The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Waiting for Aquaman who bridges land and sea

By Korea Herald

Published : April 3, 2024 - 05:31

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While I was watching the 2018 American superhero films, “Aquaman” and its 2023 sequel, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” I realized that South Korea desperately needed political leaders like Aquaman. In the movie, Aquaman bridges two radically different worlds: the land and the sea.

Aquaman can thus be seen as a symbol of the ideal political leader: one who can quench our thirst for peace and harmony by mediating other binary oppositions, such as progressivism and conservatism, nationalism and globalism, or Left and Right. These binaries have plagued our country for the past seven decades. Why can we not find a leader to bridge them?

“Aquaman” begins during a severe storm as Thomas, a lighthouse keeper, rescues Atlanna, Queen of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Soon, they fall in love and have a son named Arthur who later becomes “Aquaman.” Since Arthur is the son of a father from the surface world and a mother from the underwater kingdom, he is an idealistic man who can bridge between the land and the sea.

One day, Atlantean soldiers arrive at the lighthouse to bring back Atlanna, who fled from her prearranged marriage. In order to protect her husband and son, Atlanna decides to return to her underwater kingdom. Thus, Arthur grows up under his father’s supervision and tutelage on the surface world, thereby embracing both the land and the sea.

Years later, Arthur’s half-brother, Orm, becomes king of Atlantis. He wants to destroy the surface world in order to stop it from polluting the oceans. Orm is politically ambitious and wants to become Ocean Master by uniting four underwater kingdoms and waging war against the surface world.

Unlike his half-brother, Arthur does not have any political ambitions. He just enjoys talking to fish, with which he can communicate. Therefore, people call him “Fishman” or “Aquaman.” In order to save the two worlds from imminent war, however, Arthur reluctantly ousts his tyrannical half-brother and inherits the throne of the underwater king.

At the end of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” Aquaman unites the seven kingdoms under the sea peacefully, and presents the united underwater kingdom to the UN, thereby uniting the two worlds. Finally, the underwater kingdom and the surface world reconcile.

While King Orm perceives the surface world as an adversary and antagonizes it, Aquaman, who belongs to both worlds, embraces both the land and the sea. Queen Atlanna supports Arthur the Aquaman and tells her second son Orm, ”Your father taught you that there are two worlds. He was wrong. The land and the sea are one.” Indeed, the underwater Atlanteans are originally from the surface world, who have learned how to breathe under the sea. Therefore, there is no reason that the underwater kingdom and the surface world should hate and annihilate each other.

The movie, “Aquaman,” ends with Aquaman’s monologue, “My father was a lighthouse keeper and my mother was a queen. They were never meant to meet. But their love saved the world. They made me what I am. A son of the land and a king of the seas. I am the protector of the deep. I am Aquaman.”

Like a lighthouse, the Korean Peninsula is located between the land and the sea, guiding ships to safe waters so they can securely embark at ports. Since ships bring merchandise to ports, the land and the sea are mutually beneficial. We hope that like Aquaman, our political leaders can bridge the continental civilization and the oceanic civilization, as well.

The symbolism of the land and the sea in the movie “Aquaman” could also be a metaphor of the polarity in our society. For example, progressives and conservatives, socialism and the free market economy, the young and the old, and the rich and the poor. The antagonism between the two has seriously dismantled the foundation of our country and degenerated our society for the past few decades.

In South Korea, we, too, need leaders like Aquaman who can mediate the two mutually antagonizing worlds and embrace the differences with his powerful, magical trident. We also hope that such leaders can solve the problems of the cancerous polarization that has divided the nation into two spiteful, hostile groups.

We hope that like Aquaman, our future leaders could turn South Korea into a serene, peaceful country, and like a lighthouse keeper, steer our country into a safe passage amid a severe storm. We also hope that their primary concern is not their personal political ambitions, but the future of our country and the world. We hope that they can be “a son of the land and a king of the seas” and “the protector of the deep” who can bring reconciliation and harmony to our civil war-ridden society.

We are anxiously waiting for an Aquaman who can reconcile the opposing perspectives and ideologies, thereby bringing unity to our country.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.