Saturday, October 14, 2006

Disappointed Ancestors

I just saw the first episode of the third season of Battlestar Galactica and it got me thinking about the way the world changes. The series starts with an apocalyptic attack by the Cylons (robots created by humans) that cuts the human race down to 50,000 people on the run in a ragtag fleet of spaceships. The second season opened up the world of the Cylons a little bit to show them to be an idealistic young race that destroyed the humans on orders from their god (they're both monotheistic and very evangelical) and have had a change of heart and now want to bring the light of god to the human race, which is polytheistic and extremely close to the godless urban/coastal America that I grew up in. Anyway, the humans camped out on a planet, built a little squatter's camp, and one year later were found and occupied by the Cylons.
So as the third season begins, the Cylons are obviously the in over their heads optimistic Americans and the downtrodden, now extremely radicalized humans are any number of peoples not American. Thus, a setup for brilliant drama, in which you have an American (and I presume international) audience rooting for an insurgent group built on the ruins of a dismantled military who use killings, bombs, and similar terror to convince the Cylons to leave them alone in their wretched new city and stop helping them into the future.
So, that got me thinking about all the historical figures who would look at the country of which they are either a hero or a founding father and shake their heads in shame. This could be for any number of reasons. Surely William Wallace would consider his own life to have been a failure, in that Scotland is now completely subsumed into the United Kingdom. The rugged individualists who built our big-ass country would no doubt cringe if taken to a strip mall (that goes for every country that's had a sweet Amerrrican fairy dust kiss). Certainly the people who wrote the constitution had another thing in mind when they made up all that stuff about "rights". The mighty Samurai of Japan would no doubt be disgusted at the leveling of Japanese culture, as would the Yangban of Korea.
The case of the Yangban is a particularly sad one, in my opinion. The Yangbans, literally "the two halves", were the noblemen of Korea, so named because they were lined up on the two sides of the King's court. They were typically Asian nobles, in that they praised refinement and learning as paramount. Unfortunately, refinement and culture have not survived into the modern world, and in fact, are probably antithetical to Democracy. If the history of Korea were a Rodney Dangerfield movie, then the snobs would have been essentially obliterated by the Japanese occupation and, when that period ended, the entire country essentially left to the slobs. This is shocking to me because I am American and we never really had much more than aristocratic aspirants, but I'm sure those in European countries with formerly rich high culture would report a similar phenomenon. The really sad thing is that the Yangban are remembered in Korean popular culture as a bunch of snobby assholes. For example, the Yangban disdained physical movement and exercise, preferring quiet contemplation. One common claim is that the Yangban were such uppity pricks that they wouldn't even run if their house was on fire.
Every time I hear this story I'm reminded of the book 1984, in which the capitalists are recalled as an extinct creature who lived off the sweat of others and always wore ridiculous top hats. That's the paintroller version of capitalism in a socialist dystopian future.

No comments: