. Hyori’s business model is selling Hyori. I mean, even when her CDs don’t do well, like the last one did, she’s still popular. She’s still a star because she sells her “star quality,” which is her looks but also her “persona.” You know what I mean by persona? Like how, when you talk to a professor, you put on the “good student” persona? Or when you talk to your mom, you might put on a “good child” persona? And when you talk to your close friends, you feel like you’re just being yourself? Hyori, in her interviews, HAS TO present a nice persona, since her persona as a star is her main commodity — the thing she is selling and making money with. (After all, she’s not an actor, she’s just an okay singer, and for someone who depends on her looks, she is slowly getting older. (I think pop stardom in Korea is harder for women to hold onto than for women in the West, too.) So of course she seems nice in interviews… she has to do it! That, at least, tells us that she is smart, or someone smart is managing her. (Maybe both.)

    Anyway, I certainly don’t criticize her because of her “sexy” persona… I wouldn’t necessarily praise it either, but I think it’s inevitable in a world with men and women that some women will strategically choose to show skin and present themselves in a “sexy” way to earn money or fame or whatever. It’s sociobiology in action, really — how human instincts give society its shape and characteristics from a deep level.

    The fact that so many people criticize her for it is also inevitable: feminists will criticize her resorting to makign money from their sexuality (because why can’t a woman become rich or powerful based on anything besides her looks) but at the same time, social conservatives will blame her for the changes in how young women are dressing. (Which is silly, since young women are dressing more freely for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with Hyori, and I think the real anxiety anyway is more about the increasingly assertive trend among young women.)

    Like I said, I find the Hyori-in-Korean-culture phenomenon much more interesting than Hyori herself. And I think the changes in Korean society that make her career possible — that make it possible for her to actually build a career on presenting a self-assertive, single-woman persona — are good. 100 or 150 years ago, a Hyori would be impossible — including both the stuff people might disagree about, and also the good stuff that progressives alike (feminist, moderate, or otherwise) can agree on.

  5. I am Russian , and i live in NY city .
    I immigrated to America when i was 13 years old ,and 23 years old now .

    I am still little bad in English .I like Korea and their women ..

    I read a lot of Hyori’s translated to English interviews .I don’t know Korean .Only few words like Saranghe and Cre !!

  6. Aha, I see! Don’t worry about your English, it’s no big deal.

    Well, I think the idea that “Korean men are sexist” is a generalization, though it’s a popular generalization for a reason. The Grand Narrative is, I think, the blog where this is being most discussed, these days, and the link is to a post on the topic of gender empowerment measures and the government’s attitudes towards womens’ issues.

    A rough measure would be: the older, richer, less-educated, or dumber a man is, the more likely he is to be “social conservative” here, which includes a fair number of notions about women. And in fact, the same goes with women: a certain amount of sexism here is woman-to-woman, too, like in any society.)

    That also means there’s a number of men here who aren’t old, dumb, super-rich: most of these guys are relatively more progressive.

    Things are changing here, but it’s still the case that a woman’s looks matter more than they should, that pregnancy terminates a lot of careers, that work is still largely distributed unfairly in a household (but that’s true in the West too), and that at parties, when there’s a bunch of food, often it’s women who are expected to cook it, and to clean up after.

    On the other hand, things are slowly getting better: a lot of women are embracing the idea that having daughters is a desirable thing; more women are free to choose a career (along with, or instead of, marriage), women are outperforming men routinely in certain areas of education (anecdotally, women are killing men in the classroom, though I’m not sure that’s reflected in their post-educational careers), and young women seem to be more and more free to choose more of what they’d like, as a new consumer culture oriented at young women seems to be taking form.

    There’s bad too, though: a plastic surgery craze and obsession with looks, a lot of women finding that tey are stuck being single if they want a career, different standards for female celebrities than for male ones.

    I don’t know. I guess it’s like the American stereotype about Russians — I’m sure you can name a few, and some of them are sorta true, but not true of all Russians, right? It’s like that.

  7. I am kinda curious of why so many Korean girls act cute ?

    Is it cultural ?
    In US sexiness is usually norm,but you don’t see 30 or 40 years old women showing piece signs and making faces !!
    Is it norm in Korea to act cute and innocent ?

  8. aa,

    Yes, it is cultural. As someone has noted somewhere, Korea is to cute as America is to “edgy.” The effort to be cool, hip, or sexy in the West is roughly comparable to the effort to be cute here. Some Koreans have adopted the Western preference for cool over cute, partly in rebellion or partly through experience, but there is something very important about being cute here.

    What’s interesting to me is to what degree cuteness is protestatory whining coexist. You hear a lot of people here whining about things — I mean, making protestatory statements in a conversation, that sound like whining. Both the “whining” and the cuteness seem to me to be a mode of self-deprecation: a way of making oneself smaller and lesser, so that one has more freedom to dispute, to differ, or whatever.

    But I also think it’s partly just learned aesthetics. If you’re in a culture where cuteness is everything, then you start really being interested in cuteness. And cuteness is such a big deal here. Even the cops in Korea are represented by a cute cartoon character.

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