Right, so if you’ve been around the Korean expat blogosphere at all, you’ll have seen this image:
Okay, so yes, this is a cartoon about a “low quality foreigner,” a creature which has been a bugbear in several different communities in Korea, not all of them Korean. Yes, mostly it’s Koreans who’re talking about it in terms of “low quality foreigners,” because that’s how the term gets translated and that’s the kind of terms Korean media would use to say what Westerners living here would call “total f*cking losers who don’t belong here.”
But before I get into that, I want to say something that needs saying about this cartoon. Racist it might be—though personally, I think it’s much more sexist than racist, in its implication that Korean women are so dumb as to open their legs en masse to any white guy, no matter how weird or stupid he is.
The allegation of racism, though, is pretty hard to sustain when you look at precedents in the comics scene. I discovered this while reading the first chapter of Sheridan Prasso’s The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient. Right there on page 7 is a strip from the indie-expat comic “Charisma Man,” which ran in a Japanese zine for several years and apparently was all the rage among Western expats in Japan, too (for example according to this article in the Japan Times). This is the strip Prasso excerpted (also included on the page from which you can order yourself a copy):
Seriously: when you see the same tropes in a comic by Westerners in Japan ridiculing aspects of expat life in Japan, and (apparently) by a Korean about Westerners in Korea, ridiculing aspects of expat life in Korea—right down to the fact the guy was working a crappy job back home, and suddenly becomes a babe-magnet on his arrival in Asia, you have to start asking yourself whether this is, exactly, racism.
Is it racism when a Korean does it, but not when a Westerner does it? Isn’t that a racist way of reading these comics in itself? And aren’t we a bit thin-skinned, if we’re that irked by stereotypes that we know, all too well, exist for a reason? No, maybe most expats aren’t like this, but enough of them are, and very unrelentingly so, that it’s an understandable nuisance, and those always attract more attention than the normals.
That’s something to think over, for those who are pondering the apparent sensitivity Koreans have to foreign criticism. Foreigners are often pretty touchy about criticism from Koreans. And yeah, you, me, we’re not like that, but how many foreigners here are? There’s a reason Charisma Man caught on so big among expats in Japan… and if a Westerner were cartooning the same here, I think a lot of us Westerners would get a big kick out of it.