Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, University of California – Los Angeles
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This paper examines the political perspective of alternative online videos as a new mode of everyday pedagogy where individuals publish alternative standpoints on a certain social issue and mobilize others. As an exemplar, I argue how YouTube videos on Korea’s candlelight movement in 2008 helped achieve people’s grassroots mobilization efforts for their voluntary, non-violent participation, exhibiting popular, public sentiment against the Korean government’s policy on importing U.S. beef. Examining how female protesters constructed their political agency via online communication, this paper further maintains that videos require rethinking the conventional roles of media spectacles that (re) produces the dominant ideology. Thus, with a critical dimension of the popular online videos, this paper contributes to providing media practitioners as well as media scholars with an innovative perspective on a dialectical relationship between popular culture, media technologies, and sociopolitical mobilization within specific cultural, social, and political contexts.
YouTube, Learning from YouTube, Online DIY Culture, Critical Pedagogy, Female Political Agency, Social Movement Mobilization, Korean Candlelight Movement
Examining the pedagogic value of individuals’ video-sharing activities online, I will analyze how alternative videos on Korea’s candlelight movements in 2008 update a notion of grassroots collective action mobilization and how the traditionally marginalized political subjects such as teenage school-girls and stay-home mothers come to exercise their political agency in the age of Web 2.0. With YouTube’s phenomenal success, ordinary people’s competence in producing alternative media representations has been revolutionalized, suggesting a new perspective on the intersection between popular culture, pedagogic practices, and political participation in everyday lives. When it comes to the notion of communicative action as a mutual, persuasive process between interlocutors, YouTube’s technological attributes help individuals become active agents of popular pedagogy in the Internet culture of Do-It-Yourself (DIY).1 Especially, with online social-networking applications’ thriving capacity to associate individuals with voluntary, grassroots organizations based on specific interests and concerns, YouTube’s contribution to the democratization of media spectacle begets a significant political implication for direct democratic participation. In other words, alternative YouTube videos can rekindle the classic idea of freedom of expression as a fundamental condition for democratic, participatory governance, when everyday netizens publish alternative political perspectives and mobilize others on certain issues by producing online videos. In this respect, Korean people’s active appropriation of online videos during the 2008 candlelight protests substantiated the key value of online DIY video’s pedagogic and political potential, since they played crucial roles as citizen-journalists and movement organizers/ mobilizers. Thus, by doing so, I believe that they set an example for how to participate in politics, not as a patronizing process of the “elitist’s top-down model,” but as Dewey’s (1954) self-governing mode of everyday participation.2
Since there is a dialectical relationship between online DIY videos and political participation (Kellner & G. Kim, 2009; 2010; G. Kim, 2009; 2010a), alternative YouTube videos on the candlelight movements demand a more acute analysis on the medium’s mobilizing competence when utilized by a critical mass of socially conscious people. However, there is a dearth of academic endeavors that examine the sociopolitical as well as pedagogic power of alternative online videos that provides traditionally marginalized people with viable means to mobilize voluntary collective action by publishing their grievance, concern, and agendas. Though there are some scholarly undertakings on YouTube’s role in pedagogic and political participation, they are confined either to the liberal-functionalist paradigm that regard YouTube as an effective instructional tool in the given social condition (Trier, 2007), or to the pessimistic perspective that is skeptical of the medium’s transformative potential for grassroots movement mobilization (Juhasz, 2009; van Dijck, 2009). When it comes to a dialectic relationship between communicative action, pedagogic practice, and social transformation, however, I aim to establish a critical pedagogic rationale that necessitates the utilization of the popular medium of DIY online video production as a common provision for sociopolitical participation. Specifically, by critically reviewing Juhasz’s (2009) report on YouTube’s pedagogic incorporation in her Cinema Studies course, I reconceptualize the medium’s innate potential as a means of political participation. Thus, this paper’s investigation into alternative YouTube videos on Korea’s nationwide demonstrations, for example, Jay Kim’s YouTube videos, Secret of Koreans' Protest Against US Mad Cow Beef3 and Shall We Protest: Chotbul Documentary4 will provide media practitioners as well as media scholars with an innovative perspective on a dialectical relationship between online DIY culture, critical pedagogy,5
and social movement mobilization within specific cultural, social, and political contexts.
Wise Masses against an Authoritarian, Neoliberal Regime
On April 17, 2008, representatives from the Korean Ministry of Agriculture signed a trade agreement on resuming U.S. beef imports that were banned in 2003 because there was an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the so-called mad-cow disease, from cows in Washington. The meat contained suspicious materials, which could have caused mad-cow disease in Korea. Though the previous ban was imposed based on finding bone particles that raised serious inspection problems in screening the quality of U.S. beef, the agreement continued to allow importing specified risk materials (SRMs) such as the brain, skull, eyes, and spinal cord of cattle 30 months of age and older that contain BSE-causing prion,6 an infectious agent of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which could cause outbreaks of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) for human beings. Yet, there has not been clinical evidence that indicates a link between eating the meat and vCJD. However, since the U.S. is recognized as a “BSE-controlled risk” country by the World Organization for Animal Health,7 the Korean people were anxious about the fact that sixty-five nations have kept full or partial restrictions on U.S. beef imports. This was due to unsatisfactory BSE inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture8 and the fact that some of the SRMs, which are classified as unfit for human food, are the key ingredient for Sul Rong Tang, one of the most popular foods in Korea. An allegation that lifting the ban on U.S beef was a precondition for the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement made Korean people even angrier because they would be the major victims of such neoliberal policies. Despite the Korean government’s serious mistakes over negotiation procedures entailing the unfair trade agreement, it neither admitted them nor made an official apology. Rather, the administration blamed MBC, a Korean broadcasting company, accusing it of deliberately exaggerating or distorting information about mad-cow disease when airing PD Notebook, a Korean version of CBS’s 60 Minutes. The show examined the dangers of consuming US beef for its potential cause of vCJD. Right after the PD Notebook’s investigation, massive public anger against the current administration flooded throughout the nation. The current President Lee Myung-Bak’s arrogant attitude created nation-wide resentment, leading to one of the country’s largest anti-government protests since the downfall of military dictatorship (Choe, 2008). During the period of the candlelight movements, there were many grassroots, alternative online videos that documented the Lee administration’s anti-public behaviors and policies, as well as Lee’s personal scandals.9
In Korea, candlelight vigils became a code word for non-violent, voluntary grassroots mobilizations since 2002. When two 13-year-old school-girls were killed by an U.S Army’s armored vehicle on June 13, 2002, Korean people endeavored to express their grief and anger peacefully against the U.S. by holding candles. Ever since, a candle has been up for every occasion that people felt necessary to take sociopolitical action; for example, massive nation-wide candlelight protests against the Korean National Assembly’s impeachment of the late President Roh Moo-Hyun in 2004 conjured up the vigil’s symbolic meaning as voluntary, grassroots intervention (Shin, 2007).
Unlike previous experiences, the 2008 candlelight protests against importing U.S. beef begs reconsideration on collective action mobilization: massive participation of school-girls and stay-home mothers, and the crucial mobilizing role of alternative online videos. In other words, the protests exemplified how the traditionally underrepresented political subjects were able to exercise their critical, political agency within the given socio-cultural, techno-economic, and political conditions around them.
The 2008 candlelight movements were started by a school-girls’ initiative to join in pre-existing anti-Lee sentiments mainly because they would be the major victims of Lee’s neoliberal policies such as education reform that aggravates rampant, unlimited competition, the grand Korean canal way, privatization of public goods companies and media control.10 Since vCJD has a long incubation period for upto 50 years11 and teenagers’ likelihood of getting human mad-cow disease is more than that of adults, the youths had an urge to protect themselves from the very danger posed to their ontological security from inhuman competition at school and by life-threatening U.S. beef at the same time. In this respect, the 2008 candlelight vigils were oriented toward specific social issues of life and health from the very beginning. Femininity’s keen sensitivity to these issues is a reason why there were disproportionate number of school-girls12 and stay-home mothers involved in the movement, since “as the marginalized in society, their instinctive sensitivity detected threats on life and protested against them.”13 There were many banners by school-girls stating claims such as, “I have only lived 15 years!”14 “Live together, Korea!”15 and so on. Their creative, satiric appropriation of pop culture to criticize Lee’s policy against the people’s health and well-being encouraged adults to join in the rally since the latter felt some guilt about being indifferent to the crucial issue of health and life.16 This provided the majority of the protesters with a chance to reconsider the importance of the political that exerts such a huge influence on their life: the teen point of view was, “It is a tragedy that I, as a high school senior, can not fall asleep because of worrying about the country’s politics and its future”; while a typical adult perspective was,, “As a stay-home mother, I have never been interested in the political so far; however, I can not help worrying about the nation ever since Mr. Lee’s inauguration.”17 Many families tried to demonstrate their eagerness to protect their well-being. Likewise, at the apex of the candlelight vigils’ non-violent demonstration for the importance of personal health and life over commercial interests, there were Stroller Brigades18 that confronted the riot police.19 They realized the importance of grassroots participation as a means of collective surveillance of the government in order to secure their ontological security.20
The 2008 candlelight movements were infused with the cultural that transformed resentment against the Lee administration into joyful moments filled with parody and satire. Feminity was manifested through carnival-like demonstrations where people expressed their political manifestos by creative, cultural performances.21 Because school-girls are huge consumers of popular culture, the carnival-like features of the demonstration have two important implications for the political potential of the popular. On the one hand, as significant consumers of mainstream media culture, school-girls’ creative appropriation of popular culture that expresses their criticism of governmental policies, encouraged broader sectors of the population to participate in the candlelight movements.22 Participants made the candlelight movements as artistic as possible by playing musical instruments, dancing, singing, and performing situational plays on the street, and in turn, the protests were filled with joyful, home-like atmospheres, with people sharing laughter and discussion of alternative actions that could be taken.23 As the most popular item of mockery, protesters made fun of the President’s mouse-like face by wearing cat-masks or carrying mouse-traps.24 To collaborate with the people, Lim Ok-Sang, a professional artist, displayed a massive canvas (50 feet wide and 333 feet long) featuring a devil-like face of Lee on the top, with the remainder of the canvas left blank for commentary. People freely expressed their opinions on it, from private concerns to political statements such as, “People will win in the end,” and “Let’s change the world by the candle.”25
Sharing food among participants revived the Korean tradition of community, which does not have a firm boundary between the private and the public. In this respect, amassing protest participants by giving a primal sense of community, which was mostly consolidated via online communities, with collective sharing of joy through cultural performances contributed to an alternative perspective on the political role of the cultural during the vigils.
What is more, participants did not solely depend upon the cultural, but also deployed material campaigns of boycotting against corporations that sponsored conservative newspapers like Chosun Ilbo, Donga Ilbo and JoonAng Daily. On the other hand, they held fundraising events to support progressive newspapers, Kyunghyang Shinmun and Hankyoreh that lost governmental advertisements because of their excellent watchdog activities.26
As seen briefly above, the candlelight protests, as a conglomeration of DIY culture and people’s physical participation, was the very incarnation of voluntary, peaceful exercise of digital-minded people power. It further manifested online DIY videos’ innate pedagogic and political potential, as Shall We Protest? indicates how female protesters from non-political, consumer culture-oriented online communities united to fight against the hegemonic block of political and economic elites.27
In spite of a clear affinity between communication and pedagogic practices, along with YouTube’s high popularity as a pedagogic tool, there is a dearth of research that examines how the medium can be utilized as a means of political engagement by everyday citizens. Making an important connection between communicative competence, everyday pedagogy, and agency-building potential, John Dewey (1988) asserts that communication is fundamentally educational in its very nature and thrives on an effective, mutual didactic collaboration between communicators. Moreover, in terms of learning as a lifetime process of a self-renewal in one’s social life, his/ her creative YouTube video production implicates a developmental nature of popular pedagogy on the Internet: “society not only continues to exist by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly to be said to exist in transmission, in communication” (Dewey, 1916, p. 4).
Considering a more comprehensive effect of multi-modal communication (Gergle, Kraut & Fussell, 2004), individuals’ video postings on YouTube demand a revision of a common belief in media spectacles that have mainly been utilized as a hegemony machine by the dominant class in society. Manifesting a video’s powerful communicative effect embedded in a hard to control platform of code-switching and sharing on the Internet as a possible alternative to the conformist role of hegemonic media spectacles (Debord, 1967; Goldfarb, 2002; Kellner, 1995; 2003; 2005), YouTube can be a bedrock of alternative journalism, counter-hegemonic media representations, and sociopolitical resources that the marginalized can creatively utilize for a more just, egalitarian cause (Antony & Thomas, 2010; G. Kim, 2009). In other words, it helps implement the democratization of media spectacles. There are plenty of examples of how lay netizens appropriate media spectacles as an innovative means of organizing and mobilizing potential protesters in the candlelight movements.
YouTube’s contribution to the democratization of media spectacles further provides an innovative perspective on the Internet’s potential of participatory democracy (Kellner & G. Kim, 2010; G. Kim, 2010a). It implements a popular media version of Giroux’s (2001) call for performative pedagogy that realizes a “transitive act, a work in progress informed by a cultural politics that translates knowledge back into practice, places theory in the political space of the performative” (p. 14). In other words, YouTube gives individuals opportunities to become active agents of constructing alternative culture and to promote values of human agency, grassroots democracy, and social reconstruction. Korean people in the candlelight movements realized the core value of collective pedagogy as a continuous communication among members of society through participatory dialogue and self-reflection on the issue, substantiating that education as communication simultaneously promotes individuals’ critical consciousness and a democratic society.
Consequently, I encourage critical pedagogy practitioners to actively engage in ICTs to take advantage of an innovative “tactical responses in the margin of maneuver of the dominated” (Feenberg, 2002, p. 87). Because critical pedagogy aims to equip individuals with opportunities to expose, develop and realize their potentials through “participating in the pursuit of liberation” (Freire, 1970, p. 169), tactical maneuvers of YouTube will provide a good amount of theoretical elaborations with practical competences, if provided with an acute analysis of cultural, ideological and sociopolitical contexts of ICTs. In this regard, by exchanging their opinions in DIY online videos as a new mode of public, popular pedagogy, candlelight protesters exercised the essential components of democracy, personal autonomy and participation. This substantiates the interconnection among learning, communication and democracy. Thus, with YouTube’s contribution to the democratization of media production, Debord (1967)’s project of transformative appropriation of media spectacles for social change should be reevaluated with its probability as a social movement mobilizer as shown in the Korean example.
Based on a pedagogic experiment that incorporated YouTube in her class, Juhasz (2009) raises a provoking question on its potential on the democratization of media spectacles because she believes not all DIY videos get a fair amount of peer attention: “YouTube is not democratic. Its architecture supports the popular. Critical and original expression is easily lost to or censored by its busy users, who not only make YouTube’s content, but sift and rate it” (p. 146, emphasis original). Equating the meaning of popularity with what attracts peer attention by “entertaining but not threatening” talents in high school, for her, YouTube is a medium that individuals strive to get the broadest possible hit numbers as an indication of popularity by speaking “to a middle-of-the-road sensibility in and about the forms of mainstream culture and media” (p. 146, emphasis original). Since the major trend of using the medium tends to be confined to the conformist media spectacles, YouTube is easy to (re) produce the dominant media culture while users’ taste and preference are preconditioned by the conventional consumer culture. Thereby, regular YouTube users’ viewing practices can further proliferate the hegemonic power of corporate media spectacles, which is “linked intuitively or through systems of popularity into an endless chain of immediate but forgettable gratification that can only be satisfied by another video” (p. 147). Likewise, as a strategy to grasp one’s immediate attention, YouTube videos mostly contain highly sensitive materials such as sexual insinuation and explicit violence: “they steal, parody, mash, and rework recognizable forms, hence maintaining standard styles and tastes, and making nothing new at all” from corporate-ruled mainstream media spectacles (p. 147, emphasis original). Thus, for Juhasz (2009), YouTube is just another play-house for corporate money that “functions best as a postmodern television set facilitating the isolated, aimless viewing practices of individuals while expertly delivering eyeballs to advertisers” (p. 147, emphasis original).
Romanticizing the high visual quality of professional, corporate media spectacles that “express ideas about the product of mainstream culture,” however, Juhasz (2009) keeps chastising the poor, coarse aesthetic quality of grassroots YouTube videos that attend to “the daily life, feelings, and thoughts of the individual,” which can help people connect their personal problems to larger sociopolitical configurations as a means of Mills’ (1959) sociological imagination (p. 148, emphasis added). Again, focusing heavily on styles and forms over contents and purposes, she calls the former “bad” videos, while sacrificing their authenticity as a value of their ontological veracity that contains the vox populi based on people’s lived experiences. Regrettably, what she misses is that the quality difference between corporate media spectacles and “bad” ones is disappearing: Mainstream media corporations increasingly adopt or utilize coarsely edited amateur-style videos as a marketing and branding strategy since they give more authentic, genuine feelings found in grassroots YouTube videos, for example, David Fincher’s remake of the British mini-series on Netflix, House of Cards starred by Kevin Spacey. Further, the quality of YouTube videos in terms of style falls prey to the dominant logic of the culture industry. “Having ceased to be anything but style, it reveals the latter’s secret: obedience to the social hierarchy” (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1974, p. 131). Therefore, evaluating the real meaning of grassroots YouTube videos based on their visual, stylistic qualities is conformist and reactionary in its ideological nature.
There is an even serious misperception, or over-generalization on YouTube’s potential in the democratization of media spectacles. Juhasz (2009) makes a fetish of the difference in the visual quality between amateur and corporate videos on YouTube. While disparaging individuals’ creative input in YouTube video production as a means of passing time, she only regards the medium as a “place for jokes, a place for regular people whose roles and interest must also be a joke” (p. 148, emphasis original). Not to mention that making a joke is a legitimate, minimal means of the subordinated’s everyday resistance (Scott, 1990), surprisingly, Juhasz (2009) seems to ignore the fact that there have been many YouTube videos that effectively helped people’s causes around the globe such as Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.
While individual YouTube users may be confined to major corporate media culture, they are still actively engaging those forms to (re) create new dimensions of meaning in their everyday lives. In other words, the current modes of YouTube video – humor, spectacle, self-referentiality, parody, and mash-up – are not determined to be conformist or bad from their own forms per se. Rather, it is their practical uses with specific intentions that actualize their genuine sociopolitical effects. This is seen in the candlelight protests where teenage school-girls appropriated consumer media culture as a means of political criticism. To put it differently, it is through a highly dialectic relationship between the form and the content of YouTube videos that engenders the political impact of the medium. Though there exists a stark distinction between grassroots media spectacles and mainstream corporate ones in their style and quality, I believe the most important social implication of YouTube is that it contributes to participatory democracy through the democratization of media spectacles, where the marginalized get heard and become active agents for movement mobilization/ organization nowadays. Unfortunately, her report on the YouTube class project pronounces a deadly skeptical, apoliticizing perspective on people’s DIY online culture as a “people’s forum, but not a revolution, YouTube video manifests the deep hold of corporate culture on our psyches, reestablishing that we are most at home as consumers (even when we are producers)” (p. 148). In sum, in terms of the cultural politics of alternative YouTube spectacles, it seems that Juhasz’s (2009) view on the medium’s pedagogic potential is entrenched in the reactionary cultural politics of postmodern media culture that falls prey to its seemingly deconstructive analysis.
As a kind of online social-networking application that facilitates people’s association based upon their interests and concerns, it has been debated whether YouTube helps garner or hinder community-building efforts. As much as individuals get immersed in the endless flow of free videos on YouTube potentially sacrificing real world relationships, they continuously redefine the notion of community by constructing alternative ones that promote active interactions with others virtually or physically. This is seen in the case of school-girls’ and stay-home mothers’ capability to form activist communities for the candlelight movements. For example, SoulDresser, a Korean women’s online taste community on fashion exemplified how the virtual community transformed itself as a real-world force of people power by amassing resources such as money and protesters based on its existing networks. However, Juhasz (2009) argues that in terms of making friends and self-expression, either the real world or MySpace serves better than YouTube. However, she does not provide a clear explanation of how the real world provides individuals with a better community-building condition by reaching globally dispersed individuals through one’s interests or how MySpace augments physical gatherings that materialize the transformative potential of community-building efforts for social engagement online. She dismisses YouTube’s social-networking potential without addressing its advanced features that “link, gather, index, search, and allow participation, commenting, and networking” (p. 148, emphasis original).
However, Juhasz (2009) points out that the most important normative qualification of a social-networking application is that, “even the most moving of videos needs to be connected to something (other than another short video) – people, community, ideas, other videos to which it has coherent link – if it is to create what community does best: action over distraction, knowledge instead of free-floating ideas, connection over the quick link” (p. 149, emphasis added). It is exactly these kinds of social effects of grassroots YouTube videos that I maintain promote a freer exchange of political ideas, and help organize and mobilize like-minded people, such as facilitation of Korea’s candlelight protests. Based on concrete, sociopolitical issues that exert impact on individuals’ everyday lives, together with critical outlooks that mobilize necessary resources to make real world changes, alternative YouTube videos on Korea’s candlelight movements rebut Juhasz’s (2009) apolitical perspective on YouTube’s democratization of media spectacles.
In sum, though her attempt to explore the educational potential of YouTube is valuable in its timeliness and applicability, she makes the mistake of rejecting the transformative potential of grassroots online videos as a means of social criticism, political participation, and civic engagement. In other words, the real purpose of investigating the educational implication of YouTube videos should be to emphasize and invent practical, pedagogical interventions to help realize its egalitarian and transformative potential. Therefore, rather than claiming “it is hard to learn from YouTube. Its architecture and ownership undermine fundamentals of academic inquiry and higher education: depth of dialogue, capacity to find and link data, ability to sustain intimate and committed community, and structures of order and discipline” (Juhasz, 2009, p. 149, emphasis original), I focus on alternative pedagogic missions of this medium. I believe we need to understand how YouTube as a social-networking application can envision people’s broader sociopolitical engagement rather than limiting ourselves to the comfort, safe zone of classrooms.
From the very beginning, the candlelight movements were a dialectic combination between ICTs’ communicative competences and people’s creative redirection of popular culture for social justice. Likewise, the movements can be characterized as “Movement 2.0” that delineates an alternative model of sociopolitical engagement by voluntary participation, real-time sharing and open sourcing over the courses of grassroots mobilization. Without the central command post that decides core protest agendas, recruits supporters and mobilizes resources, the protesters were equal contributors to organizing the movement, engaging in the agenda-setting process not only through physical participation in protest assemblies but also via online discussion forums.
The candlelight protest implemented an alternative to the conventional model of the movement’s agenda-setting and mobilization. Powered by everyday citizens’ voluntary, regular participations in the collective decision-making processes by producing alternative online videos as well as physically participating in the rallies, it was imbued with the political alternative to the current established, representative system of democracy. As a bottom-up initiation to the Habermasian notion of communicative rationality as a transformative action, they participated in the public forums on how the neoliberal political system impacts their life-world. Focusing on the structural aspect of a common cultural background for different movement constituencies to share their opinions in order to reach consensus, Habermas’s theory of communicative action can be a paradigmatic model to understand how a consensus on the candlelight movements’ key agenda was achieved. Since members of a certain society share its common problems, there is a common repertoire to share the rationale of social movements (Chwe, 2001). Thus, the main benefit of DIY online videos during the candlelight protest is that they were a common indicator of public opinion and how ordinary citizens became active protesters by appropriating mainstream popular culture. Rather than an abstract political rhetoric that does not appeal to lay citizens, they gained attention and support by politicizing daily issues such as the danger of eating U.S. beef, the difficulty of getting a stable full-time job, and anger at sky-soaring living expenses under the administration. To put it differently, popular, grassroots participation in the protest proposes the transformative power of connecting the political system and the private life-world of ordinary people through creative, critical appropriation of online popular culture. In this respect, the candlelight protest provided a clear theoretical connection between communicative rationality and popular pedagogy of online DIY culture, and sociopolitical participation.
Given the limited space for teenage girls’ participation in formal political processes, they actively utilized the Internet as a common, popular sphere where they get informed of current political issues and engage in civic matters in their everyday lives. For them, the Internet and cellphones are a part of their daily lives. They send several dozens of text-messages, surf the Internet for many hours, chat with friends, scrap celebrities’ pictures and gossips, and update themselves with current sociopolitical issues like the danger of eating U.S. beef. For complicated sociopolitical or scientific matters, they circulated cartoons and movie parodies to help others understand better. For example, as a satire for the Korean government’s unprepared, poor trade negotiation with the U.S., one Netizen made a parody of a movie, Bourne Ultimatum.28 Through social-network applications like CyWorld, a Korean version of Facebook, Afreeca, a video-sharing website a la mode of YouTube, cellphones and PDAs (Castells, 2007; Dahlgren & Olsson, 2007; Quintelier & Vissers, 2008), school-girls successfully practiced the Web 2.0 mind-set29
as an alternative mode of movement mobilization. Text-messages from their cellphones carried not only girls’ talks but also live coverage of the candlelight vigils in which they participated so as to encourage their friends and significant others to take further steps. As a real-time way to share moments of the protests, they aired live footage of the protests through maneuvering ICTs such as digital cameras and Wi-Fi enabled laptop computers.
In online cafes, the bedrock of teenager participation in the candlelight protests, teenagers showed how their daily online activities such as posting and reading celebrity-related news embraced political issues of the trade agreement between the U.S. and Korea. Specifically, between an entertainment-focused café that took up political issues by teenagers and one that was designed for the protest, Yun and Chang (2010) maintain that the former “had far more visitors and page view hits compared to the activist-type cafes” where users solely tried to mobilize others systematically (p. 4). In reality, there were many off-line protests initiated online with their active participation such as making public speeches and holding pickets at the rallies. More importantly, their creative performance in festival-like demonstrations such as dance contest was par excellence compared to other age groups. Especially, there is a close link between teenage girls’ mass participation in the protest and their active utilization of entertainment-focused cafes like “True Pictures and JjukBbang, which displayed strongest voices against U.S. beef imports. In addition, one of the activist communities, Candle Girls Korea, was an all-girl community” (Yun & Chang, 2010, p. 5). Since teenage girls tend to use the Internet for relationship-building purposes, “blogger type” (Eun, So, & Eun, 2007), one can argue that they utilized the Internet for raising a broader political coalition through their keen sense of well-being. In sum, teenage girls’ political re-formation of entertainment-oriented online cafés yielded an unprecedented model of collective action mobilization that invited a broader population to join, suggesting a new mode of civic engagement.
Consequently, not only as knowledgeable agents who understood the problem and the importance of the issue, but also as participatory agents who took concrete actions, teen school-girls during the movements exhibited the mobilizing power of ICTs and socially conscious DIY cultural practices. Thus, considering the main purpose of this paper is to discuss the transformative power of grassroots online videos that provide alternative worldviews and innovative strategies to mobilize protesters, the candlelight protests were the very exemplar of what transformative social movements should emulate in order to conceive protest agendas, organize rallies and mobilize supporters in the age of Web 2.0.
Together with school-girls’ mass participation in the candlelight protests, middle-aged stay-home mothers’ engagement in voluntary mobilization qualitatively distinguished the movement from previous social protests. It is considered a process of political awakening and growth of the traditionally underrepresented social subject that has more obstacles in exercising their political agency in the public sphere. The very everydayness of the food safety issue was the main rationale of stay-home mothers’ participation, delineating the importance of life politics that politicizes a private problem posed to families’ primary caretakers on health and well-being. In this respect, the crucial importance of stay-home mothers’ political agency is that they successfully reconceptualized the food safety issue as a political one that summoned greater numbers of protesters from various social strata by exercising Mills’ (1959) sociological imagination. According to Y. Kim (2010), the dialogical nature of women’s online talk on their own matter of interest in the “dictum of comfortable intimate chatting” and their “fluid and light character combined with women’s traits of practicality and straightforwardness – as they are sensitive to everyday live, unlike men who are more normative and tend to focus on great cause” are the major motor for the movement’s massive mobilization as a mode of everyday, popular pedagogy of the political (p. 48).
What is distinctive about the housewives’ participation consolidated online was that they accompanied their babies, even infants in strollers, coining a codeword, the Stroller Brigade. Its confrontation with the riot police on the street made a stark juxtaposition to Marc Riboud’s picture about a woman offering a flower to the gun barrel outside the Pentagon during the anti-Vietnam War protest in the 60s. For the mothers, marching with their children was a sacred manifestation of maternal instinct that demonstrates the life-threatening danger of beef in the name of family protection, even though there was harsh criticism that they were using young children for political purposes. They argued back that it was governmental policy that really threatens the health and well-being of their youngsters and violent riot police’s suppression. Symbolically, the Brigade’s presence stood for people’s demand for peaceful demonstration against the trade agreement.
Interesting thing about movement participation of the Stroller Brigade was that it was a dialectical outcome of the Korean society’s politico-economic (the housewives’ agency as mothers and consumers) and sociocultural (the Korean patriarchy) constraints. Seemingly, their socioeconomic position as consumers who want to buy safe-food played a major role in participating in the protest. They devised strategies such as boycotting the meat by draping banners, holding sit-ins in front of US beef sellers’ warehouses, and asking advertisers to stop placing advertisements in the conservative newspapers. As a matter of fact, female protesters were active members of online consumer’s taste communities such as Miclub, 82cook, and SoulDresser where they share common interest in and information about commercial products, manifesting a close link between commodity consumption, online culture, and political participation. Within a nation state’s shrinking sovereign power in the global market, Y. Kim (2010) maintains that the mothers’ participation begs important reconsideration on the dialectical relationship between their political agency and a changing nature of the public sphere: “when safeguarding the dinner table becomes a matter of food industry at the global level, the act of preparing food takes on a political nature, which restructures the boundary between state and family and between the public sphere and the intimate sphere” (p. 50). From this point of view, against the “pubic-private dichotomy [operational] in connection with patriarchal ideology,” Y. Kim (2010) asserts that there should be a reconceptualization on the female political subjectivity “under the influence of globalization” (p. 53). In reality, in the consumer movement against the meat, the nature of female protesters’ political subjectivity was mainly affected by their capabilities to manage the time-money consuming social behavior while the “neoliberalist authoritarian state allows political freedom only to those who are financially solvent” (Butler & Spivak, 2007; Y. Kim, 2010, p. 51,). However, the biggest political implication of stay-home mothers’ political action is that they successfully showed how Mills’ thesis on the sociological imagination, which politicizes ordinary people’s common perspective as a new alternative for the schemes of struggle and solidarity, suggests a viable means of life politics in the era of global neoliberalism. Alongside, this shows a waning distinction between the public and the private sphere.
As housewives in the context of the patriarchic Korean society, they had to negotiate with their husbands at home and male protesters at the demonstration. While their husbands worried about their children’s safety from the potential violence in the protest, the “‘paternalism’ of the progressive male activists” was reluctant to embrace the Brigade since they believed the “public and political spheres are best left to the control of men” (Chae & S. Kim, 2010, p. 85). Actually, the participation of the Stroller Brigade waned drastically when the police started to ferret out its members’ personal information that could harm their husbands’ job security especially for public servants. Therefore, persistent housewives were “those whose husbands understood their activities” in the Brigade or “those who could afford to ignore such an opposition” (p. 89).
Briefly seen above, as the dialectical outcome of housewives’ confrontation to their socio-cultural and politico-economic conditions, the Stroller Brigade was an example that describes how the political agency of the traditionally underrepresented social actors can be cultivated and exercised by popular, everyday pedagogy on the Internet. Even though the Brigade failed to achieve any manifest political outcomes, it provided stay-home mothers who were worried about food safety with an “opportunity to become aware of the various social and political problems surrounding them and thereby to forge a different subjectivity from the way they thought before” (Chae & S. Kim, 2010, p. 96). In this respect, as seen in the outcomes of Korea’s local election in June, 2010, Y. Kim (2010) believes that the protests played an important pedagogic role that helped people develop critical consciousness on governmental policies based on their experiences in the protests. Considering the significance of local elections that respects “local people’s opinions and demands for the quality of living” as the basis of candidates’ policy promises, the 2010 local elections’ focus on wealth distribution and welfare policies (60%) compared to those of 2006 elections (10%) showed how the protests were influential (Y. Kim, 2010, p. 43). Thus, stay-home mothers’ political agency as a mode of life politics was a dialectic outcome from an intersection between self-governance, commitment to health and well-being, formation of shared ideas, and perspective on a social transformation.
With individuals’ increased engagement in producing online videos, grassroots online videos make the candlelight protests distinctive from previous social movements as a new way of mobilizing supporters and circulating protest-related materials. Actually, there are many journalistic accounts that alternative online videos on the protests actually motivated and encouraged other people to join in the rally.30 Specifically, most of the alternative online videos during the candlelight protests were to give evidence that protesters rallied peacefully to exert their constitutional right and on Lee administration’s anti-democratic attitude, highlighted by brutal police suppressions. When the protesters aired actual happenings in the rally as citizen journalists, audiences at home got inspired to take part in the protest.31 As a kind of a navigator that indicated protesters’ locations, people increasingly relied on live online videos aired by actual protesters on site.32 Many people who were not able to participate in the actual demonstrations watched live videos, leading to the feeling of entitlement to people’s constitutional right. They came to realize that mainstream media outlets were biased on the protesters after watching thousands of grassroots video channels on http://www.afreeca.com/.33 As an indicator of the soaring popularity and trust in grassroots online videos as alternative journalism, more than 4 million audiences watched some form of grassroots online videos on the movement. Accordingly, OhmyNews, a Korean open-source news-sharing website, depended on live video coverage of the protests that attracted more than one million audiences a day rather than traditional text reporting as of June 1, 2008.34
What they realized mostly from the videos was the importance of active, critical sociopolitical agents as the bulwark of a democratic republic and disbelief in the conventional media that served the status-quo. As discussed earlier, as political application of Web 2.0 platforms, alternative online videos during the candlelight protests substantiated the transformative power of grassroots participation in the politics of media spectacle that leads to a more participatory democracy.
As discussed so far, online DIY videos on Korea’s candlelight protests provide impressive, transformative outlooks on the medium’s potential as an alternative model of consumer’s competence on cultural appropriation, everyday popular pedagogy, and bottom-up initiative to sociopolitical movement mobilization. The democratization of media spectacles in the candlelight movements further implies an innovative perspective on direct democracy with broader political significance. By the communicative rationality (Habermas, 1984) with the communicative competence of the Internet, the conventional notion of formal political participation characterized as one-vote-per-person can be reconditioned to be “direct democracy with grassroots participation” through the “ideal speech” condition of the Internet public sphere. If this utopian notion of democracy could be realized with individuals’ voluntary participations, Dewey’s (1954) egalitarian notion of democracy as a form of human relationships and not as a formal political representation will become more viable. In this respect, there lies a probability to revitalize democratic self-governance by people (Habermas, 1987). Throughout the duration of the candlelight protests for one hundred days, collectives of participants discussed important issues on each day’s topic and conditions responding to government’s action. In other words, the protesters become active in the construction of alternative culture, and promoted values of grassroots democracy and social reconstruction.35
Thus, the Korean case provides an excellent anti-thesis of Juhasz’s (2009) apolitical interpretation of YouTube culture, demonstrating how it helps ordinary people’s effort to publicize alternative sociopolitical perspectives, recruit potential supporters, and mobilize collective actions simultaneously.
However, the videos together with the candlelight movements have an obvious limit as a concrete alternative to operate direct democratic governance in the formal political system. Even though the candlelight movements exemplified the transformative power of voluntary, grassroots mobilization facilitated by critical DIY online videos, they did not operate the core value of direct democracy in the formal political system. It was certainly a liberating experience that people discussed important political issues and participated in mass mobilizations against the Lee administration. However, none of its agendas has been realized. On the contrary, U.S beef has been on the market since July, 2008. Lee’s educational reform is still effective and privatization of public goods corporations continues as well as media control on this issue. In other words, making parodies or satire of Mr. Lee and his administration as a means of raising critical awareness did not lead to change in policy. If so, it was too limited to realize actual, material changes. There was a huge discrepancy between people’s explicit opposition to these neoliberal policies and concrete legislative actions to redress them. In this regard, carnival-like cultural activities in the candlelight movements shared the problem of Cultural Studies’ affirmative roles that “political struggles have been increasingly reduced to struggles over communication and culture which can be magically solved by the proliferation of communicative and cultural practices” (Grossberg, 1993, p. 91). Thus, what the candlelight protests may have proliferated in the mind of protesters was a false empowerment that “imaginary solution to their position of subordination” or “pleasurable forms of resistance” was believed to be a solution in the “wider context of exploitative social relations” of the neoliberal regime (Curran, 1990, p. 153). In other words, the street politics of the candlelight movement failed to find a way to transfer its power and purposes into the established political system by overturning the Lee administration.
As discussed above, the candlelight movement is limited as a transformative political movement. I believe it shared the fundamental problem in practicing the cultural politics of online DIY videos that has to be accompanied with an acute structural analysis and the competent, material force of human agency. Without both of them, alternative YouTube videos end up being a comfortable, powerless resistance, only to serve the status-quo in the end. This is why there should be vigorous, concrete pedagogical interventions in the uses of ICTs and popular culture to encourage transformative movements in one’s everyday life-world (G. Kim, 2010b).
1 For a more detailed discussion on the cultural practices on the Internet, see Deuze, M. (2006). Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture. The Information Society, 22/ 2, 63 – 75.
2 For a democratizing power of ICTs, see Bennett, W.L. & Entman, R.M. (2001, Eds). Mediated Politics: Communication in the Future of Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, and Lin, C.A. & Atkin, D.J. (2007, Eds). Communication, Technology and Social Change: Theory and Implications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
3 Pt. 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaFRuQt7ufk (06/18/08. The original was removed from Fox’s claim on copyright infringement); Pt. 2: http://www.youtube.com/user/digitallatlive#play/all/uploads-all/1/fYAeJx7YBWs (06/18/08); Pt. 3: http://www.youtube.com/user/digitallatlive#play/all/uploads-all/0/WX3msFBYqQ4 (06/18/08).
4 http://shallweprotest.net/en/, and http://www.bodyspacesociety.eu/2009/09/18/korean-documentary-highlights-the-role-of-social-media-in-promoting-street-protests-eng/
5 For a detailed theoretical and practical investigation into critical pedagogy, see McLaren & Farahmandpur (2005); McLaren & Jaramillo (2007); and McLaren & Kincheloe (2007).
6 Arguzzi, A. (2008). Unraveling prion strains with cell biology and organic chemistry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105/ 1, 11-12. Available at: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=2224168 (06/11/08).
7 The World Organisation for Animal Health, “Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Status of Members,” http://www.oie.int/eng/Status/BSE/en_BSE_free.htm (accessed August 15, 2008), and BSEInfo, “Country Risk Status,” http://www.bseinfo.org/scieCountryRiskStatus.aspx (accessed August 15, 2008).
8 Editorial/Opinion, “Mad Cow Watch Goes Blind,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/news/
opinion/editorials/2006-08-03-our-view_x.htm (August 15, 2008).
9 Though the quantity of YouTube videos is decreasing as time passes by, there are still numbers of grassroots videos that report vivid moments of Korea’s candlelight movements at: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=protest%20against%20mad%20cow%20in%20
10 Lee Chul-Ho, “The Candlelight Movement: Burn Discrimination and Hierarchy,” The Politics of the Candlelight Movement: Is Korea a Democratic Republic? (Seoul, Korea: Mayday Press, 2008), 179.
11 Mike Burns, “Human Mad Cow Disease Has a Long Incubation Period, Says Study,” Earth Times, http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/7318.html (accessed June 15, 2008).
12 Park Sang-Kyu, et al., “School-Girls’ Sprightly Protest,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000892522&PAGE_CD
=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB= (accessed 05/04/08).
13 Yoon Hyung, “Prelude: Preconditioned Anger and Time for Reflection,” In Darkness Can Not Win out Light: Memoirs of the2008 Candlelight Movement, (Seoul, Korea: Hankyoreh Press, 2008), 12.
14 Yoo Dong-Il, “I Have Lived for 15 Years Only,” Newsis, http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=102&oid=003&aid=0002080600 (accessed July 15, 2008)
15 Park Sang-Kyu, et al., “Interview with Seven Highschool Girls for the Candle,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000899723&
PAGE_CD=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB (accessed June 15, 2008).
16Commune, comment on “Here Come Wonder-Girls,” OhmyNews Blog posted May 07, 208, http://blog.ohmynews.com/dogs1000/150159 (accessed May 07, 2008), Park Sang-Kyu, et al., “There is Democracy in the Textbook,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000900293&
PAGE_CD=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB (accessed June 06, 2008), and Oh Yeon-Ho, “Revolutionary Teenagers,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000894176&
PAGE_CD=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0006&NEW_GB (accessed May 16, 2008).
17 Park Sang-Kyu, et al., “School-Girls’ Sprightly Protest,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000892522&
PAGE_CD=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB= (accessed May 04, 2008).
18 As of May 30, 2008, stay-home mothers began carrying their infants and toddlers in strollers to accentuate the supremacy of life and the innocence of participating in the candlelight vigils against the Korean government’s disparagement that the majority of the protesters had ideological intentions to overthrow it.
19 Lee Tae-Hee, “Stroller Mother Got over the Riot Police,” Hankyoreh, http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/295534.html (accessed on June 26, 2008)
20 Hwang Bang-Yeol, “72 Hour Relay Protest,” OhmyNews, http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000920260&PAGE_CD
=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB= (accessed June 07, 2008)
21 Mok Su-Jeong, “Candlelight Girls and Learned Women: Cultural Imagination in Movements,” in The Politics of the Candlelight Movement: Is Korea a Democratic Republic? (Seoul, Korea: Mayday Press, 2008), 125.
22 http://blog.ohmynews.com/dogs1000/150159 (accessed May 07, 2008), http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000900293&PAGE_CD
=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0001&NEW_GB (accessed June 06, 2008), and http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000894176&PAGE_CD
=N0000&BLCK_NO=3&CMPT_CD=M0006&NEW_GB (accessed May 16, 2008).
23 http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/291901.html (accessed June 07, 2008) and http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/297201.html (accessed July 05, 2008)
24 Ha Ur-Young and Song Kyung-Hwa, “The Riot Police Suppress the Citizens,” Hankyoreh, http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/292039.html (accessed June 09, 2008).
25 Choi Hyun-Jun, Hur Jae-Hyun and Kim Sung-Whan, “Return to the 80s’ Military Suppression, Blooded Candlelights,” Hankyoreh, http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/295916.html (accessed June 29, 2008).
26 http://news.khan.co.kr/kh_news/khan_art_view.html?artid=200806011839025&code=940100 (06/01/08); http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/291142.html (06/03/08).
27 For creative, fashionable protests by woman’s fashion community memebers, e.g., SoulDressers, see http://www.bodyspacesociety.eu/2009/09/18/korean-documentary-highlights-the-role-of-social-media-in-promoting-street-protests-eng/ (09/18/2009).
28 The Bourne Ultimatum parody was created by a cartoon writer in May 2008 by dubbing Koreans on the movie scene to exhibit unethical, risky features of the beef agreement with the US. Suject to the copyright infringement, unfortunately, the parody is no longer available online.
29 As a report which reports how teen school-girls make political uses of cultural artifacts such as cow customs and telecommunication technologies such as the Internet and cell-phones to participate in the candles, see http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/287478.html (05/14/08).
30 http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/291176.html (06/03/08); http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/291242.html (06/04/08); http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/297201.html (07/05/08).
31 http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/290364.html (05/29/08).
32 http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/289443.html (05/27/08).
33 http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/290214.html (05/28/08).
35 For example, more than ten thousand participants’ 7 hour open debate on a topic on whether trespassing a barrcade of containers or not as a symbolic, strategic action against the administration, see http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0000924621&PAGE_CD
Gooyong Kim (Ph.D., UCLA, 2010) currently works on a book project that examines how civic-minded individuals make critical uses of YouTube videos as a means of grassroots participation in alternative media production, popular/ informal pedagogy, voluntary collective action mobilization, and democratic governance in their everyday lives. Proposing Critical Media Pedagogy as a condition for grassroots, voluntary social movement mobilization, he researches the intersectionality between media technology, popular/ media culture, critical pedagogy, human agency, political participation, and social transformation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org