The Video I Asked You To Watch


Here’s that video.

I was surprised to find some members of our class didn’t see anything wrong with the video. I kind of assumed everyone would see that, at least. I frankly feel a little sad about that fact. I’m not mad at you guys, but the video does make me mad, to be honest. I’ll try to explain why, for the benefit of those who couldn’t understand what was wrong with it.

But if you feel like you understand, please don’t bother reading the rest. Just watch these response videos:

And consider my question to you:

Give the cultural differences between Korea and the English-speaking world, and given the fact that Westerners are very unlikely to simply do nothing about this kind of hate-propaganda…

… what do you think we non-Koreans should be doing as a response to this video?

This will be the basis of the discussion for Tuesday’s class. I’ll get back to you about Thursday’s class.

Now, you only should read more (ie. read the rest of this posting) if you still don’t understand or feel confused about either (a) what’s wrong with the MBC video, or (b) why people like me are insulted by it even if it doesn’t describe us. If that’s still not clear to you, go ahead and read what I wrote about the original video.

First, let’s leave aside how ridiculously bad the standards of journalism in the video are — and they are pretty bad, to the point where nobody should be fooled by it. If you don’t know why I think the video is offensive, I’ll ask you to consider this scenario:

Imagine that this was a Canadian or American or Australian news report about The Shocking Truth About Relationships With Koreans. (In fact, I’ve sadly heard there are similarly racist news videos on TV about Asians in parts of Australia, so maybe you don’t need to imagine.)

Imagine that the news report spoke about “Koreans” in a negative way, without even once presenting actual research, or facts, or even stating, “This is a minority activity, and most ‘foreigners’ in Korea aren’t anything like this.” Imagine the news saying, “Koreans are doing this…” and “Koreans are doing that!”

Imagine the only interviews with Koreans in the video being footage of drunk Korean college-aged boys bragging in Koreatown about having sex with white girls.

Imagine a professor being interviewed about how white girls are making fast relationships with Korean guys, but society needs to think carefully about this. (And imagine the interview being so heavily edited we can’t even tell what the professor actually said, which you can see if you watch the background during the interview.)

Imagine a camera filming a white woman catching a taxi, and then an Asian man comes up behind her, and it’s implied that they don’t know each other, that the Korean man is tricking, victimizing, or planning to rape the woman.

Imagine a white reporter calling white women and asking, “We heard you were victimized by Korean men,” and when the women say that’s not true, the reporter’s interpretation is not that he heard a false rumor, but that the women must be ashamed and lying to him, because Koreans are obviously so mean and bad that no white woman who ever is involved with a Korean man escapes victimization.

If you imagine all this, then it should make it easier to understand why so many people in Korea — not just foreigners, but friends of foreigners, and Korean women who are in relationships with foreigners — feel offended. It should also help explain why the response, “If you’re not like the guys or women in the video, why not just ignore it?” is not particularly helpful.

Frankly, the video paints all foreigners as depraved sex maniacs, as natural-born thieves and liars, as infected with HIV… because among all the nasty rumors and claims, the video fails to describe even one foreigner as not being that, or balance it with even one positive example, or to interview one educated, professional foreigner. Not one. Despite thousands of families of mixed race, with children and happy lives, not one of those cases was presented as a comparison or balance for the story.

But then, after all, this is not a news story. No, really. It is a video, but it’s not a news video.

Are there foreign men who have what you or I might consider “unhealthy” relationships with Korean women? Maybe. Are there Korean men who do the same with Western women in Korea? Of course — and I’ve heard stories that would shock you. And guess what: plenty of 100% Korean couples have relationships you or I would consider unhealthy, too! To focus on the few foreign men and the few women involved with them is racist because this is not a problem of foreigners: it’s a problem of men and women the world over.

By the way, while we’re at it, imagine being the most intensively HIV-tested population in a country — which E2 visa holding foreign teachers in Korea are — and then having some guy imply on TV that foreigners are giving Korean women HIV. Allow me to repeat: foreigners are the people who are most intensively tested for HIV in South Korea… at least, foreign teachers are. Nobody foreigner can work in a hakwon or school or university without being checked for HIV — and if they’re infected, they cannot get a work visa, and cannot live in Korea. So why did the video imply that Korean women get HIV from foreigners?

(The Korean government doesn’t require HIV testing for the many women who come to Korean on “entertainer” visas, though many of them end up in the sex trade. But teachers? You’d find a buried treasure on Wonmi Mountain sooner than you’d find a foreign teacher with HIV.)

Which all points to the purpose of the video. You could say the video is not about me, or most of the other foreigners you or I know.

Well, in fact, the video is about nobody. The pictures are all blurry, the stories are all based on rumors without any verification. That’s because the purpose of the video isn’t to provide news. The purpose of the video is very clearly propaganda.

It is propaganda designed to generate fear, hate, and disgust towards Western men…

… and to insult and promote disrespect for Korean women who dare to be seen in public with a non-Korean man.

Think about the amount of sexism in the video. You may not have noticed the first time through, but the video is extremely sexist. It unfairly depicts Korean women as somehow stupid, naive, and somehow magically hypnotized by foreigners. As you all know by your experience in our class, this is simply not true.

However, Korean women who choose to spend time with a foreigner — even a foreign friend — undergo constant humiliation in Seoul. People stare angrily; they attempt to start fights; they make rude comments; they call the woman things like 양공주 and 미친년 and 걸레.

Don’t be shocked. I learned all these words simply by walking around with Korean women — some whom I dated, some who were just friends of mine. People didn’t care about the specifics: I heard those words even with friends.

The assumption in the video is that no Korean woman could ever actually be involved in a healthy, decent relationship with a non-Korean man. That it would be insanely impossible for a foreigner and a Korean to actually, you know, love and respect one another.

The assumption that Korean women who date foreigners are all doing it to learn English. (In reality, at least in most couples I’ve known, the Korean partner was already fluent or almost-fluent in English when they started dating. In other words, it was not to learn English.)

The assumption is also that Korean women who are in a relationship with a non-Korean man are universally victims and idiots. And that’s as bad as calling a woman any of those bad words I mentioned above.

Each of those assumptions is both sexist and racist. Each assumption is dehumanizing and insulting. And hey, don’t take it from me: Watch those response videos I posted above, and listen carefully!

Not disagreement is a misunderstanding. I understood the video very well, because I have seen many videos and news reports like it before, and because I have encountered those attitudes constantly for many years. So have thousands of other people, who are trying to figure out what to do. We know there are good, decent people in Korea who don’t think this way. But we want to do something about the video.

So, if I can repeat my question to you, assuming you understand somewhat why I’m asking it:

Give the cultural differences between Korea and the English-speaking world, and given the fact that Westerners are very unlikely to simply do nothing about this kind of hate-propaganda…

… what do you think we non-Koreans should be doing as a response to this video?

This will be the basis of the discussion for Tuesday’s class. I’ll get back to you about Thursday’s class.

(And don’t feel pressured: in fact, I already knew what I was doing long before I asked the class to discuss it. I’m just curious what you think we should do, from a Korean cultural perspective.)

Again, this writing probably seems mad, but I promise: I’m not mad at you. See you Tuesday!

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