I don’t like baseball. It’s probably just lack of familiarity; the sport is hardly followed in England, let alone played much. But like American football, the high-fiving, steroid-pumped, gum-chewing crotch-grabbing bullshit just doesn’t quite sit right.
When I first arrived in South Korea I was mildly surprised to find baseball is everywhere and a major national pastime. My father-in-law, for example, spends most evenings in front of his giant TV muttering in rapid-fire Korean at some bat-swinging twerp with a testosterone overload and an ego clearly bigger than the stadium.
Now I don’t like TV much to start with either. It kills conversation, numbs the brain, feeds you bullshit and is an entirely one-way medium: it batters you over the head with superficial crap, hype and adverts; you sit there and take it like a sucker. And when it’s showing baseball, I like it even less.
Cheerleaders at a baseball game in Seoul: "working for the man".
Not content to just gripe though, I’ve been thinking (superficially) about Korean baseball and why I find it quite so irritating and have discovered something: it perfectly exemplifies the corporate capture of South Korean cultural life. Allow me to explain:
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has eight teams. They are named as follows: Doosan Bears; Hanhwa Eagles; Kia Tigers; Lotte Giants; LG Twins; Samsung Lions; SK Wyverns; Woori Heroes.
What do these wild beasts of the stadia have in common? Each is owned by and named for a major South Korean conglomerate, or chaebol. People are essentially cheering for one wing of a corporation….
Picture, if you will, a premier league football match between Pizza Hut Cows and the Dunkin Donut Sparrows. And a stadium full of supporters wildly shouting “Glory, Glory Dunkin Doooonuts!” “Pizza Hut, are the champions, of the world!”. It’s fodder for an Aldous Huxley novel.
Now lest I be accused of some expat bitterness or the like, allow me to acknowledge the following facts: yes, I know that major sports teams the world over are business in themselves, usually sponsored and owned by various corporate giants, and such ownership is clearly marked on their uniforms; they treat their players like commodities and flog crap merchandise willy-nilly.
But… But… But… they have a certain culture and genuine identity. Take Manchester United: the team was born in 1878 as the works team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath. They played on a small, dilapidated field for fifteen years. In 1892 they became an independent company, appointed a club secretary, and after various financial travails they officially came into existence as Manchester United on 26 April 1902.
Until recently Man United were owned by a motley crew of shareholder including two Irish racehorse owners. It’s since been bought by an American tycoon, Malcolm Glazer. (Note that he hasn’t seen fit to change the club’s name to The Malcolm Glazers). The team is far from the representative face of a corporation. And any attempt by a new owner to make it such would fail spectacularly.
By contrast, the first game under the aegis of the Korea Baseball Organization was played on March 27, 1982 between Samsung Lions and the MBC Chungyong (now the LG Twins) in Dongdaemun Stadium, Seoul. Then-president Chun Doo-hwan — a murderous goon who would be in prison if he hadn’t been pardoned by the exceedingly generous Nobel Peace prize laureate Kim Dae-jung in 1997 — threw the first pitch.
So what you had basically was two toy things of major conglomerates facing off, with the first ball being thrown by a man best known for sending special forces in to rape and murder his own citizens in the city of Kwangju. Hardly an auspicious start for a sporting body. But we cannot deny history (or the South Korean people their baseball games) so lets leave that there…
No… I can’t! Take Hanwha. It has 26 subsidiaries, tentacles throughout the whole economy. It sells weapons to dubious regimes. Its chairman personally took a crowbar to some bar workers who beat up his son. Can you really stand there chanting “Go Hanwha!” at a sports event and feel good about yourself? It ain’t right…
By all means, buy these company’s products if you need them, but don’t emotionally affiliate yourself with what is just one wing of a conglomerate whose corruption is legion. Please. At least Seoul FC has the decency to name itself after a city.
So the Premier League ain't perfect either... Image via Schnews