Thursday, September 19, 2013

Americans and bad first impressions

The 1988 Seoul Olympics

Part 1:  The Seoul Olympics, 25 years later
Part 2:  The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 3: Americans and bad first impressions

Commenter Kkachi left a link to the full opening ceremony in which the Americans enter at 1:17:13. Now that I've seen it, I'm left scratching my head as to what the big deal was. I'll add screenshots below.

[Original post]

On September 17, the day the Olympics opened, the Hankyoreh published the following column:
One American athlete's arrogance and the US flag

Hwang Ji-woo, special Olympics correspondent
It's strange. For some time when I saw the US flag I suddenly felt afraid. The flag's 'stars and stripes' fly an image in my unconscious of a tussock moth with stripes and black spots.
He goes on to talk about a 'May 1980 syndrome' and how athletes come to Korea as if preparing for a world war. After saying that the foreigners in Seoul seem to see the Olympics not as a festival but as a war, he continues:
Our country's young women* who are embarrassed in front of foreigners asking directions, are not simply 'language impaired." It may be that this repulsion is the unloading of a post-Sinmi Yangyo historical group unconcious[ness]. Trailing behind the black cloak of the missionary who appears like a fool, like a crazed person wanting to be persecuted, comes the battleship cannon. Finally soldiers and diplomats come, businessmen and hoodlums come, and tourists come. Tourists are, so to speak, the missionaries who complete the domination of the discovered colony. This is because their 'shopping' is 'pillage' without bloodshed. Taxi drivers and merchants defend against pillage in which foreigners twist things and accuse them of overcharging.

Carl Lewis, who is vying for 4 track medals, came to Seoul. Though only a ruler's 'mercenary', he demanded 50 police to protect him as an 'emperor' at Kimpo Airport. Asking with distrust, 'Are you really cops?' and crudely saying 'God-damn,' his coarse, haughty attitude clearly betrayed the twisted racism among American black people, looking down on Asian people even more than white people do.

Athletes from Africa, where he should find his "roots"** say that "the black people are not free as long as Mandela is in prison." Carl Lewis, who cannot be compared to this, is a degenerate American.***

Korean people will despise the honor of the American flag and the strength and speed that arise from 'his black skin colored white.'
*처녀, literally 'virgins')
**Refers to the TV show 'Roots,' which was known in Korea.
***타락한 can be translated as corrupt, depraved, decadent, or degenerate.

That's quite the piece of writing. One has to appreciate the portrayal of American tourists as imperialist plunderers. It goes to show how critical some people were of the US prior to the Olympics, and the 'haughty attitude' of at least one arriving athlete and the actions of the American Olympic team at the opening ceremony helped to set the tone for the criticism that would follow. Of course, loutish behaviour by Americans in Korea hadn't really helped things in the days before the Olympics, and since those involved were children of USFK personnel, anti-American protesters were given another target. As Stars and Stripes reported on September 13:
Woman Assaulted Near Yongsan Will Not Miscarry

South Korean police said doctors have determined the 31-year-old pregnant Korean woman who police say was kicked and beaten by a pair of American teen-agers last week will not miscarry.

A Yongsan police spokesman said Saturday Cho Kyong-ok will be hospitalized about two weeks for treatment of injuries she received when she was attacked near the U.S. Army's Yongsan South Post.

Korean police arrested two youths aged 17 and 18, both the sons of U.S. Forces Korea personnel, on suspicion of attacking the woman. USFK and police spokesmen said the youths are in American custody while the incident is being investigated by both Korean and U.S. authorities.

Meanwhile, 40 to 50 Korean students from several Seoul universities demonstrated in front of the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon for about 20 minutes Friday evening, demanding that the youths be turned over to Korean police.

Witnesses said there was no violence, but police took eight students into custody before the demonstrators were dispersed.

USFK said Korean police turned the two American youths over to American authorities under the ROK-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. They are being made available to Korean authorities during the investigation, USFK said.
This incident was already on the minds of many who watched the Olympics opening ceremony and helped prime them to find further fault with Americans and America in general. As one columnist wrote,
[T]here was no ignoring the Americans as they marched in. More than 620 of them in all, they dressed in boring uniforms but wore an American attitude that set them apart from the other nations as surely as the turbans and dashikis marked the members of some delegations. Their easy stride -- not quite a swagger -- and self-confident smiles served notice that the Yanks had arrived.

And yes, some wore Mickey Mouse ears and carried signs like "Hi Mom, I'm here." The solemn high priests of the Olympics were not amused. They looked out upon the proceedings and they saw that they were bad.
As the New York Times reported,
Some wore Mickey Mouse ears, some held signs that said, ''Hi, Mom,'' and others scooted in and out of the procession so the NBC cameras could get a better view of them.

Yes, indeed, many of the American athletes had a good time in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games last Saturday.

Too good a time, as far as the International Olympic Committee is concernd.

In a strongly worded letter to Evie Dennis, the United States team's chief of mission, an I.O.C. official said that Juan Antonio Samaranch, the I.O.C. president, and other members of the organization's executive board had found the Americans' behavior ''scandalous,'' and that their actions ''has given to the whole world a very bad impression of your delegation.''

Raymond Gafner, an I.O.C. member from Switzerland and the chief administrator of the I.O.C., also told Dennis that I.O.C. officials were especially disturbed that some of the signs held up by Americans included the NBC logo. NBC is televising the Olymics in the United States.

He concluded the letter by saying he hoped the deportment of the American delegation in the closing ceremonies Oct. 2 would be more appropriate.

Robert Helmick, the president of the United States Olympic Committee, said he disagreed with Gafner's interpretation. Helmick acknowledged that some American athletes might have gotten a little carried away, but, he said, ''Their behavior certainly was not scandalous.''
I've never been able to find video of the incident, and the only photos I could find were the two below, which don't really show much [Update - the video is linked above, and some screenshots are below]:

"Hi Mom, I'm here." "Hi Mom, send won."

 "NBC" "Peace on Earth" (and perhaps a Korean flag below 'NBC')

Some of the women move out of line to take photos of each other, and a few of the men dart around in addition to some holding the banners. I didn't see any Mickey Mouse ears.

The episode is mentioned in 'Let the games begin,' a chapter in the book Korea Witness:
Mike Breen, the president of the SFCC, said the show was tremendous. But the Americans were accused of lowering the tone and upsetting the host nation. During the traditional march-past of national Olympic teams into the Olympics stadium the US team broke ranks and ran amok, banged into other teams, jigging around and generally playing the fool.

"The US team marched in and behaved badly, carrying cards saying 'I Love You Mom' and such like," Breen recalled. "There was the Korean team, in their smart uniforms and in perfect order. It was their big moment in history, and the felt that the US had disrespected that."
Ian Baruma also noted reactions to the 'mass games' aspects of the opening ceremony:
I had lunch with a Korean government spokesman who did little else but talk about the crass attitudes of Americans. The American press, he said, had ignored the deep significance of the opening ceremony. They willfully refused to understand Korean culture. The Europeans, they were quite different. The Germans, especially: they understood the symbolic depth of the ceremony. Well, I thought with an element of spite (I must confess here that the Dutch defeat of Germany during the European soccer championship made me as happy as a Korean watching the Japanese go down): they would, wouldn't they.

The opening ceremony has also been remembered for its unintentional charring of doves, but it certainly wasn't mentioned in the Korean press at the time (the Korea Times called the opening ceremony the "closest thing to perfection").

As for the disordered marching of the American athletes, as it's put in Korea Witness, "The incident generated a ripple of anti-Americanism that had turned into a wave by the time the closing ceremony came around two weeks later."


K said...

The stream of consciousness writing from a Korean journalist is indeed wild stuff. It's a hallucinatory rant. Wish I could read it in Korean, too.

King Baeksu said...

A sporting event is meant to be fun, not a solemn freaking advertisement for Hyundai and Korea, Inc.

Unknown said...

Here's the Opening Ceremony video

Americans enter at 1:17:13


matt said...

Thanks for posting that link - though having seen it, I'm not sure what all the fuss was about...

jjj_alltheway said...

Korea taxis haven’t missed a beat since 1988. They still dishonestly overcharge tourists, be careful at the Incheon airport. So, are we to believe that after Karl Lewis [demanded 50 police to protect him as an 'emperor' ], that the cops were all standing around available, already lined up and ready to go?

That Hwang Ji-woo(special Olympics correspondent) is some piece of work. He wrote that “Karl Lewis looked down on Asian people” but how did he know that, were there other Asians around or just Koreans? This “Looking Down” on Koreans is still widely heard today even in circumstances such as after Korean hagwon owners steal(refuses to pay their monthly salary, after firing them illegally, to avoid paying severance usually required by Korean labor law) from native English teachers. The Korean hagwon owner will say… “He/she(foreigner) looks down on Korean people.” I must say however, stealing from foreigners certainly doesn’t make foreigners look up to Koreans.

Why did that Hwang, Ji-woo see Karl Lewis seen as “crude” instead of funny when he said [Asking with distrust, 'Are you really cops?' and crudely saying 'God-damn,' his coarse, haughty attitude clearly betrayed the twisted racism…] “God-damn” is what Koreans were saying to themselves as they saw all the foreign athletes entering The Seoul Olympic Stadium, aka Jamsil Olympic Stadium during the 1988 opening ceremony and what S. Koreans still say when they drive through foreign neighborhoods in and around Seoul. They sure are “crude” aren’t they?

Oh and btw, many S. Korean journalists today display “haughty” or arrogantly superior and disdainful attitudes. The only difference is that you can see it in printed newspapers/online etc…, but why do S. Korean journalists have “haughty” attitudes? They certainly aren’t the best in the world, unlike Karl Lewis. I can understand why Karl Lewis might have had a “haughty” attitude but I’d argue that he was kind of funny…”Are you really cops?” Hahaha!!!

I got to wonder what was up the rear-ends of Juan Antonio Samaranch, Raymond Gafner, and other I.O.C. officials? Did the Koreans pay them off like they did the judges of the Roy Jones jr. vs. Park, Si-hun boxing match? If only the American athletes hadn’t “willfully refused to understand Korean culture.” If American athletes had gotten on their knees and kissed the ground that wouldn’t have been good enough, something would’ve been wrong in the way they did it.

The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ought to be full of similar Korean acts of xenophobia, violence, and haughtiness. Why have there already been and will we continue to read about the concern that N. Korea will try and interrupt the Pyeongchang 2018 when S. Koreans will likely embarrass themselves by messing things up in a whole host of ways based on 1988 and Korean Olympic athletes, coaches, etc…behavior since then.

King Baeksu said...

"I'm not sure what all the fuss was about..."

Don't worry, if the fuss isn't big enough, we can take care of that!

Stafford said...

Don't forget the pigeon BBQ - Everyone forgets the Pigeon BBQ!

Baek In-je said...

Add one part penis envy, sprinkle cultural inferiority and cultural servitude, add one whole ajosshi, untouched by female hands, with a large dose of H8orade and you have that steaming pile of journalism.