Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Vulgar Nature of the Korean News Media

Wow – it's really, really on, now.

60 whole minutes of bad journalism – a key informant is the "ex-girlfriends of English teacher" confirming all the media stereotypes about foreigners that they've been perpetrating for years.

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No matter what the distorted media picture says, here's what I observed from my own experience, and believe is echoed by most of the people I know:

– Almost all foreign teachers I know in Korea are all qualified and have real degrees. It's the old streetlight-and-the-key idea; if you just look for your key where you can easily find it – under the streetlight – or expect to see it, then that's the only place it will be. So when the Korean media's busy salivating for any scandal involving fake degrees, it will find them. Funny thing is, as most foreigners working in Korean organizations have suspected for years, there are a lot of Koreans working with some seriously fake resumes.

– Almost all foreign teachers I know in Korea, as well as any I've heard of, spend their time teaching their classes, doing some tutoring on the side, and generally spending their time just like Koreans do: going to get a bit to eat, having a few drinks, watching movies, shopping, seeing some shows or exhibits, touring around the country – whatever. Yet, the Korean media would have you think that all we do is sit around smoking out, waiting in alleyways for unsuspecting Korean women, and sit around on computers making fake degrees for our friends. And there's any problem with fake degrees, the real problem is with lax hiring practices and hagwon owners (many of whom themselves have fake degrees, ahem) who actually don't care, or even know that their walking dictionary is a faker. In the end, all one has to do is pick up the fucking phone to confirm resume information. Who's really being stupid here? The schools and hagwons who get faked out by a non-graduate, or the faker?

– Yeah, many foreign men enjoy a lot of attention from Korean women (which is really the crux of a lot of this media bullshit), but that's not illegal, and pretty inevitable. Perhaps the Korean government should ban Hollywood movies, television shows, and pop music – and activate re-education programs to eliminate decades of American influence. Then "easy" Korean women will stop showing up in Itaewon and Hongdae bars, and the men can go back to being celibate scholars, sitting at home and studying hangul and Korean history, waiting with bated breath for their next conversation class to start.

The Korean media is always looking for a scandal, and race-baiting stories of foreigners as "sexual predators" are the favorites. Too bad there hasn't been, to date, a story actually involving foreigners committing sexual crimes. It's mostly been limited to the Korean media skimming message boards, blogs, and even YouTube looking for something juicy. Too bad the "scandals" have all been legal and consensual acts, even if some of the stuff they've scraped up is in bad taste.

And taking things out of cultural context – fact is, in America, I'd say nearly everyone I know has smoked pot or at least experimented with other stuff in college. Even the Presidents of the United States admitted to doing drugs (Clinton "didn't inhale" his pot supposedly, and Bush was a heavy drinker and did coke). This is not to say that it's OK to do it in Korea, but then again, when the only people being targeted and watched closely are foreigners, is it any wonder foreigners keep getting busted?

And if we wanted to talk about cultural context, then by American standards, half the Koreans I know are simple high-functioning alcoholics. And ask anyone who'd lived in Korea – even on my heaviest drinking day of my life, I could never go toe-to-toe with the average Korean salaryman. So who is more "depraved," again? As long as we're making judgments.

In the end, this really reminds me of the conventional wisdom that would sometimes pass as "journalism" in the pre-Civil Rights American South. The vast, vast majority of black men weren't going around raping white women, but many white people knew it as a "fact" that they were, and were ready to act to prevent it. And the racial/gender dynamics are the same, as much of this anti-foreigner discourse (well, much of modern Korean nationalist discourse itself) is centered around notions of protecting an innocent, infantilized, and highly feminized notion of national "pride" and "culture."

This is an old fucking trope. As old as kijichon fiction and film, which consistently relied on the stock racist image of the ultimate degradation of the nation, which always involves an innocent Korean girl forced to prostitute herself to the (invariably black) American GI.

One may think this an alarmist analysis, but when you break it down, and you look at the consistent pattern of the crap that gets reported as "news" regarding foreigners in this country – that bottom-scraping YTN Hongdae report, the "HIV foreigner" story and the YTN YouTube non-scandal are the best recent examples – it's all rooted in the racist, sexist symbology of fear and anger of foreign cock entering Korean pussy.

And I'll leave it at that, without spin or any more fancy academic ideas to break it down. Because it's a vulgar thought, it is best left expressed as a vulgarity. And as far as the Korean media goes – relying on emails from Hotmail accounts, YouTube videos, and the ubiquitous "Korean ex-girlfriend" who of course, never engaged in any of the pot-smoking herself – such race-baiting in reporting, lack of professionalism in confirming hearsay without talking to the party in question, or even double-confirming legitimate sources – this is the ultimate in vulgar news.

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