Thursday, August 07, 2008

New Elements in Old Protest Culture
» by USinKorea

I started to leave this as a comment on one of Kalani’s posts when I decided it might be better done as a post of its own. It meanders - so sorry about that…

The posts theme is: The K-blogsphere is one of the newest and freshest elements in South Korean protest culture.

Some of us will remember back to the 2002 days — to the time before December when the US media finally got a freakin clue and began covering the story.

This was a time before blogs had taken off on the internet. I’m not sure if there were any “blogs” at all back then.

I can remember Gerry Bevers set up one of the first K-sites — a “forum” at a Microsoft forum site. I can’t remember the actual place and a very quick google didn’t turn it up and my memory is failing to recall the name….

….but at the very same time, I had set up a forum at Yahoo and for the same reason: desperation to have ANY chance of getting information about what the hell was going on in Korea out to an American (and international) audience.

(note: I have again started using images like the one above (that one from 2002) because it has become clear - again - that the anti-US groups are successfully using kids as a main element in Korean protest culture. Thankfully, there is somewhat of a backlash against this within Korean society itself)

I remember — several of the people who would become regular K-blogs and commenters used these early forums to encourage each other to send links and emails to US media outlets trying to get them to pay attention.

As things got more and more out of control - the effort to reach people grew.

Eventually, it became obvious the US media didn’t care and the effort shifted to providing an alternative source - even if such an effort was pretty much futile.

That is when websites began popping up as an alternative to the Forums. Geocities was one of the main providers some individuals started to turn to. Web-design then was not nearly as user friendly as it is today, and bandwidth and storage space was very limited. The design programs were clunky and awkward, and I can remember that led some K-web people to start learning HTML and other codes.

Dave’s ESL Cafe was also an already established outlet - mainly for the ESL crowd.

Blogs weren’t available much until well after the 2002-early 2003 massive spike in anti-US activity had died down.

But, since then, the K-blogsphere has become arguably the biggest new element in South Korea’s anti-US culture. It has fundamentally altered the playing field — not completely by any stretch of the imagination - but it has altered it significantly.

The anti-US groups were way, way ahead of the curve in taking advantage of new elements on the internet. Sites like were cutting edge by using new avenues to promote their message before those avenues were even really known out in the world wide web.

The “progressives” like those running The Voice were using images and online articles and then especially videos well before even large commercial sites like CNN and the likes were doing so and before the likes of MBC or KBS - which have been years ahead of US media outlets in getting their stuff online.

And these “progressive” sites in Korea mushroomed quickly.

They became a significant recruitment tool - one of the primary recruitment tools - for the progressives - like the anti-US movement in Korean society.

For a year or two, they held the field un-opposed.

But, as blogging grew, the K-blogsphere mushroomed about as quickly, and the field has thankfully become contested - primarily for non-Koreans, but somewhat increasingly among Koreans too. (The language barrier is the main blocking point there)

K-bloggers have lacked unity and coordination — something that has long given the “progressives” in Korea strength and staying power — but sites like Marmot’s Hole, One Free Korea’s, GI Korea’s, Dave’s ESL Cafe, Kalani’s site and many, many more —- have —– created a large enough presence on the internet that — an alternative analysis of what goes on in Korea is now available to anyone who goes to Google to look for information.

That is huge.

(note - Thank Big Hominid for the images. Also, there are many, many K-blogs and sites that deserve mentioning. You can find them on the blogrolls of sites like GI Koreas. I limited this post to mentioning a few that have been around since near the beginning, post daily, focus most of their attention on political/social issues related to South Korea, get a significant amount of daily hits, and are still up-n-running. Recently, sadly enough, a number of the old timers have moved on - like Lost Nomad and temporarily Big Hominid himself)

I don’t know if you can emphasize that enough.

Before 2002, there were hardly ever ANY notes in the Western press about Korean anti-US attitudes or the protest culture. It had not been a phenomenon on the world media horizen since the 1988 Olympic riots.

And the few notes you got here and there on this aspect of Korean society were almost always the same — they summed it up in the mantra “But, the vast majority of Koreans don’t want US forces to leave.”

Those who the press turned to seemed to have some need to downplay the reality. This included leaders in the US Embassy, State Department, USFK, Defense Department, and also scholars on Korea. I can understand why the US government figures tried to limit a possible backlash by downplaying Korea’s anti-US culture, but it isn’t so understandable among the scholars — but you even see this tendency among K-bloggers at times:

I’ll go into a brief tangent here about that to provide an example:

When this extremely vile video was produced and taken up by the Korea Teachers Union for possible use in classroom lessons about APEC and globalization — and the evil Uncle Sam Bully — the well-established K-blogsphere - hardly touched it at all.

Other much more minor events had led to widespread coverage across the K-blogs for as much as a week or two - with wild free-for-alls in the comment sections —-

—– but for some reason God only knows —- one of the most disgusting, vile, dispicable products to ever come out of the anti-US “progressive” movement — did not make a dent on the K-blogs.

Eventually, this pissed me off about as much as the video itself. In fact, the bleeping Korean media spent more time on the video and the KTU than the expat community!!!

Why is still somewhat of a mystery —- but I believe it goes back to a tendency well established among scholars of Korea that — they have earned the right to complain about this or that in Korean society - because they have spent years getting to know Korean society — and if they were to focus serious attention on anti-US culture - people who know nothing else about Korea will put too much emphasis on the anti-US activity — and start to unjustly hate Korea —- so - that must be avoided - by not taking anti-US culture seriously.

Thankfully, the vile KTU video is about the only major example I’ve seen of this tendency in the K-blogsphere….were anti-US culture is one of the most frequent topics of conversation….

Anyway, back to the main theme of this post:

In 2002, the first thing the US media reported, and the only thing they reported pretty much, was the mantra, “But the vast majority of Koreans don’t want US troops to leave.”

For some of us in Korea at the time, experiencing the orgy of anger — it was enough to make you go apolectic.

In fact, again, I can remember clearly that it was the utter frustration with the lack of coverage and getting the initial coverage so wrong — that led to first efforts to create what eventually became the K-blogpshere.

Now, the K-blogsphere has grown into a legitimate influencial alternative source.

Blogging took off as a world-wide phenomenon - having your own web domain became free or cheap with a wide range of easier and easier to use web design programs - and most recently - popular sites like You Tube have added a whole new multi-media dimention.

Again, the progressive groups in Korea were WELL-AHEAD of the curve in using video and audio to get their message out.

And for several years, it wasn’t cost effective or widely available to get a counter-message out.

The videos I used to take off of Voice of People’s site and add simple edits for a non-Korean audience were somewhat difficult to find a home for early on in the 2002-2003 period.

Over the years, as Yahoo and other services began upgrading bandwidth usage and storage space, and costs dropped, it became easier to follow the Korean progressive’s lead.

Now, with the phenomenal growth in You Tube, it might have become too easy:

Like the Korean-American in the US who took videos off the progressive sites and re-edited them with scenes from 2007 protests where police used water cannons - to create a fake online “report” on You Tube saying the Korean police used violent means on middle and high school protesters.

Early in the current protest cycle, I started to use You Tube to gather material for an eventual review of Cows Gone Wild!! Hysteria — but I quickly gave up, because it was just too time consuming to try to weed out the crap and locate useful items.

And that is still one area in which the “progressives” in Korea have a major edge: they do this as a profession.

K-bloggers do it as a hobby.

People like GI Korea and One Free Korea and Kalani should be given some big kudos for being able to put together lengthy, quality posts as they routinely do - and have been doing for several years.

Sites like Voice of People and other mainstays in the Korean “progressive” web-sphere — are run by professionals - whose career is getting their message out to the Korean people. That is one reason they are so successful at it. They have a paid staff as well as a very eager cadre of woefully misguided Korean college students and 20-somethings.

They also have ample funding.

They clearly have the advantage.

But, that makes the growth in the K-blogsphere more important or news worthy.

Because, the popular K-blogs (and other websites created by many of these same people) —- and I also want to emphasize the impact regular commenters make —- HAVE created an alternative source for information about Korea’s “progressive” movement and anti-US culture.

They have created a very real and important source of information.

A source for information that was not available prior to 2003.

Now, when American or other foreign reporters sitting in their home countries decide to check out events in Korea — they do not have to satisfy themselves with only the line the US Embassy or USFK leadership or US government leaders give them:

which is still the same old tired mantra: The vast majority of Koreans don’t want US troops to leave

I can remember back to when the US media first started paying attention to events in Korea around Novemeber and December of 2002 - when protests were reaching well over 100,000 participants night after night. — Several eventual K-bloggers, like myself and Bevers, got emails from reporters wanting to know what was happening.

(It was kinda stupid — because the news orgs I got emails from were some of the very same ones I had been sending almost daily quotes and links from English-language media sources in Korea. If they had been doing anything beyond deleting those emails — they would have had a pile of source material detailing what was going on already)…

I can remember one of them seemed somewhat frantic - as if her editor was putting heat on her to get a quality story out — because after the New York Times ran a couple of pieces the US media suddenly decided events in Korea might be important — and they all piled on - as is typical of the US and World Media — but so few people in the media knew anything about Korea, they were at a loss for a time how to go about covering the story.

——That will not happen again. (At least it shouldn’t) —

—-because the K-blogsphere and related sites have carved out a significant space on the internet.

Sites like GI Koreas, Marmot’s Hole, and others get thousands of hits a day.

When things like Cows Gone Wild!! Hysteria break out in the future —-

—– people unfamiliar with Korea — will find very long term expats like Kalani offering their informed opinion about what it all means.

They will also get the chance to see different knowledgable expats discuss/argue with each other about what it all means. — offering a diverse range of opinions which adds credibility to the K-blogs.

And lastly, the K-blogsphere has been noticed within Korean society.

Koreans, sometimes influencial Koreans, like members of the big time Korean press, check out some of the popular K-blogs from time to time to see how the expat community is reacting to events in Korea.

And these people know others around the world might run across the same pages. — And that can help influence Korean protest culture —- because one thing Korean society is petrified of is — bad international press.

(In fact, the use of “candlelight vigils” was a direct result of Korean society worrying about how much information was leaking out of the country concerning Korea’s protest culture back in 2002)

In the past, it could only take one or two negative articles in the New York Times to kill a spike in anti-US activity in Korea. Some might remember that that is exactly how the first major spike in anger died in 2002:

After the World Cup left Korean soil, Korean society, led by the mainstreammedia, (MBC being one of the worst) quickly whipped itself into a frenzy over the death of the two middle school girls they had ignored for a couple of weeks. (Much fewer people, even in the K-blogsphere, remember that anti-US activity had been significant going back into 2001 and President Bush’s Axis of Evil speech).

Things got so bad, three GIs were attacked on the subway by protesters and one was kidnapped and forced to participate in a massive on-campus hate-fest.

Before that, while still on the subway, the whole thing kicked off when one of the middle aged protest leaders punched that same GI in the face.

For about half a day the next day, the Korean press did as you would expect —- cried how the GIs who beat the poor old man should be held to Korean justice and USFK should apologize and oh what a further example the event was to prove yet again how much disdain the US in Korea has for Koreans.

The images is from Korea’s version of the perp-walk — when the 3 GIs were detained by the police and questioned pending likely charges being filed against them.

Then — the New York Times wrote one article about the event - and did not paint the abduction of the Gi in quiet the same light.

The Stars and Stripes went much further — it posted the web address of a video showing the mob chasing two of the soldiers through the streets and also had quotes from the kidnapped GI’s mother, who had just finished watching the video online — and had quotes from USFK leaders expressing, albeit in somewhat diplomatic speak - just how pissed off USFK was about what happened.

—- And with that very limited coverage of events in Korea — with that one solitary article in the New York Times (and a similar one the same day in the LA Times) - Korean society instantly knew it was time to shut up - and the large protests disappeared — within 24 hours. So did the press drum beating of anti-US sentiment over the tank accident. It simply vanished overnight….

It didn’t start back for about two months - once Korea saw the US media was not going to follow up on anything - and it mushroomed into the orgy of anger and hate so many of us remember from the end of 2002….

Now, with the growth of the K-blogsphere, important elements of Korean society, and more average Koreans, are beginning to understand that — it isn’t just the NY Times they have to be concerned about anymore….

That will likely have at least a minor impact on Korea protest culture.

It as already definately had a significant impact on the level of attention the world community can have on Korea’s protest culture.

In short, the word is getting out ——- finally…..

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