ljlee: why not? (conch)
It's not often that a science fiction TV episode gets my academic side berserk with excitement. I mean, even I have to admit a TV show about aliens and spaceships that goes on and on about theories of law and economics and social justice would be dull.

"Captive Pursuit," however, is notable for punching me right in the ivory tower without being dull at all. Hoo boy, is it not.

Let's see if I can make the review not-dull as well. )

Though this is very much an O'Brien episode, the rest of the regular cast played lively supporting roles. I particularly liked how the script built up to Sisko's crucial assist of O'Brien by showing the Commander's sense of timing beforehand. It was as though the station were a symphony, an endeavor of cooperation and trust conducted by a virtuoso. That trust didn't budge even when Sisko chewed O'Brien's head off at the end for his actions. If the result of such ability and camaraderie is an episode like "Captive Pursuit," that's certainly the kind of music I'd like to hear more of.
ljlee: Lee Yo-weon during a break in the filming (deokman)
I just watched a KBS History Special episode that talked about the old Korean tradition of men wearing earrings--and we're talking OLD tradition, like a thousand proven years old. Earrings for men and women were found all over Korea, from the riverside trash heaps of the Stone Age to sixth-century graves of high-ranking men to graves of officials in the 15th or 16th century.

Below are earrings from the grave of King Muryeong, who ruled Baekje (in southwest Korea) from the late fifth century to the early sixth:

baekje earrings

The custom of men wearing earrings was not one that either the Chinese or Japanese shared. In fact, during the Korea-Japan war of the late 16th century, the hole in the earlobe was one way to distinguish between Korean and Japanese men. So if a Japanese soldier brought in a bunch of trophy ears claiming to have killed this many Koreans and a lot of the ears had unmarked lobes, he would be suspect for cutting off the ears of his Japanese comrades to exaggerate his achievements. Similarly, Koreans were on the lookout for Japanese spies, whose distinguishing marks included unpierced ears.

Here's a related story from a seventeenth century book, Eo-u-ya-dam (於于野譚). A Korean translator was in China with his diplomatic mission when he heard about a courtesan who was so proud she wouldn't accept foreign men as clients. Since this translator spoke Chinese like a native, he was pretty sure he could pass as one. He went to her dressed like a Han Chinese man, and she almost fell for it--until she saw the pierced holes in his earlobes and recognized him as a Korean man. Oh well, can't win 'em all, tiger.

earrings in the Choson period
Silver earrings of a design discovered in a 15th or 16th century official's grave

Earrings on men were officially banned in the the sixteenth century, when the king gave an edict to punish men who wore them. Why? Earlier, a Chinese envoy at court had called earrings on men a barbaric custom. You have to look at the context; China was being harried by the Xianbei, a federation of nomadic tribes whose warriors wore--you guessed it--earrings. Ming China was also under pressure from the Qing, a kingdom founded by Manchurians who also wore earrings.

Yup, Korean men's ear-adorning ways were from our roots as nomads in North Asia. And it probably didn't sit well with the Chinese that their polite "little brother" country, the one who had taken so eagerly to Chinese ways, still carried reminders of a fiercer past right on the ears.

The measure against earrings worked about as well as fashion bans tend to, meaning not very well. But whether from the ban or other factors, the custom faded out over time. It's still pretty cool though, that for all we think Choson men were so straight-laced and boring, they actually had that fashionable flair--and that it wasn't sissy at all, but a blast from the past that could make even China uncomfortable. Or made Chinese prostitutes shun them. There's a downside to everything.

But on the upsiiiide... (from the TV show Iljimae)
ljlee: (Default)
Previously in Part 1, I have discussed how strong beliefs are the cornerstone of Fire Nation cultural traits. In this part I will discuss the other, darker side of that dedication: The sacrifice that such passion entails.

Sacrifice in Fire Nation culture, or why Zuko got his face burned off )
ljlee: (Default)
* Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] fairladyz2005 for being kind enough to look this essay over prior to posting. Her comments and insights made it a much stronger work.

Ah, Fire Nation, Evil Empire of the Avatar series. What to say about your war-mongering ways and colonialism, your racism and destruction of whole cultures, your red-and-black décor that screams evil in such style?

In which I try to make my point with fart jokes and shipping rants )
ljlee: (Default)
Continuing from Part 1 of the essay about the combination of steadfastness and dynamism that makes the Earth Kingdom so formidable, this second part of the Earth Kingdom culture essay is an examination of its diversity and ultimately identity.

Identity and Pride in Earth Kingdom Culture )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
1. What It Is to Be Free: Aang and the Spirituality of the Air Nomads
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes
3. Stand Strong, Stand Proud: Earth Kingdom Resilience and Identity

The Earth Kingdom is a vast place. If you take a look at the map of the Avatar world, the Earth Kingdom takes up like two-thirds of the inhabited world and likely more with the destruction of the Air Nomads. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of the story of Avatar takes place in the Earth Kingdom, since much of Book 1: Water is about Aang and his friends traveling north through the Earth Kingdom.

How to summarize that sprawling group into a few words? )
ljlee: (Default)
In Part 1 of this essay we examined the cultural values of the Water Tribes and how they affected the story of Avatar. Now let us take a look at the darker side of Water Tribe culture and how the Tribes worked through it as a society and as individuals.

Bring me all your chauvinists! )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes

The Water Tribes come across as a people of contrasts. On the one hand they seem to be the great communitarians, valuing their communal ties and the bonds of family and friendship. On the other hand we have seen how oppressive that community can be in the Northern Water Tribe arc at the end of Book 1, when teenage girls were forced into arranged marriages and the role of women was strictly proscribed. How do we explain this seeming contradiction?

The characters show similar contradictions... )
ljlee: (Default)
In Part 1 of this essay I have discussed the contours and contradictions of Air Nomad culture and how it influenced Aang and other air Nomad characters. Now I continue with a more in-depth discussion of their cultural values through Aang's story.

Returning was the just the beginning of Aang's journey for the meaning of freedom. Also, Star Wars! )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
1. What It Is to Be Free: Aang and the Spirituality of the Air Nomads
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes
3. Stand Strong, Stand Proud: Earth Kingdom Resilience and Identity
4. Burn for My Belief: The Fire Nation and the Courage of Conviction
5. Subcultures and Conclusion

My account of Air Nomad culture is basically a story of one character, Aang. We know of others such as Monk Gyatso, Avatar Yang Chen, and other monks in flashback scenes from "The Storm," but as far as we know Aang is the last of the Air Nomads. His struggles to find the meaning of freedom and spirituality, while an individual story, is also about the culture he was raised in, its values, perspectives, and flaws. In a very real sense, his culture lives on through him.

In this essay I'll examine the idea of freedom. And Star Wars comes into it somehow. )


ljlee: (Default)
L.J. Lee

June 2016

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