Thursday, April 19, 2007

Netizens attack Cho Seung-huis; American humor is lost in translation

From the Joongang Ilbo:
As soon as the name of the shooter at Virginia Tech University was released last night, it was trouble for anyone named Cho Seung-hui, spelled two different ways in Korean. Internet users tracked down people with that name, leaving rude comments, curses and pleas on the guestbooks of their Web sites.
If you were thinking that the comments read something along the lines of, "Murderer! You've brought shame upon our country!", you'd be correct.
On Cyworld, a social networking site that lets you find a person’s Web site according to birth year and name, thousands of people Tuesday night began to hunt down Cho Seung-hui, spelled both ways. The daily hit count rose to several thousand on the home pages of these innocent people named Cho, many of whom could not respond because they were serving the two-year mandatory military service.[...]

Many of the site owners with the “hee” spelling closed their sites or converted them to a password mode by yesterday morning. Those that were still open as of yesterday evening had almost 10,000 hits. One Cho even changed his Web site’s name to “I didn’t kill anyone.”
I wanted to bring this article up today in class but found it difficult to refer to the netizens without using a lot of foul language, so I just decided to drop it. One my students responded, on hearing Cho Seung-hui's name, "It's so embarrassing." When asked why, she said, "He killed so many people. It's so embarrassing that he's Korean."

It seemed within the Korean media that the most pressing result of Cho Seung-hui's actions was the veritable wave of hatred that would surely be brought down upon Koreans in the US. In this story, the title of which reads, "Kimchi is Poisonous" - Signs of hatred and anti-Korean sentiment among American Netizens," we're shown this entry at, where commenters say things like, "Are we going to bomb the holy hell out of South Korea now?", and "I knew Bush put the wrong Korea in the damn Axis."These statements are taken at face value in the article, but if you read the comments at fark, there's not much there that could be seen as venomous outbursts against Korea, of the sort one can find in many comments at, say Naver, directed at foreigners, especially Americans. In fact, I took the "bomb Korea" comment as a not-so-subtle reference to Bush's hastily planned war in Iraq, and the likelihood that Iran may be next - in other words, as a joke with a slight political subtext. But in Korea, where hitting yourself on the forehead repeatedly can pass as comedy, this kind of joke may seem a little foreign. I do wonder, though, if the person translating these statements was really so ignorant of their sarcastic nature. I'm hoping this is just a misunderstanding, and not a willful attempt by those in the media to stir up fear of a violent American response by searching for any signs of the hatred and violence against the 'outsiders' that would only too surely happen in Korea were a similar tragedy to occur at the hands of a foreigner.

As for those idiot netizens, Cho was obviously a very sick, disturbed person. What's their excuse?


Jonny Cakes said...

there's no satire in Korea. that's the problem.

matt said...

I don't know if I'd say there's no satire - the movies of Bong Joon-ho or the fiction of Chae Man-shik (colonial era though the latter may be) are excellent examples of satire - but there certainly doesn't seem to be much.