Gwangju Universiade torch arrives in S. Korea

[Yang Sung-jin] Heartless facts, truthful lies

kh close


Published : 2014-07-30 21:05
Updated : 2014-07-30 21:05

Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Soul, my hometown, out on the edge of the peninsula.

This is, I’m fairly confident, not a lie or a cheap rip-off of the opening line of “A Prairie Home Companion,” a radio show that I’ve enjoyed listening to over the years.

It’s been a quiet week in every aspect. The body of Yoo Byung-eun was finally found, the very source of all evil, whom some politicians believe was responsible for the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April. Other key figures also turned themselves in, creating an extravaganza of rumors, accusations and conspiracy theories that is far bigger in scale and mind-boggling in complexity than a Hollywood blockbuster. By-elections were also held, with candidates hurling hurtful attacks at each other.

As I said, it’s been a quiet week here, compared with what’s happening in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, the hometown of Garrison Keillor, who’s the venerable host of “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Early this month, the radio show rolled out its 40th anniversary edition, featuring performances by an eclectic batch of guest musicians, entertaining skits and Keillor’s monologue segment, “News from Lake Wobegon.”

I am one of about 4 million regular listeners of the show, and I particularly like Keillor’s monologues. One episode, many years ago, featured a Korean adoptee, and I nearly cried because it was so moving.

Of course, Keillor’s monologues are completely fictional.

In Lake Wobegon, there are a number of eccentric yet interesting characters of his own creation, and none of the convincingly realistic details he describes about the town, customs and incidents are based on historical facts. It’s impossible to make an actual trip to Lake Wobegon, since it’s a fictional town, presumably somewhere in Minnesota.

In other words, he’s a veteran craftsman of, well, lies. But I love his fictional stories. Whenever he cracks jokes about Midwesterners ― without offending them ― or portrays an unbelievably comic situation, I feel there’s a grain of truth in it.

Keillor’s talent lies in weaving a fictional story inspired from real-life episodes. Many elements of his monologues deal with the archetypal elements that can be found in everyday life. This is why an obscure listener in Lake Soul can connect to his captivating tales. After all, the 71-year-old “bard of small-town melancholy and nostalgia” has won many awards, including a Grammy and a Peabody, thanks to his highly fictional yet strangely realistic stories.

Believe it or not, in Lake Soul, not many people give credence to what’s been published or announced, especially by the government, prosecutors, police or media. The authorities’ credibility is now at its lowest point in years.

The widespread skepticism about what the authorities call “facts” in Lake Soul is a sorry outcome of learning through repetition. On many occasions, government agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, have remained silent about embarrassing facts as long as they could. Only when decisive evidence is presented do they reluctantly acknowledge their wrongdoing and unveil short-term, stop-gap measures through half-hearted gestures.

Lake Soul residents, as a result, hardly ever believe official announcements, especially in the mainstream media. Instead, they dig for alternative channels to grasp the truth, such as social media, and try to identify the real facts hidden in a myriad of baseless and outrageous rumors.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that the body of Yoo Byung-eun was discovered in such a suspicious condition. He had been the country’s most wanted man and tens of thousands of people from the police and prosecution scoured the entire nation for him. But the official facts announced by the authorities were that his badly decomposed body was actually found in June and no one had had any suspicions about the discovery. All the so-called facts ― DNA matching, testimony from forensic experts and fingerprints ― are being shoved into the heads of residents in Lake Soul. It’s no joke that facts are deemed more fictional than shameless lies in this town.

When one tells a story, one’s intentions are important, regardless of whether it’s about fact or fiction. If goodwill or positive intent are lacking, facts are no longer facts. What the Lake Soul residents truly deserve are not layers of meaningless facts designed to hide the truth but rather a fiction that tells the truth.

Well, that’s the news from Lake Soul, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.

By Yang Sung-jin

Yang Sung-jin is the national desk editor of The Korea Herald. He can be reached at ― Ed.