About that MBC Parody Video

A good long time ago, James at The Grand Narrative urged me to write about the things I discuss below. I thought it was a good idea, but relented at first, thinking that maybe I might get fired the way Gerry Bevers was for posting about Dokdo.

Then I got busy, and stayed busy.

Then I left Korea. And here we are.

But this video came up again, where I live now, as part of a discussion about sexism and racism in Korea, and I realized that I’d never gotten around to it, and that I should. Because I learned a few things from the experience, including things I think both Koreans and expats in Korea (perhaps especially the latter) ought to think about.

So…

For those who know nothing about it, back around this time last year, the Korean TV network MBC aired a “new” report about… well, you can figure out what it’s about, if you watch it:

Among foreigners in Korea, MBC is kind of notorious for airing racist content, so this was no shock.

Note that word, though: racist. What was interesting is how few expats commented, early on, about how sexist was… probably because it operates at that point where racism and sexism intersect; it’s not just bigoted against Western males, but also against Korean women. The whole premise that Korean women are being “victimized” by Western men–in ways that sound over-the-top ridiculous–and that their true motivations are hidden, their shame is hidden, and so on… it’s all so familiar, but of course most Korean women share the bigoted bias that the Korean men who wrote this crap obviously have.

After discussing it with my then-fiancée (we’re married now), she watched it and pointed out how outrageously sexist it was, and we decided to make a video of our own.

What we finally made was this:

I was careful to pass the link on to some expat bloggers in Korea whom I know, and asked them to share it. (To make it harder to trace back to us, basically because, as Anne explains in this post on A Deceit of Lapwings, the kind of humor we were engaging in just isn’t that common in Korea, and I really felt there was a possibility I could get fired, or we could get witch-hunted by a league of mentally-disturbed netizens, over it.)

Then, we sat back and waited to see how the discussion would go.

And that was the eye-opening part.

It was eye opening for several reasons. One of them was the connotations attributed to the Author of the video. I was surprised that most of the expats commenting more than just approval or amusement said some variation of, “If this was Koreans, more power to them. If it was expats, shame on them.”

Those who didn’t say this, said half of it: they assumed they knew that either a Korean was behind it (yay!) or that an expat was (boo!). The former camp tended to see this as incisive, funny mocking of the bigoted Korean media establishment; the latter camp tended to think it was in poor taste for white men–and they assumed it had to be men, implicitly, a lot of the time–to make jokes hinging on the size of Korean guys’ penises. (Missing the point that the jokes were mocking the very common Korean stereotype that white men have huge penises, as well as the more pernicious assumption that if a Korean woman were to disgrace herself by offering her “holy, sacred vagina” to a Westerner, it would have to be either because she could get free English lessons, or because he’s hung like an ox. I was especially surprised when one blogger, a specialist in literature, missed this completely (in a discussion on Facebook, which I can’t link here), and just focused on the racial politics of dick jokes… completely missing that the joke took place in the social context in which the hypertrophied interest in white men’s penises, and where they go at night.

And if you think that Korean women involved with Western men don’t encounter that insulting, dehumanizing, and sexist assumption, well, all I can say is that they do. (So do Western women dating Korean men, on different grounds.)

The Inconvenient Truth About Dirty Foreigners' Increased Contact with Korean Women

(For the record, the chart with the Korean and expat mens’ incomes? That was drawn by a Korean woman. The Korean actor n the scene where it’s used? He laughed at it, and riffed on the “white colored foods” that Korean women were supposedly eating too much of. Our (intelligent) Korean friends we first showed it to–two guys–got it all right away. They were howling all the way through, because of course they know exactly what stupid myths in Korean popular culture we were playing on, and how sexist and racist they were. I swear, they howled all the way through! Meanwhile, expat men were wringing their hands in worry about whether the “dick jokes” were “too much.” There’s a subtle racism in play there… the gentle, pathetic racism of lowered expectations, essentially.)

This idea that a statement should and must be evaluated by who is saying it, and that who is saying it must be categorized in terms of race and sex, is a troubling one. If a white Westerner lampoons sexism and racism in Korea, it’s in poor taste; if a Korean does it, it’s a brilliant send up of a society’s problems? That overlooks a lot… and partakes of the very same crap that most expats in Korea find frustrating, namely, being told that they cannot have a valid opinion about something because they are not Korean. To see expats engaged in that kind of lame silliness–well-known expat bloggers, people whose blogs have gotten them international attention and whose posts have even gotten them into the international media–didn’t surprise me, but it did disturb me. It speaks to the amateurism of the expat blogosphere, the lack of nuance and of critical reasoning out there. And I say that not because I’m miffed–in the end, I was half-amused by the clown show–but surely we can do better than this?

(Or, maybe, we could talk about Stockholm Syndrome among expat bloggers in Korea. Or maybe there’s some other explanation. But to me, it seemed critically and intellectual sophomoric.)

Likewise, the criticisms tended to focus on the dimension of race, completely overlooking the issue of sexism in the original video. This is something my wife constantly talked about when she read the comments, both on Youtube and on Facebook. As far as the expat blogosphere was concerned,the problem in the original MBC video was racism. Sexism did come up in some discussions, but much less, and later on. Astonishingly, this was true across the board among expats: almost nobody caught on that the video was exploring the intersectionality of racism and sexism in Korea… that is, the way that racism and sexism intersect and interact and reinforce and play into one another.

Even a lot of Westerners married to Koreans seemed to focus on the racism for quite a while, only afterward grokking that, oh, wow, that was also really sexist toward Korean women. At least, that was the pattern I saw in discussion on Facebook. I’d say one voice in ten or a dozen pointed it out, and people mostly just ignored them. This was true even of a number of expat men whose partners were Korean, which, to be frank, is outright shameful.

The other singularly disturbing thing was the idea that authorship had to be either Korean or expat. Even though the video itself features Korean and foreign actors, it seldom occurred to anyone that a video like this could be the result of intelligent, pissed-off Koreans and intelligent, pissed-off foreigners.

The Inconvenient Truth About Dirty Foreigners' Increased Contact with Korean Women

That’s very telling, and also something we ought to think about. Not every institution, not every creative project, is either one or the other. For the parody video above, it was very mucha collaborative effort, not just in front of the camera. I, a Western man, wrote the first draft of the script. Then my fiancee (a Korean woman) edited it down. Then we shot it, with her directing, and mostly various Koreans working the camera. Afterwards, she edited it and we collaborated on the subtitles (if I recall correctly) in both languages.

Can’t get much more intercultural, interracial, and cooperative than that. Watching the video, that should be obvious: but in the expat discussions I saw, expats constantly wanted to slot it into one or the other category. In a lot of the heads of foreigners in Korea, there’s a similar sense to what we so grouchily find in too many Korean heads: that East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet… let alone collaborate on comedic mockery of assholes. Again, even expats who have Korean partners were falling into that trap. It’s kind of sad.

Especially since so many creative projects I’ve seen that got off the ground in Korea involved a mixture of expats and Koreans working together. Take, for example, the beer scene in the Itaewon area. There are pubs offering “local” microbrew, like Craftworks and Magpie Brewery. The thing is: the people involved in the process of making that beer aren’t all Korean, or all-foreign. It’s a mixture. (Obviously: the Gapyeong brewery Ka-Brew is actually brewing their beer, with Korean brewers. Whatever tensions exist there, it’s still a collaboration between Koreans and non-Koreans. And that’s a positive thing.)

That this suggests is that if expats are held back from being a part of Korean society, as so many seem to feel and to say every chance they get, then at least part of the reason for this is the barriers in their own heads.

In any case, we planned to do more videos, and we still have a few we want to do, maybe during a visit to Seoul sometime. More videos might have established where we’re coming from in a way that would help people learn how to read this kind of biting satirical comedy in a Korean context. But we got busy with other things, so those other videos are in the to-do-sometime folder.

One more thing: the Youtube comments are amazing, mostly to the degree of stupidity they display. The number of people who’ve seen the video and failed to realize it was parody is astonishing. (The expats who do so tend to be all up in arms and shocked at Korean racism; the Koreans who’ve been “fooled” have tended to rally behind the video and what they think its message is.) But that’s Youtube: I expect stupidity in Youtube comment streams, that’s par for the course. I expected a little less stupidity in discussions where well-known bloggers were discussing it.

It makes me think of what one expat I knew said when he left Korea to go home to the USA after a couple of years: “Korea, it’s really mediocre, as countries go.” Well, maybe, and I certainly understand what he meant. Mrs. Jiwaku and I chose to leave for reasons that could be boiled down to something like that, among others. But it’s worth pausing and recognizing that many expats there seem perfectly suited to that environment. (Every country gets the expats it deserves?) And indeed, since so much of those expats’ mutual experience of the country seems shaped by the echo-chamber discussion of the blogosphere, I’d say to some degree they have a hand in that.

30 thoughts on “About that MBC Parody Video

  1. I just wanted to say I think you make an excellent point about the underlying nature of sexism in Korea and, arguably, the world and that people are blind to it (but sensitive to racism). I don’t think there is any doubt Korea is a pretty awful place to be a woman. I mean, it comes after the UAE on the 2012 World Gender Gap Report.

    Still I don’t know why you would expect more from the Korean blogosphere or the English speaking community? It is a bunch of English teachers who couldn’t get jobs at home and now never endingly complain about how unfair it is to be paid more money than locals despite the fact they have degrees from mediocre universities and are unemployable back home. As expat communities go it is one of the most narrow minded and un-worldly I’ve come across.

    More interesting is the fact that MBC can make such videos on a mainstream channel and they are accepted by the highly educated and outwardly modern Korean populace. It is not a Korea only thing; there seems to be a trend which one can see from the Daily Mail in England of women hating in the mainstream media.

    1. Richard,

      Thanks.

      I agree. Sexism in Korea (and all over the world, yes) is pervasive and insidious. And Korea is, as far as I can tell, very rough on women compared to most of the rest of the UAE.

      I expected more from the expat blogosphere (“the Korean blogosphere” exists, but it is mostly Korean, not that expats usually grasp that) because frankly most of the people in the higher echelons of the expat blogosphere are not just the “couldn’t get a better job at home” hakwon teacher stereotype you describe. And even those who do don’t necessarily have any excuse for it.

      Also, I’d rephrase things a bit: “a bunch of English teachers who couldn’t get jobs at home and now never endingly complain about how unfair it is to be paid more money than locals despite the fact they have degrees from mediocre universities and are unemployable back home” doesn’t describe all the expats in Korea. A lot of that sounds like the bigoted netizen stereotype: rather, I’d agree most expats came to Korea at least in part to expand their job opportunities beyond what was available in their home country. (The fact that job options for people my age in Canada when I graduated from a humanities program were not that great and that coming to Korea to teach in a university because it was a better option at the time does not, I believe, prove that I’m a bad person deserving of mockery, any more than the fact that Koreans who emigrated to other places after the war were “losers” because they were emigrating or even just migrating for reasons of economic opportunity.) For one thing, I know a number of people who simply walked away from Canada because they didn’t want to live within that particular economic system anymore… for creative types, like writers (among whom I know a number who have emigrated) it’s just impossible to pull it off and live above the poverty line and get anything done, though those friends have other friends such as people trained in fields as respected as architecture who ended up in Korea because the student loan schedule and the getting-a-job schedule couldn’t line up. (And this is in a country where the cost of living is skyrocketing and job opportunities, pay, opportunity costs of getting work (the unpaid labour that gets expected) and pretty much everything else are worse for young people than they’ve been in ages. There’s a reason that, when I Googled for the article I was looking for with the phrase “War against the Young,” I had to click a few things to find the right one. But this is the article I had in mind, by the way.)

      http://www.esquire.com/features/young-people-in-the-recession-0412

      So, while I know plenty of expats in Korea are ridiculous flakes, but at the same time, not every hakwon teacher is that ignorant. and certain of the expats I’m talking about, including the one linked, are working as professors in humanities programs in Korean universities. As low as the standard is for Korean post-secondary education, I’d have thought the expats working in those institutions–in department jobs, I mean, working as actual profs–might have some awareness of things like intersectionality, or the necessity of reading a text in social context. I expect better from people teaching in university departments, basically. (Though I’ll also note that a number of the hakwon- and public-school-employed expats I know, like most of my writing circle, got it about the intersectionality right away. They wouldn’t use the $5 word, but they got it.)

      That said, yes, I find the expat scene in Korea pretty unworldly and I that they share a lot in common with the Koreans they constantly criticize. Having found that (unhappily) in myself, I think some of it is just internalization, but maybe also people who tend to stay longer than one year are those for whom the annoyances of Korea maybe feel somehow eerily familiar, because they mirror their own hidden attitudes? I don’t know. It’s a weird thing to consider.

      As for MBC getting away with this, well, I guess that surprises me less because I’ve been exposed to enough young Korean women to eventually have come to understand why Germaine Greer was so angry at men as a class: because all the women around her had internalized such crazy ideas, and that was not explicable any other way, and it is enraging. I’ve had young Korean women insist–even after explaining the implications of the 2012 World Gender Gap report in class–that Korean women are getting “too much power” in Korean society and Korean men are suffering… and seeing a distressing number of their classmates nodding their heads. Some expats in Korea sometimes say, “Yeah, well, wait until they get out into the world,” but the thing is, from at least the sample I’ve met of college graduates, they’re not on average any more cognizant of the situation. Usually, a sense of oneself needing to level up one’s educational game to get ahead in the job market outweighs any recognition of systemic discrimination and unfairness.

      Which is kind of interesting and terrifying, because now that I think about it, I think I might have seen part of what dismantled the minjung movement. Brrrrr.

      1. “I’d have thought the expats working in those institutions–in department jobs, I mean, working as actual profs–might have some awareness of things like intersectionality, or the necessity of reading a text in social context”

        Regarding how few people picked up on the sexism of the MBC video or of yours –

        Personally, I’m totally unsurprised that these expats working as professors and professionals you’re talking about, the ones who have blogs and care about this country might have been the LAST to pick up on the overt sexism in either video, despite knowing about ideas of intersectionality and being generally brilliant.

        Being accused indirectly of heinous acts tends to make people think more personally. As for myself, I remember how angry I felt when I saw the original, as though I’d myself been accused of rape or something. Only after someone else (a foreign woman I know) mentioned the overt sexism in the video, I watched it again and realized what I had overlooked.

        “This idea that a statement should and must be evaluated by who is saying it, and that who is saying it must be categorized in terms of race and sex, is a troubling one.”

        Suspiciously sounds like something a -white man- would say! mhm mhm

        1. Being accused indirectly of heinous acts tends to make people think more personally. As for myself, I remember how angry I felt when I saw the original, as though I’d myself been accused of rape or something. Only after someone else (a foreign woman I know) mentioned the overt sexism in the video, I watched it again and realized what I had overlooked.

          Yeah, I understand that. Even I sometimes veered onto focusing on the racism and my (then-)fiancee would clarify, “And sexism!” But it’s when it was pointed out, and then ignored, that the dismay started to set in, in a big way.

          “This idea that a statement should and must be evaluated by who is saying it, and that who is saying it must be categorized in terms of race and sex, is a troubling one.”

          Suspiciously sounds like something a -white man- would say! mhm mhmz

          Ha. You’re probably teasing, but…

          Does it sound like what a Korean woman would say? Because my wife is just as offended by the notion that what she says must be judged on the basis of her racial and gender background.

          Also, meh. Many Koreans feel very entitled to criticize social issues in other societies. Fine, then as someone who lived there eleven years, I reserve the right to have, and to state, an opinion. I understand that often white men use this as an excuse to not bother to listen, to just issue forth opinions they managed to retrieve from their own backsides. But I’m not doing that, so anyone who dismisses my position based on my skin color?

          Ad hominem. That’s all I can say: they have nothing to say to the argument, so they focus on who said it instead. Classic avoiding the issue.

          1. >Ha. You’re probably teasing, but…

            I was just teasing.

            Oh, good job on the video, by the way. I can’t believe I forgot to say that.

          2. Thanks… it was fun and kind of exciting as we saw people notice it, and saw the video spread a little. Never quite went viral–it was a bit late for that, and there weren’t enough follow-up videos to ensure more traffic, but it did pretty well for our first stab in the dark towards something of that kind.

            And I figured you were teasing, but thought I’d reply to those who might someday see the comment and nod sternly and say, “Yeah!”

  2. A lot of interesting issues being discussed over here.

    First off, I must say I’ve been very guilty in the past of thinking expat teachers as “losers who couldn’t get a job back home.” Partly because a significant number of them are assholes who don’t end up staying very long. And partly because it was hard, at the time, for me to wrap my head around the fact that people would come over here, voluntarily, to make a life for themselves (and not just as a temporary, get-quick-money and get-back-home-post-haste type thing) in a society that isn’t ever going to completely accept them as part of it. So why bother?

    I still automatically feel like praying for any white or brown person, and doubly so for any black person, who I see get on the subway. Being a “stranger in a strange land” brings out a lot of demons, I think, and the process really changes you. I’m not an expat. but the process of being immersed in both cultures gave me permanent identity crisis that probably still isn’t resolved, and got me coping by contorting myself into some pretty weird positions, metaphysically speaking.

    > I’ve had young Korean women insist–even after explaining the implications of the 2012 World Gender Gap report in class–that Korean women are getting “too much power” in Korean society and Korean men are suffering… and seeing a distressing number of their classmates nodding their heads.

    My boyfriend used to like to talk about how men are discriminated against in Korean society (how they’re expected to pay for everything, and own a house before getting married), and I’ve always pointed out to him that it’s not so much sexism against men as men being hoist by their own petard.
    Also that really, what he’s talking about is a class issue more than a sex issue, because women seek to become upwardly mobile in the only way they’re taught is acceptable and risk-free, and along with a skewed sex-ratio, that short-changes poorer men. The benefits Korean women supposedly reap in this day and age (careers and a university education? safe childbirth? all this while getting to lord it over men and taking their hard-earned money) only apply to the more privileged, while things are still pretty bad for lower-class women and their spear counterparts. But no one really cares, all the people campaigning for better rights for women are middle-class and above, who only realized how bad the situation was when they saw their own daughters, sisters, wives getting the short end of the stick. And that’s a fine and good motivation. But the trouble with the Korean “feminist” movement is that all efforts seem to stop just there… they’re only in it so long as their distaff relatives get to keep their jobs and get help with their babies.

    But of course, overemphasizing the gender part of the issue allows guys to complain that they’re the ones being discriminated against, as well as for girls to say, well haven’t we had our fill? Kicking out the ladder under them, not knowing that they themselves are a little short of their destination.

    1. A lot of interesting issues being discussed over here.

      First off, I must say I’ve been very guilty in the past of thinking expat teachers as “losers who couldn’t get a job back home.” Partly because a significant number of them are assholes who don’t end up staying very long.

      I’m going to break that down into two categories. Assholes, and people who don’t stay very long. I think that a significant number of expats in Korea probably are assholes, but not a majority. It’s probably about on a par with the percentage of people in any large category of humans who are assholes.

      As for them not staying very long, well: on one level, given what you write here:

      And partly because it was hard, at the time, for me to wrap my head around the fact that people would come over here, voluntarily, to make a life for themselves (and not just as a temporary, get-quick-money and get-back-home-post-haste type thing) in a society that isn’t ever going to completely accept them as part of it. So why bother?

      … I can’t really blame anyone who decides, after some time in Korea, to see it as a temporary situation. Honestly, there are two truisms I’ve heard which are kind of (but not universally) true when it comes to expats in Korea:

      1. Everyone’s running from something… even if it’s just a shitty job market back home.
      2. Those who stay long enough realize that staying is Sisyphean… they usually become embittered by it AND endeavour to see it in a light similar to how Camus wrote of the Myth of Sisyphus. (You try to imagine Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill with a smile on his face.)

      I still automatically feel like praying for any white or brown person, and doubly so for any black person, who I see get on the subway. Being a “stranger in a strange land” brings out a lot of demons, I think, and the process really changes you. I’m not an expat. but the process of being immersed in both cultures gave me permanent identity crisis that probably still isn’t resolved, and got me coping by contorting myself into some pretty weird positions, metaphysically speaking.

      That is pretty understandable. My own cultural-identity crisis dates back way before Korea, though living in Korea probably deepened it. But I think it’s sometimes harder on the “brown people” than white people like me. I’ve heard some nonwhite expats in Korea suggest otherwise online… but also found that in person, they tell a different story.

      As for the stuff about discrimination against men: well, two things come to mind.

      One is the insight that hit me when I was writing an essay on Othello back in undergrad. I was trying to wrap my head around how to talk about intersectionality (without knowing that word) in terms of the fact that, in Othello’s world, being nonwhite and being a woman were comparably sucky. (Though I’d argue even there, being female sucked in particularly more insidious ways.) I struggled to name the system that was oppressing both of them, since of course it involved both racism and sexism. Then I realized: it was patriarchy, but patriarchy didn’t mean what I’d thought it had meant when used by some half-baked feminist friends I knew.

      Patriarchy was simply the system by which older, rich men of the dominant racial group in that society held onto and maintained an unequal division of power and resources. Patriarchy may oppress men and women (and men and women of different races) differently, but those men and women–including, in the end, the vast majority of the society–are all fucked over by a small elite of men of the dominant race. The fact that Othello gets some provisional benefits for being male doesn’t erase how he’s still massively fucked over in terms of race, class, and so on.

      Which is exactly how divide and conquer works. It’s the same dynamic that has Korean society sending their kids to hakwons for exorbitant amounts of money, instead of pooling their rage at this untenable situation and saying, “Look, shit needs to change.” Instead, because people are divided so radically, they just compete and compete. There’s no hope of any kind of effective push for change, because even those pushing for it will be spending a chunk of their time watching to see if the others around them are paying lip service but gaming the system.

      (Which made me think, earlier today: does the demise of the minjung movement dovetail with the rise of the hakwon industry? I’d wager it does, and that hakwonization was a major part of how much of Korean society got effectively depoliticized.)

      The second is that, yeah, feminism everywhere has kind of been fucked up by the very effective fragmentation of society along class, racial, and other lines. (I remember my eyes going wide when I understood this while reading Joanna Russ’ What Are We Fighting For?, where she talks about how in the 70s, feminist groups hate lesbians like her and ostracized them, because they didn’t want to be tainted by association; and he problem of how, even at the time of her writing the book (in the 90s, I believe) plenty of white feminists were predominantly concerned with the rights of middle class white women, and uninterested in the fate of women outside that narrow realm, even in their own society.

      It’s pretty universal, though I wouldn’t be surprised if, as with many things, it’s taken to an extreme in Korea.

      1. I think what’s made it worse is that feminism in England and the US was based in part in the working class and associated with labor law (though admittedly a greater part of the movement rich, out-of-touch ladies in the movement who were more interested in getting the vote than improving living conditions and securing social and reproductive rights for their poorer sisters). And Second Wave feminism was more pragmatic than First Wave feminism, and involved the voices of working class women to a greater extent.

        But feminism in Korea is linked inextricably with a modernization movement that was forced on Koreans, and pushed by Christian missionaries and a new upper class supplanting the seonbi that converted in droves to Christianity and spearheaded the importing of Western culture and values. They imported First Wave feminism… and then stopped importing, using what they’d already imported as a way to crystallize the new status quo, the top of which they occupied.

        It’s interesting because that while the Christian activists of the colonial era slowly took their place as the new oppressing class, the minjung movement you speak of was driven by poor students and factory workers. That movement, though, died without leaving behind a spiritual heir, without having made much impact on the mechanics of society. I’m not sure what that implies.

        1. Well, in part I think the problem with feminism everywhere until very, very recently is that it failed to partake in the actually revolutionary notion that, you know, maybe if women’s role in society were to be changed, that men’s role would have to change to, to pick up the slack… and that institutions would have to change to accommodate that. (Five day workweeks, when two parents are working, are frankly disastrous for children no matter how you slice it… whether they end up being raised by strangers (or excessively overschooled to keep them off the street) or end up being raised by the TV, or worse.) The missed point is that women did hold up half the sky when they had no option to work outside the home… and now that they can, and a free to work outside — a good thing — the fact that the work involved in holding up that half of the sky remains severely undervalued, and that half of the sky is, well… falling.

          The idealisms I’ve run across within feminism have often been calls for of class mobility for women, rather than social transformation… or, failing that, utopian or dystopian visions of sex-separatism. The former is what has come to dominate feminism — the middle class, straightforward version of it, where feminism means basically women should have the right to work, get equal pay, to have control of their reproductive rights — and while those are good goals, it’s blazingly obvious those goals also are conveniently useful for big companies, and are (in many cases, not all) thoroughly capitalist in their value system. The current, exploitation-model of capitalism being pretty blatantly a patriarchal system, you’d think more feminists would raise the question of whether true feminism can be based in that set of values at all… but I rarely hear it outside of a small corner of academic discussions.

          Which is just to say that, yeah, Korean feminism does seemed locked in at some early stage of importation, but feminism everywhere has failed to truly manifest as what it needs to be… a radical reevaluation of not only of the valuation of women, but also of the work women long did, which was far more important than anyone even now is willing to admit in any way other than cheap lip service… But we’re all so celebratory-capitalist that we’re as likely to go there as Medieval folk were to embrace an institution like the EU.

          Oh, and yeah… the collapse of minjung and nothing to fill the void is particularly distressing. It’s also what practically all the good SF films in Korea in the 21st century (괴물, 지구를 지켜라, and to some degree 나비) have been about.

  3. “Everyone’s running from something … even if it’s just a shitty job market back home.”

    You have a very broad sense of the term “running” which sounds to me like on the run. Do you mean “running” from country to country or does that also include “running” from city to city/state to state/coast to coast to find a job? Why can’t job seekers just be going to get a job or going to support their family? I mean really, “running” to get a job, give me a break.

    President Obama said terrorists are “on the run.”
    In response…
    http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/the-g-o-p-s-cold-war-posture/
    “Mr. McCain said the struggle with Al Qaeda is nowhere near an end, and to argue that it is on the run “comes from a degree of unreality that, to me, is really incredible.”

    1. “Everyone’s running from something … even if it’s just a shitty job market back home.”

      You have a very broad sense of the term “running” which sounds to me like on the run. Do you mean “running” from country to country or does that also include “running” from city to city/state to state/coast to coast to find a job? Why can’t job seekers just be going to get a job or going to support their family? I mean really, “running” to get a job, give me a break.

      Um, huh? First of all, it’s a stereotype among expats that everyone is “running away from something”; while that’s an exaggeration and sounds more dramatic than the reality, most expats I know are familiar with the expression, and tend to agree there’s a grain of truth to it. Moving from an English-speaking country to Korea involves a hell of a lot more risk and difficulty than moving from one coast to another for a job… which means that the profile of people who cross a country for a job, and the profile of people who go to a foreign country (and usually to do a job they’ve never done before), are of necessity relatively different profiles.

      That much is obvious… and while some people leave their homeland for positive reasons — they perceive Korea as a place of great opportunities — in general expats tend not to see Korea that way; they tend to perceive it as a place of lowered expectations, of the best option of a bunch of not-so-great ones, and the not-so-great ones are back home. Whether that’s true or not, that’s how a lot of expats contextualize their sojourn in Korea… hence it being a short-term stay for most of them.

      Also, I don’t know if you know many Western expats in Korea, but the vast majority don’t come to Korea to support their families: most of them, on first arriving, are young and single, and don’t remit money home to support their families… rather, they’re usually paying off student loans, or building a nest egg.

      In any case, what I was talking about was not “running” to, but “running” away: there are often personal reasons that factor into their decision to leave their homeland, which have nothing to do with the student loans, jobs, money, and so on. (Family issues, personal issues, bad memories they want to get away from, frustrations, and so on. But who talks about this stuff? This is not pejorative, by the way: everyone has issues. Not everyone flees the country to get away from them, and not everyone who does is a loser who fails to deal with them eventually. But it’s part of the profile, though most people don’t like talking about it. As one older expat once sagely observed over beers with me a long time ago, “When a couple breaks up, the woman gets a haircut. The man? He flees the country.” Again, something not universal, but common, though not often discussed in public… because when so many jerks in Korea are so eager to paint expats as losers, who wants to air the dirty laundry in any way except in sly comments like what I wrote in my post?)

      So, meh.

      As for this:

      President Obama said terrorists are “on the run.”
      In response…
      http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/the-g-o-p-s-cold-war-posture/
      “Mr. McCain said the struggle with Al Qaeda is nowhere near an end, and to argue that it is on the run “comes from a degree of unreality that, to me, is really incredible.”

      This has no connection at all with what I was talking about, and all I can say is, Non sequitur much?

  4. “Um, huh? First of all, it’s a stereotype among expats that everyone is “running away from something”; while that’s an exaggeration and sounds more dramatic than the reality, most expats I know are familiar with the expression, and tend to agree there’s a grain of truth to it.”

    A stereotype you’re perpetuating with your “exaggeration” that all Eng. teachers are “running from something” comment.

    “In any case, what I was talking about was not “running” to, but “running” away:”

    I got the “running to” or the “running from something” and never confused it with “running away.”

    You’re free with the “Non sequitur” term as well. The Obama statement is similar to your…everyone is “running from something” and the McCain comment is how I feel about it.

    Since as you say, everyone is on the run. What did you/are you “running away from”? As for me I’m not “running from anything” because as I see it, things stay with you no matter how far you go and they’re likely to catch up with you eventually.

    1. A stereotype you’re perpetuating with your “exaggeration” that all Eng. teachers are “running from something” comment.

      Well, frankly, my experience suggests it’s not much of an exaggeration, as I’m pretty sure I suggested. This is why it’s a waste of time to pick and choose bits of a person’s comment to argue with, when the bits you choose contradict the overall point of what they’re saying.

      “In any case, what I was talking about was not “running” to, but “running” away:”

      I got the “running to” or the “running from something” and never confused it with “running away.”

      Well, either English isn’t your native language and you’re struggling to express yourself here (in which case, maybe you’re not an Englis-teaching expat and I should go easier on you… or maybe you’re the stereotypical English-teaching expat and I should be merciless? Ha.) but you clearly seemed to be confused. What you wrote suggested you thought I meant expats were running toward Korea, when what I was saying was that most people who do live as expatriates do so not strictly for logical or financial reasons, but others as well.

      You’re free with the “Non sequitur” term as well. The Obama statement is similar to your…everyone is “running from something” and the McCain comment is how I feel about it.

      I’m not free with the term. “On the run” means a different thing from “running from something”: the former, the Obama statement, suggests to any native speaker of [North American?] English that the terrorists are in a compromised position, and are barely keeping ahead of their pursuers: that the terrorists, whoever they are, are on the ropes. Whereas my comment about expats often being people “running away from something” suggests that people go expat not just because of economic opportunities, but also for emotional, personal, and other ones. The connotations are rather different, even if the idioms both depend on the verb “to run.”

      Are you actually an English teacher, or is this some sort of ruse?

      Since as you say, everyone is on the run. What did you/are you “running away from”? As for me I’m not “running from anything” because as I see it, things stay with you no matter how far you go and they’re likely to catch up with you eventually.

      Bully for you!

      As for what I was “running away from” is really none of your business, is it not? I find it a bit aggressive of you to ask, especially since you’re someone who’s posted a grand total of five comments on this website… It’s not as if we’re friends or something. Besides, the very obvious tone-deafness, aggression, and rudeness of your comments so far today–and your very apparent lack of facility with the English language–in fact suggest to me that you, too, had plenty of reasons to flee your homeland, whatever you tell yourself to the contrary. You certainly sound like someone who maybe didn’t fit in, and knew it… but hey, deconstructing someone’s psychology from their aggressive, ill-considered blog comments isn’t how I want to spend my evening, so I’ll stop now.

      Instead, I’ll say: I was running away from the usual things. I hinted at one reason: the termination of a major long-term relationship. Health problems. Finances: I was working in a mismanaged company about to crash and burn, and the job market wasn’t particularly hot for English majors at the time, especially for an Anglophone living in Montreal who wasn’t bilingual. (And my finances were enough for me to move to another part of Canada, but not enough for me to survive long without work, so the risk seemed a bad one. And the first payments on my student loans were coming due.) I had personal shit to work through too.

      I also had positive reasons o go to Korea, of course. I was a young writer, and I felt experience abroad–the estrangement of living immersed in a wholly different society–might help give my readers that feeling in my SF narratives. I had heard many things about Korea that made it sound like a wonderful, broken-down and half-dysfunctional alternative to the hyper-Japanese zaibatsu-fied borg-like future that I felt was common in SF. I had a friend who’d told me hilarious stories of the place. The money was comparable to what I’d been making in Montreal (after taxes) but with no rent to pay, and the hours were less, so I had more time to write and work on music.

      These positive reasons don’t erase the other ones, though. And running away from them didn’t make them go away. On that much, I agree with you: running away from things doesn’t pay off in the long run. It’s neither a logical nor necessarily a wise decision. People, mind you, are not always logical or wise… and I agree that no matter how far you go, your past catches up with you. But sometimes running away can give you the time to work things out, pull your shit together, and tackle what you need to: sometimes running away can give you the breathing room and the moment you need to clear your head. Whatever reasons had sent me running to Korea certainly didn’t keep me there: I stayed on for years for other reasons (some of them involving inertia, but not all). Likewise, lots of the people who have run to Korea have made fine lives for themselves there, and the fact that they came to Korea in flight of something back home doesn’t besmirch that. Nor do the fine lives they’ve built erase the truth about why they went there.

      It takes a somewhat unusual kind of person to walk away from not just their families, their friends, their familiar surroundings, and go somewhere else not just to work, but to live. It takes an even more unusual sort of person — much more so — to pick up and cross an ocean and do that, especially someone who does it for more than a year. What I didn’t say above is: most pf the brightest, most interesting people I’ve known have also gone abroad for those kinds of reasons.

      So when I assert that a lot of expats are “running from something” it’s not a denigration. Not at all: there are things it is natural and common for people to run from, and wonderfully respectable people sometimes say, “Screw this, I’m out.” Sometimes, picking up your chips and moving to another table where you haven’t been losing six straight hands in a row isn’t pathetic, it’s the smart thing to do… but it’s still leaving because things weren’t going your way. There’s no pejorative intended in my “running away,” in other words: you’re arguing that I’m wrong because you have a negative perception of a common truism that, after all, I said in a comment isn’t universally true to begin with.

      And I have no more time to waste on that kind of argument.

  5. It was easy for me to move to S. Korea, the only thing I needed was a passport and it didn’t take that long for me to get it. If I remember correctly maybe a few weeks and the only thing I needed to work in S. Korea was a resume, diploma, and university records/grades. My hagwon paid flight took about 12 hours. When I moved to a coastal state many years prior to that I drove about the same amount of time since I didn’t want to move across the river or wherever nearby in the same city or state.
    My move by car cost me more and I didn’t have a job lined up. At that time my father told me when I was 20 that I had to start paying $50 rent per month, I thought it would be better to move out and pay rent for my own place. As I recall the rent for my own place was about $250-275 per month, I wasn’t running then and I still ain’t. I went back to visit then and I’ve gone back to visit while in S. Korea. If I was on the run or I was “running from something,” someone would have caught me by now.

    1. I feel I’ve addressed your comment here in my earlier response, a moment ago. I will only repeat: that’s nice for you, though the very nature of your comment, and the degree of ire my own (heavily qualified) comment has provoked in you, suggests a bit of suspicion along the lines of that voiced by Hamlet:

      The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

      Though I feel safe in assuming you are a man, I want to be clear: in the quote above? You’re the lady.

      Now: if you have anything to say about the main post itself, or the video, I welcome further comments. I’m done discussing this tiny, irrelevant tangent in the comment section, since I feel I’ve explained it adequately and you’re just bruising for a fight about an irrelevancy.

      (Note: To be clear, what I’m saying is that you’re trying my patience and that further comments focused solely on that “running away” business will be deleted. If you want to rant about things tangential to my post (and boring to me), get your own blog. They’re free out there in internet-land.)

  6. Foreign women are probably more aware than you think of the white male penis size stereotype. Know why? You may get a male taxi driver elbowing you and laughing it up in a cab late at night about how big your dick is, but guess what? I’ve been a foreign female alone in a taxi late at night with a cab driver who tilts his mirror, arches his eyebrow and starts asking me about how big American dicks are. More than once. How pleasant do you think that is?

    It wouldn’t hurt foreign men, when seeking solidarity from foreign women, to remember that a lot of us date Korean men, and that we are going to bristle at anything that seems like a racist counterattack, whether it’s intended that way or not. To remember that white men are often the ones who turn on us when they find out we date Asian men and jeer about how we’re missing out on a decent dick and maybe it’s because we can’t handle a real man like them. It wouldn’t have hurt to show a little sensitivity toward that, even if you had to pass on a relatively simple-minded laugh.

    Foreign men handled a lot of this situation very poorly in general, and displayed plainly on several occasions that their concerns about sexism against the poor Korean women were thinly-veiled whines about their own hurt feelings. A lot of foreign women who started out full guns blazing in support of this situation ended in disgust at the way several situations were handled and conversations were had. By the time this video came around, a lot of your female allies were just done giving the benefit of the doubt.

    I don’t regret pointing it out. It was a poor oversight, in my opinion, which hurt your chances at making your point cleanly with a large portion of the audience who could otherwise be willing step up and support you.

    1. Hey,

      First off, I sense a hostility in your comment — in parts of it — which surprises me.

      Foreign women are probably more aware than you think of the white male penis size stereotype.

      What makes you think I’d imagine foreign women are unaware of it? Your reaction seems to suggest you think I have never talked to a Western woman living in Korea, when, in fact, I’ve known plenty, and most of them, at some point, have quipped about that particular, stupid stereotype. So I don’t know why you’d imagine I think Western women in Korea don’t know about it.

      Additionally, you seem to imagine that Western men get no worse than a male taxi driver elbowing us and laughing it up… and I wonder why that is? My own experiences include people constantly doing double-takes (or overtly going out of their way to catch a glimpse) and discussing my organ loudly at the sauna, strangers (Korean men, exclusively) trying to stick their hands in my crotch, a bizarre stranger trying to wash my genitals in a swimming pool change room, and so on. A (white male) friend of mine actually got sexually assaulted by a cab driver who wanted to know whether the stereotype was true.

      My wife’s experience is of Koreans–women, men, old young–constantly implying that she’s either with me for her English, or because of the big white penis. In other words, being mocked to her face as an interracial size queen.

      I’m not bringing this up to whine about it. It’s perspective, because your “How pleasant do you think that is?” seems a little too petulant for my taste. I would ask you to contemplate how pleasant my experiences, and my wife’s, are in comparison.

      And what we arrive at, I assume, is that all of those experiences are unpleasant. All of them are shitty. And that was what we were mocking in the video, you see? The stereotype?

      It wouldn’t hurt foreign men, when seeking solidarity from foreign women, to remember that a lot of us date Korean men, and that we are going to bristle at anything that seems like a racist counterattack, whether it’s intended that way or not.

      First, I have a few close Western female friends who are married to Korean men, who thought the video was hilarious and spot on… and they’re people who would have told me if they found it offensive, trust me. (I don’t waste my time on friends who would humor me.) Mapping your own kneejerk reaction out as a representation of all Western women is unfair and presumptuous.

      (Likewise, our Korean male friends got the joke immediately, and knew we weren’t mocking their penis size. It was transparently obvious to them. I know this because I nervously showed it to several of them beforehand, as I was worried this was how it would be read.)

      So I’m still confused as to how it wasn’t clear that what was being satirized was the histrionics of the media, and the stereotype you yourself admit is widespread… and in fact the stereotype/folk-belief has contributed to negative experiences all around.

      The only thing I can think is that maybe it’s have been nice to include a scene with a white woman with a Korean man in the video; but you see, there are two problems with that: we exclude all kind of people in our video: there are no Indo-Canadians, there are no Chinese-Koreans, and so on. I like inclusivity, but in a short parody intended for Youtube, one cannot be encyclopedic. (Aside from the fact we don’t know any white female actors, and made this thing on a short time schedule with no budget. I assume you don’t do video stuff, so that might not be apparent to you, but production concerns do factor in.)

      To remember that white men are often the ones who turn on us when they find out we date Asian men and jeer about how we’re missing out on a decent dick and maybe it’s because we can’t handle a real man like them.

      Well, frankly, that’s appalling. It’s awful, and I feel sorry for your having to experience it.

      Not to blame the victim, though, but none of the white men in my social circle would ever say anything like that (none of them have, either; anyone who did so would be out of my social circle post-haste), so no, it’s not really in my realm of experience. And none of my white female friends in Korea, including the ones married to Korean men, have ever said anything about that to me. I do vaguely recall one Western woman writing about such an experience, once, somewhere online; but only once, really. I’ve distanced myself from the blogosphere since the time when Western women began blogging about dating Korean men, so I’m not really up with all that.

      (But, on a side not, are these white men who say such things actually “friends”? Are the people who say these things to you people you know well? I have occasionally encountered weird outbursts of sexism or racism that I never expected from someone, but most of the time the fact they’re an asshole is telegraphed well ahead of those sorts out outbursts. It seems like putting up with such pricks is sort of the cost of having a big social circle; I prefer o have a few friends who are not bigoted morons, so I guess maybe I self-insulate myself from that. For example, once I introduced my wife to a Western woman I considered a friend, who then promptly ignored my wife completely, and excluded her from conversation. Friends no more, was the result. But maybe it’s just an old-people thing: I find pruning jerks from my social circle a bit like doing bonsai; it feels good, it maximizes my happiness.)

      Also, while your experience is awful, it’s nothing I haven’t seen in reverse. There’s comparable racism on the others side of the fence, in other words: that is, among some Western women in Korea regarding Korean women. Laughing at/mocking their bodies, their intellect, their lack of feminist enlightenment, their pliability, their gullibility, and so on. Or, worse, talking down to Korean women in group situations, or using their L2 disadvantage against them (for those Korean women not at a native-speaker level in English), or simply shunning them and excluding them in social interaction. I’ve seen that more times than I like to contemplate, in fact, over the past eleven years. (Not just Western women: more than a few Western men did it too, but it was more extreme with the Western women I’ve seen do it.) I’m sure some of it was motivated by resentment, or out of coming to see Korean women as competitors for mates (especially back in the day when Western women only rarely dated Korean men, i.e. before your time in Korea, I guess), or a number of other things… but the distasteful bigotry doesn’t just lie on one side of the fence, you know.

      But, I repeat, I am frankly appalled at the experience you describe… and again, I think this is what I was driving at in the post: we’re so fragmented in Korea that the idea of a collaborative, critical project between Koreans and expats is not even seen as a possibility. Too many foreigners in Korea do not see Koreans as human beings first… which is a lot like how too many Koreans in Korea fail to see foreigners as human beings first. What you add is perhaps that too many men in Korea don’t see women as humans first, too.

      And we like to think we’ve come so very fucking far.

      I’d honestly suggest that maybe making a video, of the kind we made, might help drive home that this kind of behaviour is not okay. Or at least would effectively mock the behaviour you describe. Just be warned, the Youtube response will start with a lot of smart, funny people who get it, and will peter out quickly into the long tail of people who either take your joke literally and protest it, or take it literally and want to emphasize how true it is.

      (It’s precisely that double-sided coin which makes me think that the hyperphallic gag is really pretty representative of how morons in both races think.)

      It wouldn’t have hurt to show a little sensitivity toward that, even if you had to pass on a relatively simple-minded laugh.

      There’s no point in arguing about whether the laugh was simple-minded, though again, I think it’s less-simpleminded than it seems, considering that most people seem not to have gotten what we were driving at — satirizing the inferiority complex that drives a lot of the negative perceptions of the particular pairing discussed (Korean female/Foreign male), satirizing the racist stereotype, and satirizing the histrionic panic evident in the MBC clip.

      I can see that it might have pushed a button. What can I say, I’m an SF writer (not a lot of gags in my work) and I am teaching myself how to write comedy. Maybe the joke wasn’t professional level work. But I still think the fact that people took that one theme literally, and insisted on taking it literally out of context of everything else, should give us pause. It should force us to ask ourselves discomfiting questions about why we react the way we do.

      Why, when presented as part of a histrionic news report by fictional people who essentially out themselves as Korean pseudo-Nazis, did you choose to take the hyperphallus gag both literally and out of context?

      (I’m not suggesting it’s because you believe it in real life, by the way. Not at all: you and I surely know that it’s not. So, seriously: why take that one gag out of context and take it as literally meant, when it’s said by a ridiculous sock puppet? It’s a real question. I get that part of it is frustration at the prevalence of the meme. I wonder if that’s the only reason, though. I certainly find among Western men “defending” Korean women, there are often embarrassingly apparent shades of racism betrayed in the defenses they offer.)

      Foreign men handled a lot of this situation very poorly in general, and displayed plainly on several occasions that their concerns about sexism against the poor Korean women were thinly-veiled whines about their own hurt feelings.

      And here we are, talking about “Foreign men” in generalities that mystify me. I don’t know who you’re talking about specifically, or in what context. I presume you’re talking about the blogosphere, which basically I stopped following years ago, because it became pretty much like the men’s sleeping room in a sauna–an over-warm, uncomfortable echo chamber full of muttering and the thick, unmistakable aroma of fart. I can say I also felt the situation was poorly handled, in a number of ways, but I don’t know if we’re talking about the same thing.

      I don’t regret pointing it out. It was a poor oversight, in my opinion, which hurt your chances at making your point cleanly with a large portion of the audience who could otherwise be willing step up and support you.

      You pointed what out, where, exactly? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

      But as for the poor oversight, it’s a fool who argues about how good or bad his own joke was. I can shrug and mutter about the audience being a tough audience, or I can say: this was also our first such video, and that maybe there was a better way to mock the obsession while driving home we don’t actually believe it… though, you know, I assumed that having a professor at the end talk for a minute about racism and sexism and its unacceptability, along with having the morons who obsess about western penises and the hyperphallic male conspiracy by white countries and praise the Nazis, might have made the point for us. Like, sort of over-the-top hammered the point home.

      Plenty of people in the audience seem to have gotten it, so I’d written of those who didn’t as simply not being very good at reading-in-context, or maybe possessed of a tin ear. Not to say it’s a perfect gag, but it was, you know, our first try.

    2. Also:

      Ooops, now I think I know where (some of the more overt) the hostility is coming from. The “one blogger” I mentioned in my post, was not you. You may notice I linked you twice: it was supposed to be Charles Montgomery in the first link. (I’ll be editing it to reflect that change.)

      I didn’t see what you wrote about the video at the time. If you would like to share the link, please feel free.

      1. I didn’t actually write a response to the video, and to be clear, I wasn’t personally offended (very deeply) by the penis commentary. But I saw a lot of women take issue with it, and I’m not being hostile — I’m just trying to explain why that might have been. Because there is a difference between talking among friends and putting a piece of commentary out into the world for public consumption, and just as you wouldn’t expect to keep company only with friends who would humor you, I wouldn’t think you would be so closed off to to someone trying to make a point about why some sections of the community might have been rubbed the wrong way.

        Again, I understand what the intentions were, and I’m not trying to downplay what happens to foreign men in that regard, or to claim that it’s not unpleasant — what I’m saying is that you seemed to lean toward an assumption of ignorance as the only reason why anyone could have possibly objected.

        I have also seen Western women be terrible toward Korean women, but I guess I’m confused as to where that may fit in to this conversation, as we’re talking about very specific things that are said about penis size to men and to women, and it would just be helpful if, when we all should be in this together, one side wouldn’t forget that the other exists and try to show a little respect. I’d be just as put off if a group of foreign women reacting to generalized Korean male piggery about our breast size included a bit of satirical commentary in response about Korean women’s “little boy” figures — even if they clarified that they were playing off of the Korean stereotype, and not the foreign one. Because it’s a painful stereotype that exists on both sides, which means it needs to be handled with kid gloves. Does that make sense?

        The reaction to the penis size thing also has to be taken in context, and the context leading up to this situation was a whole lot of foreign male return fire about Korean men beating their wives, Korean men being archaically sexist compared to their open minded and liberal foreign counterparts, Korean men just becoming alcoholics who sleep with hookers and cheat on their wives, etc. We see a lot of that come rolling out when foreign men get pissed off about one of these reports, and it makes it hard to stand beside them and defend them, when it feels like they’re attacking the person that you love in return. And no, they’re not any friends of mine. But then neither is the maker of an anonymous video which is making the viral circulation, so you can’t expect people to judge it through the “friend” lens.

        Which again, this is not to imply that it doesn’t happen the other way around, but to try to help explain why some people may have had a “knee jerk”, as you call it, reaction to that particular portion of the video, even if it was particularly mild in comparison.

        Again, I’m not being hostile. And as you say you are the kinda fellow who doesn’t keep company that merely humors you, I hope you can take the explanation in the light that it’s intended. Because I think this aspect of our community is one that needs a lot of work, from both sides. The penis thing is sensitive for foreign women. It may not be for the particular groups of foreign women you’re in contact with, but trust me — it is. I’ve heard pretty much endless stories and, of course, experienced it for myself, about the things that happen when a foreign woman takes a Korean date out to a foreign bar. It’s not as rare as you seem to think it is. I can promise you that. I’m not trying to scold — you seemed genuinely confused and even a bit hurt that it would have come up as an issue. Hopefully this gives you some insight as to why.

        1. Thanks for the reply INP, I’ll get back to you soon… I’ve been replying to blog comments for too long in one sitting, and need to get some other stuff done, but I sincerely appreciate it. More soon!

        2. Hi I’m No Picasso,

          Alright, again, thank you for your follow-up comments. I must have misread you: there was something I thought I detected in the first paragraph of your original comment that seemed hostile, and I got defensive. Please accept my sincere apology.

          I didn’t actually write a response to the video, and to be clear, I wasn’t personally offended (very deeply) by the penis commentary. But I saw a lot of women take issue with it, and I’m not being hostile — I’m just trying to explain why that might have been. Because there is a difference between talking among friends and putting a piece of commentary out into the world for public consumption, and just as you wouldn’t expect to keep company only with friends who would humor you, I wouldn’t think you would be so closed off to to someone trying to make a point about why some sections of the community might have been rubbed the wrong way.

          Well, some of that is defensiveness. Some of it, though, is frustration because I feel like what was intended is made pretty clear in the video; I think it’s particularly interesting that what people set off was the dick jokes, and not the Nazi stuff. I know which one I’d find more offensive, were it said about me…

          Again, I understand what the intentions were, and I’m not trying to downplay what happens to foreign men in that regard, or to claim that it’s not unpleasant — what I’m saying is that you seemed to lean toward an assumption of ignorance as the only reason why anyone could have possibly objected.

          Got it. Then again, I tend to preferentially assume ignorance because otherwise I tend to slide straight into assuming malice, or stupidity. This is the misanthrope’s dilemma.

          I have also seen Western women be terrible toward Korean women, but I guess I’m confused as to where that may fit in to this conversation, as we’re talking about very specific things that are said about penis size to men and to women, and it would just be helpful if, when we all should be in this together, one side wouldn’t forget that the other exists and try to show a little respect. I’d be just as put off if a group of foreign women reacting to generalized Korean male piggery about our breast size included a bit of satirical commentary in response about Korean women’s “little boy” figures — even if they clarified that they were playing off of the Korean stereotype, and not the foreign one. Because it’s a painful stereotype that exists on both sides, which means it needs to be handled with kid gloves. Does that make sense?

          Well, sort of? The thing is, when you’re trying to do comedy–critical comedy, in a short clip–you can’t worry about every group that might be offended. The video expressly had nothing to say about Korean men and white women, for one thing; and for another, we were satirizing the Korean media, wherein I have to say I’ve seen plenty of “positive” (from the POV of male Korean media producers, at least) depictions of Korean men getting together with Western women.

          (Not actually positive, mind: more of the, “Drink our beer and white chicks will bang you,” sort. But positive in the sense that Korean men getting with white women are presented as positive and desirable; Korean women with white men is almost invisible in Korean media except as a negative, where rape or exploitation are the focal dynamic of the relationship.)

          While my mention of Korean women being treated like crap by Western women is probably in part because what I’m saying is — that kind of racism you talk about in terms of Western guys when they discover you’re with a Korean man, it’s not just Western guys. It’s Westerners… but the video was focused on Korean attitudes; in the end, honestly, it was a Korean audience we were going for, not a Western one. Hence the whole thing being done in Korean. (Indeed, the subtitles in English were as much to drive home to Korean audiences that, yeah, the rest of the world is watching, as it was for the benefit of expats playing along at home.)

          The reaction to the penis size thing also has to be taken in context, and the context leading up to this situation was a whole lot of foreign male return fire about Korean men beating their wives, Korean men being archaically sexist compared to their open minded and liberal foreign counterparts, Korean men just becoming alcoholics who sleep with hookers and cheat on their wives, etc. We see a lot of that come rolling out when foreign men get pissed off about one of these reports, and it makes it hard to stand beside them and defend them, when it feels like they’re attacking the person that you love in return. And no, they’re not any friends of mine. But then neither is the maker of an anonymous video which is making the viral circulation, so you can’t expect people to judge it through the “friend” lens.

          Fair enough. I also should say that it’s one thing to critique Korean society — where spousal abuse is implicitly more tolerated, and where the sex trade is far bigger than in the West, and so on — and another to engage in racist retaliation when the media rolls out some bigoted shit. The critique can be good, useful,important. The retaliation leads nowhere good. Sort of like my defensiveness in my earlier comment leads nowhere good, I suppose.

          I also feel it’s hard to stand beside other expat men when they start spewing bigoted stereotypes, by the way. But see, I have the luxury of being a misanthrope, and believing that most people are just fucking pig-ignorant, lazy, and thus effectively stupid.

          Which again, this is not to imply that it doesn’t happen the other way around, but to try to help explain why some people may have had a “knee jerk”, as you call it, reaction to that particular portion of the video, even if it was particularly mild in comparison.

          I suppose. It still baffles me that they failed to see it in context, specifically in the context of coming from the mouth of a “narrator” who praises Nazism. But, you know, I suppose that’s what it means to push a button: people stop reading within context and get offended. I dunno. Comedy is hard?

          Again, I’m not being hostile. And as you say you are the kinda fellow who doesn’t keep company that merely humors you, I hope you can take the explanation in the light that it’s intended.

          Yes. Thank you.

          Because I think this aspect of our community is one that needs a lot of work, from both sides. The penis thing is sensitive for foreign women. It may not be for the particular groups of foreign women you’re in contact with, but trust me — it is. I’ve heard pretty much endless stories and, of course, experienced it for myself, about the things that happen when a foreign woman takes a Korean date out to a foreign bar. It’s not as rare as you seem to think it is. I can promise you that. I’m not trying to scold — you seemed genuinely confused and even a bit hurt that it would have come up as an issue. Hopefully this gives you some insight as to why.

          Thanks. I see somewhat why… I still don’t think this sort of offendedness is rooted in a tenable reading of the bit, but I see how someone could jump to the conclusion that the bit was taking because it touched a nerve. (Not in the “touched a nerve because it’s true” sense but in the sense of triggering sensitivity to an annoying thing one has experienced many times.) I guess it’s this: for us, claiming that white men are “bigger” is just as clearly and transparently fucking stupid as claiming Korea needs to Nazify to protect Korea’s holy and sacred vaginas. Both are utterly stupid. But somehow the audience took one of those as if were speaking seriously, and the other as satire. It’s a bit like railing at Stephen Colbert when he puts down women (while in-character as a conservative fuckhead), but cheering when he skewers the racism of the Right Wing.

          However, I will add one thing: the people who complained loudest about the “hyperphallic” meme where I was reading were all white men. And while some might take that as a positive thing — how enlightened! — I suspect that to some degree there was some kind of politically correct overcompensation involved in that.

          But good luck getting anyone to discuss that.

  7. And just another small note on something that is making me feel a bit hostile about your last comment…

    I get a little tired of the implication that the only way a woman would have things “like that” said to her is if she kept bad company and didn’t vet her scene well enough. I guess I could just volley that right back to you, though, and point out that I guess my vetting process is just about as low as yours is, allowing you to have experienced Western women saying nasty things about Korean women. Right? The Western women I keep company with don’t say things like that, and you should be able to sense something like that coming well ahead of time….

    What’s the difference?

    It’s a little insulting to have it insinuated that the only way I could have experienced something like that is if I’m keeping company with jerks, when in fact I’ve had drunk white guys come marching right over from across the bar and interrupt my dates with Korean men to let me know they are the “real man” option on more than one occasion, and it’s something that has also happened to a number of my female friends. I guess I should just not be in those bars, or anywhere else a drunk asshole might happen to be? And maybe you should stay out of saunas, because inexcusable behavior is only inexcusable if you go out of your way to take all precautions to make sure it never happens?

    You may not be reading up on the Blogosphere very often anymore, but your video rippled through it and happened within its context, so you can’t write out that context in people’s responses, when that’s the environment you sent your video into…

    1. And just another small note on something that is making me feel a bit hostile about your last comment…

      I get a little tired of the implication that the only way a woman would have things “like that” said to her is if she kept bad company and didn’t vet her scene well enough. I guess I could just volley that right back to you, though, and point out that I guess my vetting process is just about as low as yours is, allowing you to have experienced Western women saying nasty things about Korean women. Right? The Western women I keep company with don’t say things like that, and you should be able to sense something like that coming well ahead of time….

      Touché. Mind you, I stopped going to bars and in fact cut out huge parts of my social circle when I saw this happen. I haven’t been to an expat bar more than once every few years since about 2006. The one occasion I’ve seen it since then was kind of shocking: it was a woman I’d seen interacting very respectfully with Koreans in a professional capacity, and who shocked me.

      I’m sorry if it’s insulting. I don’t meant to insult you. But the older I get, the more I feel like anecdotes about dumb, racist, ignorant shit that people have said in bars doesn’t really prove anything except that people say dumb, racist, ignorant shit in bars all the time. It’s not a great metric of how enlightened or bigoted any class of people is — Western woman, Korean man, Korean woman, Western man, etc. It’s just a testament to the fact that most conversations held in bars are frankly a waste of time, and expecting more out of people who spend their weekends in bars is sort of like hoping the Pope will speak out against bigotry.

      It’s a little insulting to have it insinuated that the only way I could have experienced something like that is if I’m keeping company with jerks, when in fact I’ve had drunk white guys come marching right over from across the bar and interrupt my dates with Korean men to let me know they are the “real man” option on more than one occasion, and it’s something that has also happened to a number of my female friends. I guess I should just not be in those bars, or anywhere else a drunk asshole might happen to be? And maybe you should stay out of saunas, because inexcusable behavior is only inexcusable if you go out of your way to take all precautions to make sure it never happens?

      Well… you see, I lived in Yeokgok, Bucheon. So yeah, after a number of near-assaults by strangers, I really did stop going to saunas, and bars. We scrupulously avoided places filled with drunken assholes, which, if you’ve even been to Yeokgok, you’ll know is a fair proportion of the local populace on any given night. (I wish I were exaggerating but after seven years, and after numerous visits by friends who left in shock at the horror of the neighborhood, I assert that I am not.) We would walk up to restaurants we liked and, seeing a tableful of middle-aged men and green glass bottles on their table, would disappointedly leave, because we didn’t feel like hearing a litany of misogynistic crap from old men. Or, you know, someone attacking us. Or worse.

      So, yeah. The strategy that resulted in a major uptick in my quality of life while living in Korea was precisely that: stop going to bars, or, at least, stop going to shitty bars. (A great metric is the price of beer. In places where beer costs more, like where there’s craft beer for example, you not only get a better class of beer, but also a better class of person.) One option is also to start going to places where enlightened people do hang out. Because there are lots of them, living almost in hiding because they’re such a minority in Korea. I’m not telling you what to do, but if you encounter stupid shit in bars… well, is it really surprising? Bars are sort of the shrines to stupid shit, if you ask me. That’s not excusing it–which I would never do, because a lot of the dumb shit people say is truly appalling–but I would not excuse or condemn it too loudly, and certainly I would not express surprise at it, because anyway condemning or excusing it doesn’t really achieve anything: people will always sit around saying dumb shit in cheap, shitty bars. It’s sort of what those places are there for.

      This may sound to you like blame-the-victim. You obviously have the right–and deserve–to live free of that kind of shit, as do I. But just because you deserve to be treated with respect doesn’t mean people will, and insisting finally will only turn one blue in the face. I agree people should be educated, but if you think education is enough to make people behave sensibly in bars–especially a transient population of mainly young men, poorly educated and unaware of their own privilege–then I think you’re going to encounter little more than frustration in the long run.

      So yes, in fact, I am suggesting you might want to choose to avoid the kinds of places where assheads like that hang out, because, not because women have no place there or because anyone deserves the shitty treatment that is common there, but because people who want more out of conversations and more out of their environments have no business looking such things in bars: rights and ideals mean little when you search for treasures in sewers, which is, intellectually, what the vast majority of drinking establishments simply and straightforwardly are. This especially my experience in Korea, but is also my experience generally, in every country I’ve lived in or visited. Drinking people are stupid people, and cheaply drinking people are even stupider.

      Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not, though: I’d be interested to know whether you’ve experienced this sort of shit in a better class of bar–say, at Magpie, or at Craftworks–or, say, in a park or something. Sounds like an experiment worth trying, and I can guarantee that the higher price of outings is worth the much great degree of civilization one encounters in such places. If you haven’t spent much time in those nicer places, I’d be genuinely curious to know if your experience is like mine: less crap by far, I mean. For me, it meant fewer outings, but far more enjoyable ones, which was worth the price paid.

      Of course, maybe it was offensive of me to assume you haven’t tried this. But I get the sense that almost nobody tries this. If I’m wrong, pardon me. And again, I sympathize — which is also part of why I told my own anecdotes, believe it or not. I know how it feels. It’s also why I avoid expat gatherings, expat bars, and so on.

      You may not be reading up on the Blogosphere very often anymore, but your video rippled through it and happened within its context, so you can’t write out that context in people’s responses, when that’s the environment you sent your video into…

      True. But I didn’t really have the stomach for it, and especially after seeing the Long Tail dynamic I described on the Youtube comment thread, I avoided it because it seemed preferable. (Especially because the sympathetic embarrassment of reading “intelligent” commentary by people who missed the point just made me sad.)

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