Jacks of All Trades and Masters of None: Quiz Show by Kim Young-ha

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.1 Autumn 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Quiz Show

An online game show becomes more than a mere way to pass time for a group of cyber-savvy 20- somethings. The stakes become a matter of life and death for its disaffected protagonist.

Kim Young-ha is adept at reflecting his personal taste in the form of refined stories. Kim, in his 40s, is one of the few writers who can seamlessly capture the sensibilities of people in their 20s. His latest novel Quiz Show is an entertaining take on Koreans in their 20s, many of whom feel a deep sense of loneliness.

The young group is often dubbed the “880,000-won” generation because today’s youth can barely get by on such a small salary; they often work at convenience stores and get little public attention in Korean society.

Kim’s interpretation of this particular group is that: “The most beautiful people are often in the most unfortunate state.” Kim, in fact, belongs to the first generation of PC on-line users who experienced the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet. Kim says that his generation noticed the huge potential of the on-line community where people could talk with each other in real time without revealing their true identities, and even have on-line relationships that develop into serious love or friendship. But on-line networks, though crucial for communication, have long been disregarded. Critics often use negative adjectives to describe cyberspace: “onetime, anonymous, irresponsible, and even unethical.” Characters in Kim’s new novel do not accept the negative perception about on-line communication; rather, they fully embrace their identity built up on what is called the “cultural garbage” in cyberspace. The Internet, after all, is much more than a communications network for the new generation. It signifies the younger generation’s mental and cultural center.

In the novel, a man in his 20s embarks on an on-line journey after having lost his family, job, and his loved one. He and his peers take an on-line quiz show very seriously. The online show is a make-or-break showdown that can determine their entire life in a single bet. Twentysomethings are under fire for their addiction to cyberspace, but Kim’s perspective reveals a different image. “We studied hard, we’re more intelligent and we can speak foreign languages better and we can deal with technology like simple toys. Many of us have a college degree, our TOEIC scores are high and we can watch Hollywood action films without Korean subtitles. We can also type at least 300 characters per minute; we are on average taller; everyone can play at least one musical instrument – you can play the piano, right? – and we read a lot more than our parents did. Strange thing is, our parents’ generation could make a fine living if they were good at only one thing. But how come we are idling away our lives even though we can do far more and far better? Why is it that all of us are without jobs? What the heck is wrong with us?” 

Author's Profile

The English editions of Kim Young-ha’s I Have the Right to Destroy MyselfYour Republic Is Calling You, and Black Flower were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who will also publish his latest book in 2017. Kim was a resident writer at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2003, and a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times from 2013 to 2014. His books have appeared in more than twelve languages.