6:51 pm - 12/10/2012

Hypen Magazine writes about Tablo

Original Title : On Diasporic Tableaux, Lonely Unicorns, and the Irrepressible Desire for Truth and Recognition
Original Article ,Written by : Terry K Park

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Photo: Seoul International School 1997 Yearbook

[parts not mentioning Tablo are omitted - however to grasp to full nature of this article i suggest you read the whole article]

....Then I met Dan. He was like many of the other Korean kids who had moved around the world their entire lives -- Switzerland, Canada, Hong Kong. But in a school where I threw myself into the role of the weird theater-creative writer guy, I saw him as different. Scrawny and zit-faced, obsessed with the character “Armand” from Anne Rice novels, Dan wrote clever short stories about rebel youth who cheated the system, sometimes caught sometimes not. These stories resembled his own constant run-ins with school authorities. Among fellow juniors, Dan was the court jester whose constant stream of wisecracks often made him the center of attention. I can still remember his laughter careening like shotgun blasts from the back of the school bus where I sat alone, sometimes next to his shy cousin Sam. With me, though, Dan was deferential. He dutifully fulfilled his role as my apprentice, acceding to my re-imagining of our school’s literary magazine Kaleidoscope. I appreciated Dan. I felt like he was the closest thing to a kindred spirit in a school, in a country where I didn't feel like kindred. I saw him as my protégé.  At the same time, I was a little jealous of him -- the ease in which he switched between English and Korean, the ease in which he laughed with the foreigner kids and the Korean kids. And then I found out that he wrote a song SaveFrom.net for some Korean rock singer named Kim Gun Mo who, as it turns out, is famous. I knew Dan was a good writer, but I didn’t think he was that good. It was like Dan had a foot in the black limo that I could only gaze at, without comprehension.  

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Photo: Seoul International School 1997 Yearbook

A few years later, as I started to get my acting career off the ground in New York City, I heard that a new hip-hop group, Epik High, was making a big splash in Korea. Their lead MC went by the handle Tablo. I soon learned that Tablo was none other than Dan “Armand” Lee. My reaction: “Um, what?” I looked Tablo up on the Internet. His bio was a bildungsroman of a young artist faced with an assortment of obstacles impeding the full flowering of his genius -- teachers, a stern father, depression. Obstacles easily relatable by many South Korean youth. His only outlet, supposedly, was hip-hop. Reading his bio, I felt like I was reading one of his short stories from Kaleidoscope. And no wonder Dan’s writing skills were polished -- his bio stated that he received a BA and an MA in creative writing from Stanford in only three and a half years. This fact was underscored anytime there was an article or interview with Dan. Attach the word Stanford or Harvard or Yale next to someone’s name, and a successful career is pretty much guaranteed in Korea (or in the US). I was simultaneously impressed and jealous. Like the theater exercise that Dan and I learned from our beloved theater/creative writing teacher at SIS in which a scene is created with still bodies and active imaginations -- an exercise called “tableau” -- Dan successfully crafted and embodied the role of a Korean hip-hop star.  

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Photo: nautiljon.com

In the spring of 2006, I crafted and embodied my own characters in an off-Broadway solo show, 38th Parallels. I thought that this was the vehicle that would launch me to stardom. It didn’t. Disappointed, I entered a PhD program at UC Davis. At 27, I failed as a performance artist, so I thought I could find fortune and fame as an Asian American studies professor (yes, I was clueless about academia). Meanwhile, Dan’s career took off. He began performing in sold-out concerts in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York City. While spending part of the summer of 2007 in Seoul, I saw Dan everywhere on TV. In one of my favorite Korean shows,Non-Stop. In a car commercial. In talk shows, praised for his Stanford degrees, his non-accented English, his inventive music. Back in Davis, I asked my students to name their favorite Asian American performer -- and I was shocked to hear that name again. Every time I heard his name, I was reminded of everything I wanted to be and the assets that I lacked. He was the one being studied and praised by my own students. All I could say was, “I went to high school with Tablo.” I was as bitter as winter kimchi.      

But in 2010, the name Tablo quickly began to signify something else entirely. In May of that year, a group of Korean “netizens” (a portmanteau comprised of internet and citizen) formed an online forum called TaJinYo, an abbreviation in Korean for the phrase “We demand the truth, Tablo.” They accused Dan of falsifying his Stanford records. Its members went so far as to say he never attended Stanford, a charge that was completely bogus, for I had seen Dan at Stanford with my own eyes when I visited a mutual friend. I understood the socio-economic climate from which this anger emerged. Netizens were a sign of an expanding and vibrant civil society that for decades suffered under intense censorship under a succession of US-supported South Korean military dictatorships. Now, everyday citizens were taking advantage of the technology provided by the most wired country in the world and progressive news sites like Ohmynews to have an impact on their country in a way that was unthinkable just a couple decades prior. They could expose and attack the practices of the elite, including some high-profile cases of forged diplomas, often from universities in the West, out of reach for most Koreans except those able to afford to send their kids to English-language institutes or international schools like SIS. The way in which the TaJinYo movement grew in numbers and ferocity struck many foreign observers as strange. Many English teachers in Korea also used this opportunity to describe all Koreans as “irrational” -- nevermind that TaJinYo bore some resemblance to the anti-Obama "birther" movement in the US.

Moreover, gyopos, or overseas Koreans, have at times been a target of jealousy and suspicion by Koreans in Korea. In the first few decades after the Korean War, a brain drain drove many class-privileged, highly-educated, and highly-skilled Koreans like my father to immigrate to the US and other Western countries to study and help build their Cold War economies. These Koreans were often branded as traitors who abandoned a nation reeling from colonization, national division, occupation, war, and extreme poverty to find social mobility elsewhere, sometimes in those very countries that brought these conditions to Korea. Some offspring of these post-1965 immigrants have returned to Korea to find fame as pop stars without having to serve in the military, a treasonous act in a masculine garrison state where service is mandatory for all men. Most notable is Korean American rapper Yoo Seung Jun, whose career prematurely ended because he evaded military service. So it wasn’t surprising, especially given the climate of intense scrutiny of Korean celebrities in Korea, when some netizens set their sights on a gyopo rapper, a product of an elite international high school in Korea and an elite university in the US. There was nothing that Dan could do to convince these people that he actually attended Stanford, not even after an MBC crew followed him to Palo Alto SaveFrom.net, interviewed administrators and former professors, and even recorded a close-up of his transcript. In a society where lying, cheating, and forgery by government and economic elites made the “truth” something that could easily be fabricated, Dan was caught up in a trap by proxy. He and his family even received death threats. Clearly, TaJinYo had gone way too far. So, why then, didn’t he reach out to his fellow SIS alums?

That was partly revealed this past April, when Joshua Davis of Wired published an in-depth article about the controversy that included an interview with Dan. Like something out of the South Korean film Oldboy, Davis traced the origin of the controversy to high school -- my high school, SIS. In fact, I was told by a common friend who went to both SIS and Stanford with Dan that after he achieved stardom, he refused to talk to most of his former classmates -- presumably, she thinks, because we knew what he was like in high school, which would’ve disrupted the narrative that he carefully crafted for himself. Davis came to the same conclusion, but with a more startling revelation. The person whose blog posts ignited TaJinYo was none other than the shy cousin whom Dan ignored in the school bus, the one voted “Most Studious” in our senior class: Sam. 

I won’t go into Sam’s accusations, since they’re quoted at length in Davis’s article. But Sam's comments made me think back to the black limos at SIS. While Dan and I are both from the Korean diaspora, he (and Sam) had mobility, access, and knowledge that I didn’t possess, and that positioned us differently. Not that I ever wanted to be a pop star -- I wanted to be a famous actor in the US. More than that, I wanted recognition. Dan had that (along with the perils it brought). That’s what I was jealous of. Recognition was all I ever wanted, and never found, in either the alabaster landscape of Salt Lake City or the neon-lit streets of Seoul. It’s something I’ve finally found -- or rather, re-defined for myself -- here in the Bay Area. One could say I’m one actor in a dynamic Asian American cast using our un/still bodies and active imaginations to create a series of “tableaux.” 

I recently downloaded Dan’s solo album Fever’s End, which not only documents the pain and frustration Dan went through with the TaJinYo controversy, but also his ability to harness his considerable writing and rapping skills to persevere. In short, if “Tablo” is a well-crafted fabrication, it’s only because of the remarkable talents of its author. I am proud of my protégé, who never was my protégé. That was a fictional role that I made up too, in order to feel less alone in a country that never felt like home. And that’s the true worth of a story -- not whether it’s “true,” or helps us find fame and fortune, but if it helps us survive and become better people, and maybe even create a better world.         

On October 10, the Seoul District Court sentenced eight TaJinYo members. “Mr. Lee” and two others will serve ten months in jail while “Mr. Song” and five others will serve two years of probation. On October 19, after a three-year hiatus, Epik High released its seventh album, 99. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m sure it’s just as good as all of Dan’s other work, going all the way back to his emo-licious poems and rebellious stories for Kaleidoscope. A few days ago I dusted off the issue we co-edited together and found a short essay he wrote entitled “Forgiveness.” The last two sentences contain a message that the jailed members of TaJinYo, Dan, Sam, and I could heed from a high school junior whose future had yet to be written: “Sometimes anger and frustration flood our minds. We must let forgiveness be a life-jacket for love.”

avieyal 10th-Dec-2012 09:29 am (UTC)
That was a decent read, thanks for posting this, OP ^^
ur_a_funny_1 10th-Dec-2012 10:12 am (UTC)
Really interesting, and informative for us foreigners who don't know the background of the attitudes.
gundae 10th-Dec-2012 10:33 am (UTC)
now I want to read tablo's short stories from high school...
unlived 10th-Dec-2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
you should read his book that he had published, its pretty good i bought it from my local korean bookstore
drytata 10th-Dec-2012 10:37 am (UTC)
taecmyheart 10th-Dec-2012 10:46 am (UTC)
wow. his cousin seems very...jealous. :|
anathema_switch 10th-Dec-2012 11:08 am (UTC)
I'm not sure what to think of this article...it seems to be mostly about the author not Tablo.

"Netizens were a sign of an expanding and vibrant civil society that for decades suffered under intense censorship under a succession of US-supported South Korean military dictatorships."

Not sure what to make of this statement either.
jorge_callas 10th-Dec-2012 01:34 pm (UTC)
could I ask you to clarify what is confusing about the statement? I'm not sure I would consider netizens part of/a sign of civil society either
fabledlamb 10th-Dec-2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what part of the statement is making you confused or disagree but I think he uses the term 'civil society' in the sense that people are able to gather information, form their own opinions and express themselves freely, here through the medium of the internet as 'netizens'. Which, in comparison to the situation until the 1980s, the dictatorships and censorship, was something new to Korean society and gave everyone at least a chance to participate in public affairs.
___varying 10th-Dec-2012 11:16 am (UTC)
That last quote is equal parts poetry and truth. ;___; I need to pin it up somewhere in my room as a reminder to myself, since I hold petty grudges pm all the time. :((
izabera 10th-Dec-2012 01:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you OP, this article is interesting on so many levels from the experiences of the author himself to the background of Tablo at school and his family.

I've often thought that famous people don't keep in touch with their school friends because their lifestyles change too much, they don't have any spare time and they're worried about being used for their fame and money.
The possibility of not keeping in touch because you don't want your friends to unravel a carefully constructed life story never crossed my mind. It goes to show that even a nice guy like Tablo is partly fake, like most entertainers.

I also understand his cousin's jealousy a little better too. It's still very ugly and unforgivable but for the first time I can see where it came from.
hipployta 10th-Dec-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
I found his whole statement about his constructed identity amusing. Every celebrity persona is created but poetry and Hip Hop flow from the same well so why does he find that so hard to believe it was his outlet?
izabera 10th-Dec-2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
I know, but at the same time I suspect I'd be the same if it was someone I used to be close to.
I like that he was so honest about his feelings, including jealousy, and ended up reflecting on his own need for recognition (unlike those TaJinYo psychos).
karmin90 10th-Dec-2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
I agree. Unlike Tablo's cousin, Sam, he didn't lash out because of his jealousy. He acknowledged it and (hopefully) moved on.
hipployta 10th-Dec-2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
I suppose that's possible. I only know football players and musicians. No one cares about them except the groupies LOL.
fabledlamb 10th-Dec-2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
That was really interesting. It's great to see that the author was able to overcome his own feelings of jealousy in regards to Tablo's rise to fame and found his own way. Also, I liked what he wrote about authenticity and "Tablo" as the product of a partly fictional "bio/life story" created by the writer and artist Daniel Lee.
somacomatose 10th-Dec-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
interesting read but lol forever at "obsessed with the character “Armand” from Anne Rice novels"
aifurikuri 10th-Dec-2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
Anne Rice for life! lol
anconeous 10th-Dec-2012 11:31 pm (UTC)

Isn't Tablo's English middle name Armand too? LOL if he chose the name because of Anne Rice's Armand. Cute fanboy!
crystalheng 11th-Dec-2012 12:51 am (UTC)
Bingo. He gave himself that middle name because of the character.
iluvkidnappers 11th-Dec-2012 02:20 am (UTC)
reason im in this post lol
shintotchi 10th-Dec-2012 04:44 pm (UTC)
Good read. Interesting to hear from an old highschool friend without having them drag a celeb through mud. Good stuff.
kyuuhyun 10th-Dec-2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
I want to read his short stories now. And lol Armand was always my favourite character too XD
ranwae 10th-Dec-2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting!
hipployta 10th-Dec-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'm kind of side eyeing the writer though because he asked why didn't Tablo come ask SIS people for help...probably for the same reason none of them stepped up. People at Stanford tried to help him on their own. ijs

Also there is subtle shade thrown all over the place even if it is a good article. Why judge your success by the path of others anyway?
aifurikuri 11th-Dec-2012 01:05 am (UTC)
At least he's being honest about the envy he felt instead of starting another whole set of tajinyo campaign.
sub_divided 14th-Dec-2012 05:08 am (UTC)
Late but I agree with you here. I don't totally understand this thing where seeing someone you were close to succeed pains you. Cultural difference?
hitsujiga 10th-Dec-2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
good read, thanks.
mouthings 10th-Dec-2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
totally read the whole article.
after watching tablo's "healing camp" episode, i appreciated 'dan's' story from a different perspective :)
thanks for posting.
montauks 10th-Dec-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
this was a good read. all celebrities are carefully curated versions of themselves, i don't blame them it's kind of inevitable. people change etc. etc. and i would hate to have a "past self" be exposed to the public.
love_keiko 10th-Dec-2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
printed this out for future reading!
vagueclarity 10th-Dec-2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
good read. thanks, op!
msdaccxx 10th-Dec-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
Blimey, It's like Amadeus. Kinda

This and the Wired article between them make for a great and really comprehensive overview of the whole situation. It's good to get the perspective of someone who understands the toxic mix of envy and resentment that's at the back of what happened, both within Tablo's own family and within the Korean diaspora. Tall poppy syndrome gone into overdrive.

I bet the aunties in the Lee family aren't swapping too much "how's your boy doing?" news these days, mind. Awkwaaaard.
lightframes 11th-Dec-2012 01:54 am (UTC)
I liked this article. It was a good perspective.
beanii 11th-Dec-2012 02:56 am (UTC)
I was holding off buying Tablo's short stories till I managed to collect every Epik High album.
But now I'm thoroughly interested and might go ahead and buy it.
orenji13 11th-Dec-2012 04:03 am (UTC)
This is a good read.
Don't we all have a friend that got all the good things in easy way?
Props to the writer to acknowledge his teens jealousy and bitter feeling and move on..

I;ll pin this to my wall: “Sometimes anger and frustration flood our minds. We must let forgiveness be a life-jacket for love.”

I love Tablo poems.. Is written in such honesty that it just strike closer.
b1gay4 11th-Dec-2012 04:21 am (UTC)
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