Japan from the inside out

Blackballing the red ball

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 24, 2012

Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
– Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing

THOUGH some of us are loath to admit it, all of us love lowbrow humor. We always have and we always will. It’s marbled throughout the Canterbury Tales, the existence of Fawlty Towers and the Gong Show depended on it, and Shakespeare loved it, as the line above shows. In fact, the lowbrow humor in that play starts with the title: the word “nothing” in Shakespeare’s day is said to have been a euphemism for the female genitalia.

One of the highest forms of low humor results when some people try to engage in serious sociopolitical discourse. During his brief campaign for president of the U.S., for example, Herman Cain offered a proposal to rework the American tax system into three segments with a rate of 9% each, which he called the 9-9-9 plan. A few people otherwise inclined to support his candidacy were apprehensive, however, because turning 9-9-9 upside down results in 6-6-6…

There’s also the buffoonery of some Barack Obama supporters, convinced since 2008 that racism is the reason for every criticism of their man. That racism is found in charges that he acts too “professorial”, is “elitist”, “out of touch”, or “skinny”. Just as amusing is that they like to refer to this disguised nastiness as a “dog whistle”. (If that’s the case, how come they hear it?) Then there’s the whole topic of political correctness, which might as well be Comedy Central.

Anyone looking for laughs in Northeast Asia can dip into anything that Hatoyama Yukio says about anything, listen to the arguments that Ozawa Ichiro is being railroaded by prosecutors, or eavesdrop on the perpetual South Korean domestic conversation about Japanese phantasmata.

The latest installment of the latter circulated last month when South Korea’s Grand National Party, known locally as Hannara, was in the process of remaking its image. The party, which holds the most seats in the national assembly, changed its name to Saenuri in Korean and the New Frontier Party in English. They also adopted a new logo in conjunction with the new name, and the changes took effect this month.

The old design featured a red circle with a blue line underneath. Here’s what it looked like.

That’s an artistic representation of a human figure, right? Nah. This is South Korea. The posse irritati complained that the red circle in the logo was something that a Japanese company would use.

Some comments from the Internet:

* Doesn’t the red of the Hannara logo symbolize the Japanese flag?

* The Hannara logo is just like the Japanese flag!

* The Japanese flag is hidden in the Hannara party logo and Seoul city logo!

Apparently those wily Japanese imperialists and their traitorous allies will stop at nothing to sneak their national symbol into the very heart of Korean politics.

The criticism wasn’t confined to the Internet —- politicians never pass up an opportunity to stoop as low as they can to pick up a vote or two. Besides, they had evidence!

That shows a comparison of the party logo with those of a few Japanese companies. Residents of the region know that type of stylized human form has often been used in logos and symbols for close to 20 years now. (It probably started in Japan. Most regional fashions of that sort do nowadays.) The choice of some of the companies also provided unintentional humor. Herald Pictures disappeared into Kadogawa Herald Pictures in 2005. KKC Wellness (logo at bottom left) operates healthcare facilities in the Kinki region and is mostly unknown anywhere else. Finally, the red circle in all of those logos, the Korean ones included, is clearly meant to represent a human head.

Recall that one Koreanetizen referred to the Seoul logo, which some people have been indignant about since its adoption in 1996. It consists of a red circle to symbolize the sun and arty blue and green swatches to represent the sea and the mountains. City officials in Seoul have somehow managed to weather the criticism for incorporating the Japanese motif, and it’s still the municipal emblem:

The Japanese became used to all this long ago, so their comments were characterized by polite bemusement. One journalist wrote, “I can’t say I don’t understand” that the party symbol might be mocked for looking Japanese, but added that the idea any red circle = the Japanese flag is rather extreme.

Still, the Hannara/Saenuri/Grand National/New Frontier Party has to face a general election in April and a presidential election in December while down in the polls. Accusations that their logo contains the Mark of the Beast might offset any of the benefits of an image change. So their official logo now looks like this:

While we’re on the subject of national flags and symbols, it’s worth noting that the South Korean flag contains hexagrams from the I Ching. I’ve always thought that was a cool thing to put on a flag. Maybe it’s time for some of the local Dogberries to take up the I Ching for a remedial reading assignment instead of just looking at the pictures.

There’s a reason both the Globe Theater and the Gong Show had groundlings. Who knows what they’d think in Seoul of that semi-sunburst at the back of the stage?

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