Before 2006, the English word frame was just a cinema terminology in Korean media. In December that year, professor Hong Seung-min wrote on Hankyoreh, “people who have gone through the Korean War understand socialism through the bbalgaeng-i(reds*) frame”, and was one of the first cases where the word was used in Korean news media as a political term. Six months later, the contemporary usage of the word was widely accepted enough for linguist George Lakoff’s Thinking Points(2006) to be published under the title “Frame War(2007)” in Korea. People talked about how liberals, or conservatives, or both, are using words – from adjectives like idealist, emotional, irrational, to newly coined terms like pro-Roh, pro-US and pro-Japan – to describe the other, often as means of attacking.
Since then, the word has never really left our headlines. Most recently, newspapers have been calling August’s national security conference on GSOMIA a “pro-Japan frame war”.
When something is called framing, we already know that it is a guaranteed source of criticism regardless of one’s political preference. The word itself implies that the aggressor is attempting to disguise reality in order to manipulate the other’s image at his favor.
While we are learned enough to cast a scornful eye on these political schemes, we often forget that framing is not just the preserve of politicians and journalists. It is something we should accuse ourselves for using on a daily basis.
Nobody has lived a life without overgeneralizing an out-group at least once. From kids from your neighboring rival school to larger groups like foreigners, capitalists, welfare recipients, we are so used to the rhetoric of defining oneself against ‘the other’.
‘That next-door private school is full of rich spoiled kids,’ you tell your friend. ‘And we’re gonna show them in this math competition that hard-work is all that matters.’
From then on, your local math competition is not just a competition, it’s a holy war against the privileged. Your neighboring school becomes not a group of different personalities but a bunch of like-minded students that is sure to have those traits of a private school kid. And most importantly, by slashing your neighbors, you assure yourself that you are not spoiled.
In an attempt to define oneself, we overgeneralize, oversimplify and demonize an out-group – an out-group that is based on one’s own fears rather than reality.
More than fifty years ago, Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book Anti-Semite and Jew (1946), claimed that the “Jew” does not exist, but is defined from the aggressor’s perspective. With not dissimilar rhetoric, the word Jew became an embodiment all the anti-Semite’s fears and negativities. It is a typical example of a modern simulacra, symbols that are so powerful that it ultimately replaces reality.
While our books have started to doubt nations are just socially constructed, our language have not developed much from WW2 times as we still have degrading nicknames for every nation.
Words can be tricky, but words are strong – strong enough to create images that doesn’t exist, enough to foster hatred against any group we decided to yield our power on.
Korea today are going through a war of words. So much of our recent social debates are about identity, and on what group you belong to, and our bad habit of using words to create sides are not going to take us anywhere. We need to create a new tradition of using words to crumble down those old, old walls.
*A word that many say that have rooted from the Russian Civil War, where the Reds supported the Bolshevik Revolution and the Whites opposed. In contemporary Korea, the term has a demeaning word that can be used toward a person that is or is suspicious of having relations with North Korea.