Monday, February 23, 2009

"Let's not forget the grudge over Hongdae!"

[Update - a very incorrect figure has been excised below]
"When you are alone, that is your cue."
It was four years ago last Thursday that the SBS show 그것이 알고싶다's episode about English Teachers, titled "Is Korea their Paradise? Report on the Real Conditions of Blond-haired, Blue-eyed Teachers," was first broadcast, which helped shape the image of English teachers as unqualified, pot-smoking child molesters. The show begins with a excerpts from 'Lucky Guy's "How to mollest your students [sic]" post (reprinted here) and continues with a dramatization of a male English teacher getting a kindergarten student alone and giving her an ill-intentioned massage. Note that it then moves on to, "When you are in your place making dinner for them, spike the dinner. Yes, cook with rum or something," which is not connected (in the original post) with younger children at all. We then see - gasp! - foreign male-Korean female couples on the street in Hongdae: We're also presented with this genius talking about his sex life:
Andy's screwed 50 girls this year, or 2-3 a week. Clearly, he's not a math major.*
Later, we have some students who are interviewed about their teacher, 'Peter', who has them and two high school girls over for a lesson, then drinks with them, all shown in a re-enactment: He gets one girl drunk and stoned and then they're discovered in the same bed. Then the police raid his apartment, news crew in tow, and find a pipe. I am curious: what's to stop the guy from telling the camera crew to get the hell out of his apartment? The show goes on and on from there, with lots of hearsay and second-hand stories. With its varied look at the evils of English teachers (sex criminals, pot smokers, fake degrees, few working hours, high pay, seeing Korean women as being easy, being spoiled compared to migrant workers, etc etc) I still think it sets the standard for these kind of shows, but, also on Thursday, Mongdori posted a comedy show [dead link - it can be watched on Youtube here] called 'Sin Hae-cheol's Damage,' which almost gives it a run for its money. This fake tabloid news show ( like an even sleazier 그것이 알고싶다) opens with the re-enactment of a 22 year-old Korean woman being gang-raped by foreign English teachers, with, as you can see below, "Foreign teacher and club girl" emblazoned at the top of the screen for its entire running time.
Memories of an unforgettable gang rape!
I don't know who should be more offended by this - foreign teachers, or Korean women (in this case, 'club girls'). Since when is gang rape comedy? Well, since now apparently. And perhaps we should applaud such daring steps being taken (obviously by male writers) to broaden the horizons of Korean comedy and finally move away from the dominance of physical comedy. I might perhaps suggest that they use Chris Morris' mock news series Brasseye as a model (its Drugs and Paedogeddon! episodes are classics). Seriously, though, it's interesting to look at the stereotypes found in these two shows, which portray white males with big noses as having only one thing on their minds: the defilement of Korean womanhood (with '그것이 알고싶다' making it clear that this category includes children (but not boys!)). Of course, I've seen this kind of thing done with more panache by Korean artists using a different medium**: Big nose, menacing, preying on innocent Korean women? Check. But where are the children?
Let's not forget the grudge over Sincheon!
Ah. There they are. Man, they don't just hold a grudge over Hongdae, but even Sinchon! (Actually, the Sincheon (North Korea) Massacre during the Korean War was blamed on the US, even though it was actually Korean neighbours who turned on each other and subjected each other to two months of horror.) Then again, I suppose the pendulum swings both ways. CSI's episode about a double murder in Koreatown could, possibly, bring to mind the image of a certain Korean American who posed with (and used) handguns. These images (two of which are only hypothetical) make sense in the context of the (very complicated) story, which involves a prostitute, gangsters, an ex-con and a boy with AIDS (all Korean-American) who is being used as a guinea pig by a pharmaceutical company (the white representative of which likely comes off as the most despicable character). Plastic surgery is also brought into the story, but it becomes unintentionally amusing due to a character's response to it. One of the CSIers finds surgical scars on a female corpse's eyes, and says something along the line of, "That's some pretty fancy plastic surgery for a prostitute," something akin to an American male corpse being examined in some other country and upon noticing that he's been circumcised, saying, "Wow, that's some pretty fancy surgery he's had." Anyways, while I could see how Koreans and Korean Americans might be displeased with some aspects of the episode, unlike 'Damage' or '그것이 알고싶다,' not every 'foreign' person on the show is portrayed as a criminal (in fact, one person who just got out of jail is arguably the most sympathetic character in the story). In 'Damage,' on the other hand, the foreigners are all gang rapists. As I said, I'm not sure what I find more disturbing: portraying white English teachers in such a way (with 'Foreign teacher and club girl' emblazoned at the top of the screen for the entire show), or the fact that the (presumably male) writers of the show think so little of rape that they would go so far as to have rape scenes graphically re-enacted in what is meant to be a comedy. If they think that's funny, why not make a comedy out of this? I'm sure it would be just as hilarious to change the girl from a 22 year-old to a 14 year-old, the setting from present-day Hongdae to 1940s China, and the foreign rapists from English teachers to Japanese soldiers. Somehow (especially since a 'comfort women'-themed erotic photo spread in 2004 turned out to be a tad unpopular), I doubt "Comfort Station 17" would be quite as big as "꽃보다남자 (Boys Over Flowers)." Both shows would have something in common, however, considering the first episode of 꽃보다남자 ended with an attempted gang-rape: This on a show watched regularly by elementary school students. Perhaps foreigners are making too big a deal of being associated with such a crime, one which may be more common in Korea[.] [films than in American films; a search of the Korean Film Archives "100 Korean Films" (from 1936 to 1996) turns up references to rape in 42 of them. [This is wrong: the figure is 9 out of 100] The Chosun Ilbo tells us that "Some 50 percent of teenage rape cases occurred in groups, compared to 30 percent for adults. Experts say that this tendency is higher in Korea than in other countries." Consider also how exposed the female independence fighters are at the Seodaemun Prison Museum and the implications of that exposure. Depicting women being treated in such a way (even if its by foreigners) in a comedy show unfortunately says quite a bit about how women are viewed here. There has been at least one other case, before the English Spectrum incident and 그것이 알고싶다, where foreigners have been (literally) whipping boys - at the hands of women - either to express anti-American feeling or sublimate frustration with Korean men and with being ranked so poorly on this list. The question of why it is only white men who are targeted (and why its considered acceptable to target them) is talked about by Robert Koehler in this Seoul Podcast (about 44 minutes in) where he mentions that the murder of a 13 year old girl last March by a illegal Filipino migrant worker in Yangju brought to light the biases of the mainstream media, who refrained from reporting on it until local media reports led to it becoming an "internet sensation." As he describes "Korean-style political correctness,"
there is, at least within certain segments of the media, the feeling that guest workers, because they’re coming from Asia, because they’re coming from third world countries, are a disadvantaged class, while G.I.s and English teachers are a privileged class because they’re white and coming from western countries.
Another time I'll look at how groups opposed to illegal immigrants have been capitalizing on the murder of middle schooler Gang Su-hyeon and using her photo to promote their agenda. As for groups with similar agendas, at the Marmot's Hole, Robert translates a Weekly Kyunghyang Shinmun article by Lee Eun-ung of the “Citizens Group for Proper English Education” (or “Citizens Movement to Expel Illegal English Teachers”) otherwise known as anti-English Spectrum:
Foreign teachers with AIDS have actually been confirmed, too. In spring of 2007, our group received a tip from a woman who wanted help. A teacher from Australia threatened her, saying he’d had sex without a condom in southeast Asia and she should be careful of AIDS, too. The tip also said the teacher was loitering around her place, trying to terrify her. After this writer and others pursued him with the cooperation of relevant authorities, he was finally arrested by police in the capital region after living at a guest house in Seoul. It was learned that the teacher had before been fired for molesting a child and had been added to the Korea English Teacher Recruitment Association (KETRA) blacklist.
In the comments to this post by Roboseyo, Anti-English Spectrum member Liveswithpassion left 8 links to articles about English teachers molesting children (of which only three of them actually had stories about foreigners being arrested (here, here, and here)). Two others referred to 'A', the Australian teacher who 'threatened' his ex with AIDS, which was a bad breakup turned into news by an angry ex and xenophobic news media (with a little help from Anti-English Spectrum, according to Lee). 'A' is used by Lee as his sole example of "Foreign teachers with AIDS [who] have actually been confirmed" but does not say if he was ever tested, or if anyone saw the results. It might also be worth looking at the claim that "It was learned that [he] had before been fired for molesting a child." Actually, according to this article, a co-worker said that he poked high school-aged girls with paper (?) and read their palms, while in this article it says that the blacklist read, "he often puts his hand on the students’ bodies. It does not rise to the level of sexual harassment but it is absolutely inappropriate. Students and parents said they were suspicious of him.” Inapropiate, yes, but you certainly can't say he 'molest[ed] a child.' Unless you're anti-English Spectrum, I guess. To be sure, with his comment, "Many people were outraged... at the lewd clubs in front of Hongik University that degraded Korean women," Lee makes it clear that he has not forgotten the grudge over Hongdae, and is doing his part to keep the Han River free of ink. And if he or 'Damage' or '그것이 알고싶다' err on the side of exaggeration or gross generalization, remember - they're doing it for the children.
Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!***
We won't forget. And no one will forget Hongdae either. We can count on them for that. * Well, if we're imagining a string of one night stands, that is. ** The posters are from North Korean Posters: The David Heather Collection. ***In his book Han Sorya and North Korean Literature, Brian Myers translates 'seungnyangi' as 'jackal'


kushibo said...

Very interesting, but like with a lot of your posts, Matt, I don't have time to carefully read the whole thing when I first see it. Which means I'll have to come back for a second or third look later on when I'm having my morning tea or something.

Anyway, if you need some more of those CSI snapshots, let me know. I saved a lot of them for when I would eventually expand on that post (which, of course, I never did).

kushibo said...

BTW, I didn't mean the first paragraph in any insulting way. Your posts tend to be not just long, but rich with interesting information.

Mark Russell said...

Very good post, Matt.

One small point though -- I don't think you'll find reference to rape in 42 of the Korean Film Archive's 100 film list. Your search dug up a bunch of references from other films, besides that list. A more accurate search might be:

Mark Russell said...

Okay, that did not seem to work. The search I meant to show was:
"" and "rape"

King Baeksu said...

"there is, at least within certain segments of the media, the feeling that guest workers, because they’re coming from Asia, because they’re coming from third world countries, are a disadvantaged class, while G.I.s and English teachers are a privileged class because they’re white and coming from western countries."

Ah, yes, the Yellow Man's burden strikes again:

Take up the Yellow Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Sri Lankan night?"

matt said...

Mark: Thanks for pointing that out. I thought that number seemed high, but didn't look carefully enough. A proper search turns up 5 (but one isn't in the '100 films.' On the other hand, of the films I know of on that list, Aje Aje Bara Aje, Yeong-ja's Heydays, A Petal, Woman of Fire, and Nambu-gun all have rape scenes, so the number then should be 9 out of 100 (with the caveat that I've seen less than a quarter of them).

Kushibo: Thanks for the offer, though I have a copy of the episode. The old lady with the gun was certainly a WTF moment...

Stuart said...

Well it's not all so bad.
Last year I had some disputes in my current job, I had another job lined up and was getting ready to quit.

At the last moment my boss folded and said he would give me what I wanted because he was scared my replacement might be one of those evil, pot smoking, kiddy fiddling, drug dealing,HIV infected, ex gangsters with a fake degree.

JIW said...

Wow what an excellent post you have created here. It reveals so much about the fears Koreans have over English teachers here.

I have an issue though that I want to know your thoughts about.

As an woman expat I don't see myself being feared as someone who does drugs, takes advantage of teenage Korean boys, or is an drug dealing,HIV infected, or someone with a fake degree.

Usually the message that comes my way is that my Korean collegues can't believe I left my home to come here. And wonder if I was scared.

So I am trying to raise the issue here of the woman expat's role in all of this. What is it? Is it as badly portrayed as the male?

I have to say that I see blog posts about your topic often across the K-blogs. But little do I see how woman expats fit into the puzzle.

Hopefully you have some insight into this inquiry of mine.

matt said...

Foreigner Joy,

Good question. An attempt to answer it briefly as a comment has turned out much longer than I planned, and will be a future post (hopefully in the next day or so, but maybe longer...).

Anonymous said...

Great post, thank you for your research into that matter...
As Foreigner Joy, I am not seen as a moral threat to Korean society, moreover, as a married expat I'm absolutely a-sexual in the eyes of "the mothers" (and students I reckon, however it happened that drunken ajussi approached me with a "how much" question...

Anonymous said...

What I like best about this, is that the individual depicting the dangerous foreign teacher is a friend of mine. He just got into Korea a week prior, hadnt gotten a job yet, and answered to an advertisement on English Spectrum.