MBC’s “Shocking Truth” Is Another Black Mark

12 Jun
I like Korea less and less with each of these seemingly trivial, yet revealing incidents, like the airing of MBC’s “Shocking Truth“, and as I deal with South Koreans more. I love my wife – she is a loyal friend who challenges me to improve myself. I endeavor to be more than a lover and husband to her. I respect my family and friends, even if I disagree with their opinions and decisions. Those sentiments do not extend to many other people in the world outside family, friends, and U.S. Army comrades. I don’t expect my employers to change; I just cash my checks and try to anticipate the future as best as possible. I have never wanted to stay in this troubled region of the world, and I have actively sought employment in the States for almost a year now. I feel no loyalty to any employer, because the whole point for me to work and study for my Master’s degree was to get a job that doesn’t involve teaching. I am grateful, but not sycophantic. I have empathized and analyzed, and I don’t like Korean culture – it’s group-oriented, hierarchical, and sexist modern culture and its traditional emphasis on moderation and compromise among opposites is repulsive to my liberal perspective. But, I do like kimchi.

I’m relieved I can begin this opinion with this cri de coeur, because frankly I’m tired of having my feelings exploited in this country. I choose to accept R.M. Adamson’s opinion, as well as those other opinions I will quote below, as estimably earnest. I do disagree, and, furthermore, I think these opinions are morally wrong.

There is, I think, some value in speaking the truth about what you feel, even if others disagree-even if they disagree enough to want to hurt you because of it. More often than not, these are precisely the things that need to be said, the things that others most need to hear, even if they often would rather not.

It’s not the same as to say that you should proselytize your opinions, and coercion ought never be employed. As expatriates we often run headlong into problems that often stem from culturally-based conflicts, I often find that if I see, hear or experience something that irritates me or makes me angry, taking a little time to reflect on it is the best thing. Just because something finds its basis in some cultural pattern or norm doesn’t prevent it from being inefficient, irrational or even cruel, though it always helps to try to understand the underlying root causes of what is going on – oh, and sometimes I even change my mind, though most often I find better reasons than I had before. The times when I change my mind turn out to be the times for which I feel most grateful. Arguments and even bitter conflicts can help us change and grow, if we are willing to use them that way.

But there are other times when we feel that remaining silent and neglecting to lodge a reaction is, possibly, the worst way to react. At such times, we are falling down if we shut up and let things pass. Recently, something has come up that has brought nearly everyone to this point of having to speak up.

For the past week or so there there’s been another Topic of the Moment, the thing everyone is talking about over here right now-which, come to think, is the same topic as it was the last five times there was one, the one about xenophobic and racist attitudes Korean people express about foreigners. The latest instance is a video segment on one of the premiere broadcasting stations, MBC, that talks about foreigners involved in relationships with Korean women.

It is racist. Yes, most certainly. It targets expatriate men, especially American men, and presents them as some kind of danger to Korean society, especially to Korean women, depicting foreign males as sexual predators who target vulnerable young women and then make them pregnant or infect them with sexual diseases. Just as bad, it demeans Korean women by implying that they are easy to fool and unable to make rational choices-it speaks from a paternalistic frame of mind that a modern country ought to have moved beyond by now.

“Things are getting better.” (here and here)

This is not an argument; it’s wishful thinking. And, it’s not an empirical statement; it’s a philosophical perspective that undermines empirical inquiry. It’s a delusion. Observing countries and people, not as laypeople say, as in “Korea” or “foreigners”, but rather as a collection of individuals and institutions, it’s unscientific to posit a perspective before all the facts are in, because the perspective will disturb the collection of data. Without proper polling data, I’m left with these artifacts, like MBC’s “Shocking Truth” or what some random Korean person did on the bus last weekend. Or, more likely, what my friends do or my wife says. I can, and should, empathize and analyze, but I will evaluate the incident or speech act whether I am or conscious or not. It behooves me to take responsibility for this all-too human propensity, by evaluating my standards of evaluation, and drilling down, evaluate those standards to the farthest meta-level I can handle. At some point, I have to decide what I believe, and then submit that hypothesis to friends and family (this blog?) for confirmation. Shorn of the language, people do this everyday, repeatedly, whether the process involves a lover or a job offer. In a lab or a journal, this process ends in truth, always provisional, but also always important and useful.

I don’t know if South Korea is getting better, because I don’t have all the data by which to evaluate it. “Korea is getting worse” is as likely a hypothesis as “Korea is getting better”. Or, most likely, “Korea is changing.” is an accurate start. In a hundred years, South Korea could be ten times its present size and power. It could also cease to exist. The possibilities are only limited by the variables used. What many seem to say by “Things are getting better.” is “Korea will change, and it will improve by standards I deem important.” “The good news is that at least this time we are not getting painted as junkies and pedophiles.” (3WM) By standards I deem important, Korea is not changing for the better.

Korea has slowly been becoming a better place to live as a foreigner as the country opens up and tries to make an impact on the global stage, but the apprehension felt toward those not part of the Han culture persists among many here, and the root causes of the xenophobia remain complex and go back not just decades, but centuries. In recent history, it concerns the abuses endured during the half-century of Japanese hegemony and colonialism, and a Cold War era that put the country under the protective umbrella of the U.S., which tolerated and to some extent supported the brutal dictators who ruled by fiat until the late 80s. The sense of being overshadowed and controlled by outside countries would inevitably bring about a sense of weakness, and shame at being weak, and at times a fatalistic helplessness in the face of history.

The compensatory response ought not to surprise us much: hysterical nationalism around certain issues regarding Japan such as the territorial dispute over Dokdo, irrational and violent street protests about the Free Trade Agreement with America, and the occasional animosity and ill will toward those of us who have made the choice to come here to live and work as seen in this video.

I could argue, that the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s is an orphan; that a 60-year civil war, which was a result of incidents at least 50 years in the making, is still unresolved; and, that South Korea’s sovereignty is not proven until it can defend itself. I could also argue, that the southern reactionary rump of the Korean state is as authoritarian as the northern rump is, only the United States lends defensive cover for a Potemkin exemplar that softens the harsher edges of its ingrained contempt for liberty with a veneer of paternalistic capitalist prosperity.

To be fair, Korean culture doesn’t account for South Korean prowess.

Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions-with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.

Those institutions are distinctly anti-feminist.

Along with the old “Korea throwing Foreigners under the bus” thing, let’s not forget, and let’s be quite loud in voicing the other major problem with this video: the way it treats Korean women as if they are idiots with no self-agency, ripe and passive victims to the blue-eyed voodoo of white males.

Because this video is just as much about women being easily duped and victimized, as it is about foreign men, and the idea that Korean women are helpless, faced with foreign men, is insulting to the intelligence and freedom of Korean women. It also has hints of possessiveness — “they’re OUR women…” which is also insulting and degrading to Korea’s smart, dynamic, diverse, well-educated and self-determining females.

Perhaps, though, there is either no room for such liberal feminism in a Potemkin state, or Koreans will never espouse liberalism, because the majority of Koreans voting in their own voices, more or less, would not want such values. Non-Koreans cannot compel such a conversion, and it’s foolhardy to believe it will just happen. Korea’s future could be worse, but it will most likely not be like any other country’s trajectory.

I also choose to believe in the estimable value of these Korean producers, my friends, my family. I do not feel anger towards them. Well, that clown last weekend really deserved an ass-whooping! I want to believe, that Koreans can change – that’s my delusion. But, I know that change is not always good. I also know from experience – of a bigoted father – that the impulse to change people is often an act of selfishness and vanity. And, even more down that path, forgiveness is wrong, when the object of that vanity is not worth the sacrifice. Trying to change Korea is an act of moral vanity that most likely can only end in self-delusion and very real tragedy. Expatriates should not believe we are changing Korea; we are only pursuing self-interest in a very broad way only each person can understand. I lack the arrogance to suggest to South Koreans what they should do with their predicament.
Oh, I agree with Jennifer Booker Young: people, regardless of their backgrounds, can be morons.

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One Response to “MBC’s “Shocking Truth” Is Another Black Mark”

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  1. Korean Gender Reader | The Grand Narrative - 15 June 2012

    […] MBC’s “Shocking Truth” Is Another Black Mark (Infidel […]

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