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Han Sang Kim

“My” Sweet Utopia in the Next Decade: The Popular Imagination of Private Ownersh

Han Sang Kim, Korea Institute, University of California San Diego

Abstract: This paper examines textual and visual discourses related to private ownership from the second half of the Park Chung Hee regime. As early as the late 1960s, South Korean mass media began using certain coinages transliterated from English words, including “maik’a [my car]” and “maihom [my home],” to designate privately owned cars and houses. Such neologisms became trendy because these privately owned properties were regarded as luxuries of the future, rather than because bountiful living existed in reality. Beginning in the late 1960s, South Korean newspapers promoted the slogan, “The 1970s will be an era of my car;” the following decade, the 1980s were referred to as the era of my car as well. In actuality, the era of my car did not arise until the 1990s.

I find a paradox of the Yushin regime in such a long-deferred utopia. “My car” and “my home” were representations of the major changes in the South Korean industry at that time ― “marketization, privatization, liberalization and flexibilization” (Kim Hyungkee) ― on a cultural level. However, at the same time, the fact that those future trophies of liberality and flexibility served as “a dramatic symbol manipulation” (Kim Hyung-kook) to encourage people to embrace state-led modernization demonstrates how popular imagination was used to reach a compromise between reality and a contradictory paradigm. I argue that such eclecticism or duplicity toward private freedom characterizes the modernization of South Korea throughout the Yushin regime.