Thoughts on the MBC Clip and the Facebook Reaction

An article ran in the Joongang Ilbo yesterday about the recent anti-foreigner propaganda clip that aired on MBC, and which I mentioned here.

Tonight, I posted a long post to Facebook, about the anti-MBC organization that has formed there. Mostly about how the organization needs to move beyond being anti-MBC if it is to achieve anything useful in the long run. What I wrote on Facebook (here) is as follows:

A thought.

MBC is not the source of these ideas, nor will it be the only place such crap is aired, published, or propagated in Korean society. MBC’s video isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem, and the problem at hand affects many more demographics than seem to be represented here in this discussion.

I think being too MBC-centric might hobble whatever you’re trying to do here in the long run. Not that our position is anything like that of African-Americans in the US — seriously, folks — but they don’t call it the “Action Against Jim Crow and the Racist, Blatantly etc etc.”, they call it the NAACP. (Same goes for the ADL [“Anti-Defamation League”] and NOW [“National Organization for Women”].)

If you really, seriously want to make things better, a more generalized blanket organization will need to be formed. It will need to involve people who live here long term, to keep it going. It will take energy. It will take time. The members would need to be fluent in Korean. If you want actual social change. And it will take a lifetime or two of many people working for it for even a moderate change, because that’s how it works with xenophobia as entrenched as it is in Korean society.

I suspect things are not quite so bad for foreigners in Korea that this will actually happen. I also suspect there won’t be a demand for foreign language teachers here long enough for it to matter much. People living somewhere temporarily on residency visas tend not to invest themselves in such organizations.

But realistically, if you do plan on making your home here for a long time, that’s what you’d want to do: form an umbrella organization. You’ll want to get people of the caliber of those who founded the NAACP, if you can find them — with such a small population of expats, and so much turnover, you may not end up with a W.E.B. Du Bois, sadly; and you’ll want to take a page from the NAACP’s book in forming an organization as diverse as possible, bringing in sympathetic Koreans and very aggressively bringing in membership from the non-white/non-Western community.

In fact, my sense is that the white foreigners in any such organization would probably play a role more like the Jewish-Americans in the early NAACP did; that is, as working from a position of relative (not absolute) racial and social privilege, for the betterment of all minorities in Korean society. This would also give all of us some perspective on the realities of race here, because, let’s be honest: while seeing videos like the MBC clip is insulting, and truly sucks (and regardless of how crappy are the worst of our personal experiences), we face only a fraction of the incredible crap that foreign emigrants to Korea of other races — as well as mixed-race Koreans of all ages, and Korean women and men who choose “others” as mates — find themselves having to endure here on a daily basis.

And if we all really, seriously believe in racial equality, the only non-hypocritical step is to move beyond being the predominantly white liberals that most of us are now, fretting over the abuse of their own collective image, and band together with everyone else who believes in and starves for racial equality… and then turn those collective energies to push Korean society in that direction.

I’ll be honest: I’m unlikely to remain here long enough myself to take part in such an organization very meaningfully (after eleven years, I’ve kind of had enough of it, and my [Korean] partner is sick and tired of being treated like a criminal for her choice of mate); but I would willingly contribute time and energy to it while I am here, in order to help make sure such a group would get a good start. A group that would have intelligent, coherent, and Korean-culture-appropriate talking points to respond to silliness like the recent comment that it’s a “guilty conscience” that is provoking the negative reaction to the MBC clip.

But such a group couldn’t exist primarily online; I think an in-person meeting of people seriously interested in being part of such a group in the long term would be a necessary first step. Intelligent discussion of strategy and organizational mandate and such would be a good thing to do, with some time for reflection and rethinking of things; but the most important thing would be to form a community of people and figure out how to get on the same page with regard to a bunch of things.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the MBC Clip and the Facebook Reaction

  1. I’ll be honest: I’m unlikely to remain here long enough myself to take part in such an organization very meaningfully (after eleven years, I’ve kind of had enough of it, and my [Korean] partner is sick and tired of being treated like a criminal for her choice of mate. . .

    Wow, strong words. I’ve been here 10 years and feel pretty much the same. It breaks my heart but even after all the effort I think I have to move on as well. Would you consider articulating the reasons for your decision to leave here or in a longer post?

    1. Strong words? Just honest.

      I’ve been trying for about a year to articulate those feelings in a way that doesn’t devolve into ranting, or insult the friends I have in Korea, or discourage those Koreans (and few expats) I know here who are fighting to change things for the better. I have wonderful Korean friends, and so does Miss Jiwaku, and I don’t want to hurt or insult them by expressing my feelings in a way that denigrates them; and, in a wider sense, the other decent and good people who are here.

      But the fact of the matter is no matter how wonderful they are, when we go our separate ways, the general experience we both have here is negative — and indeed even Miss Jiwaku has a negative experience here when she goes out without me; apparently she doesn’t look or dress quite “Korean” enough and being different is just that unacceptable. I haven’t succeeded in putting into words how I feel yet, not in a way I want to post, but it is my goal to put it all in words before we leave. Maybe this summer…

      For the moment, I’ll say it feels like a combination of the personal and the general, of dissatisfaction with where we live and what we’re doing with our lives here, and a rather speculative, and careful if also necessarily vague, consideration of the long-term as mapped off the unsatisfying trajectory we’re currently on… as well, of course, as the unsatisfying trajectory South Korea seems to be on.

      I’m not sure what I want to transition into work-wise, to be honest; well, not in practical terms. (So few people make money writing SF today that I assume I’ll need a day-job.) Thing is, I have this funny feeling I won’t even be able to figure that out until we’ve actually left. I wish I could be wise like some of my friends who have advised always to have a new vine to jump to before letting go of the last one… but I’m at the point where I can’t see those other vines anymore; my perceptions are too distorted by the toxins on the vines that have soaked through my skin. I feel like I need a detox period where we go somewhere else for six months, and I just read and write and Miss Jiwaku does some filmmaking projects, like a day job, and we enjoy wherever we are by night, and figure out what we want to do to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads after we’re clear of all this stuff that’s built up inside us up until now.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Your situation and sentiments are uncannily similar to my own. Especially the vine-jumping. You could always switch from Ben Hargrove to David Algonquin.

    Please try to write something about leaving. We need to know why Korea is losing people like you. Is your wife Korea?

  3. John,

    My situation is in fact eerily similar to that of many expats I know who’ve been here a long time, including the vine-jumping. The sad truth is that I’ll be a Ben Hargrove forever — it’s in my blood. (And anyway, my impression is the David Algonquins make even less money until they hit it big or get a teaching position. The money I’ve made from writing this year would buy me a new netbook and an iPad, at American prices, but it’s more than some of the mainstream writers I know would get for a similar number of publications.)

    I definitely will try to write something, but it’s likely in fact to be a novel, and something I write a few years after we’ve left this place. In the short term, the satirical video we’re in the process of shooting this weekend can stand as a partial comment.

    And Miss Jiwaku is indeed Korean. She spent some of her formative years overseas, in Southeast Asia, and feels like an absolute alien here a lot of the time, but she’s Korean. I haven’t quite convinced her to marry me yet, though… one of the reasons I call her my partner.

  4. It’s a big world. I don’t understand why anyone feels the need to be tied down to one place (especially in the age of Skype and broadband). I really like Korea, but I would also enjoy the chance to like (and dislike) other parts of the world. Plus, the more places one lives, the more grist one gets for the writing mill.

  5. Noah,

    Yep, that’s how I see it. A part of me even feels like I spent too long here, in terms of writing mill grist, but I try to ignore that part and focus on the fact we’ll be seeing more parts of it soon…

    Part of what makes me feel tied here at the moment is fear of the unknown, part of it is my dependence on modern medical care (if I suddenly go off my medicines, I will probably die), and part of it is probably just stasis. But there are good things here, of course.

    In other news, we’ve shot almost everything for our parody video. Should be edited later this week…

  6. Aaaaaaaaaaand… the discussion in response to this on Facebook was pretty predictable. Most notable was when the white Western male says, “I don’t see the need for such an organization. If there were a need, such an organization would already exist.”

    One supposes that everything necessary already exists, somewhere. Like the future, progress is already here… it’s just not well-distributed? Hm.

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