Monday, September 30, 2013

Cultivating outrage toward America

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
Part 4: Reptilian Style: The 'live-or-die general war' against Hollywood
Part 5: An attack in a boxing ring
Part 6: Media responses to the boxing ring incident
Part 7: No more lion: US swimmers' 'prank' becomes 'diplomatic incident'
Part 8: KAIST catches Big Ben
Part 9: Hankyoreh interviews Korean witness to theft by swimmers
Part 10: Stop me if you've heard this one: Four GIs head to Itaewon in a taxi...
Part 11: Taxi-kicking US runner taken to Itaewon police box
Part 12: NBC uses the power of t-shirts to insult Korea... again

Part 13: Cultivating outrage toward America

If we remember (and as was noted here when we looked at the aftermath of the boxing ring incident), in this Korea Times article by Rhee Chong-ik, he wrote that
Of course, if we can, we like to see our young Korean athletes win many medals at the Games, but the most important thing what Korean wants is to have the proud Korea correctly appreciated by the world and many visiting friends. Biased and unfriendly views on Korea and Koreans of the past, was what we wanted to correct by means of hosting the Games. 
Or as the New York Times would put it after the boxing incident,
Ever sensitive to their international image, South Koreans are particularly angry about any coverage they deem negative because they see the Olympics more as a potential public relations bonanza than a sports event.
 As AFP reporter Charles Whelan wrote in Korea Witness,
In the run up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the good news stories were outnumbered by tales of dog soup, tear gas, and North Korean terrorists. But for us it was all good copy, and the number of journalists in Seoul rose steadily as the September 17 - October 2 games approached. Wire-service reinforcements including me landed about six months ahead of the Olympics.

"The stories we wrote tended to be unflattering," said Bryan Matthews, who was a member of the Burson-Marstellar PR team hired by the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee.

"Most were about security and potentially negative issues," he said. "It became a bit frustrating. People were focusing on what could go wrong."[...] Bryan and partner Bill Rylance, dreamed up a scheme to generate good copy on the Olympics. They would allow 30 foreign correspondents - including 30 based in Seoul - to take part in the traditional Olympic torch relay.
The torch arrived in Jeju from Athens in early September, and though there was "fierce competition" among Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club (SFCC)  members to take part, there were worries that some of the foreign correspondents really weren't in good enough shape. The first to take part of Paul Smurthwaite of Reuters (who wrote about his experience here). The chapter goes on to say that he went on to become
an Olympic icon by default when it was used by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in an advertising campaign to attract business. More than 11,000 journalists were in Seoul to cover the games, and the SFCC thought it would be an ideal opportunity to cash in by inviting them to spend their per diems at the club bar.

So the club printed up an advertising poster and pasted it up around the residence for Olympic journalists in southern Seoul. It showed the Washington Post's Tokyo correspondent John Burgess sitting on a wall outside the Chosun Hotel in the middle of a student riot, wearing a gas mask and balancing a laptop on his knees as the tear gas wafted around his head. The poster displeased the Korean Overseas Information Service.

"KOIS went mad," said SFCC president Mike Breen. "They accused us of trying to destroy the finest moment in Korean history. Our explanation that it was supposed to whimsical and funny was not appreciated. The poster was torn down and replaced with the one of Paul carrying the Olympic torch."
There's not a lot of appreciation for pranks or humour out there by officials, is there? A New York Times article from the day before the Olympics began comments on some of the hopes that, for Koreans, the games could "remedy the damage to their national pride":
Yet many Koreans say the Olympics may mark a first step toward assuaging the resentment born of years when foreign occupiers disparaged Korean culture. The Olympics, many hope, can show the scoffers that South Korea is more than a nation of grocers and carmakers and no longer the land of Pork Chop Hill and M.A.S.H. - the Korean War battle and television show that imprinted images of Korean poverty and chaos on America's consciousness.

"For Koreans, this is an event through which they can remedy the damage to their national pride," said Lim Hy Sop, professor of sociology at Korea University. "Korea is known to the people as a world as a country that went through the Korean War and only recently achieved economic development. But Koreans are eager to make the people of the world know that Korea is also a country of long cultural tradition. In terms of political and military strength, we may still be small and weak. But when you talk about culture, we are not inferior to any other country."

Indeed, the Olympics are being hosted by a nation that feels world applause is long overdue. South Korea's extraordinary economic growth and recent progress toward democracy are fueling a long-nurtured nationalism.

"You Americans look down on us -you think of us as low-educated and savage," said C. D. Chang, a 31-year-old travel agent. "I hope the Olympics can change that."
Unfortunately, a few hotheads apparently lived up to negative perceptions:

As the Donga Ilbo noted in this editorial after the western media - and especially NBC, in the Korean view - reported constantly on the boxing incident,
We must carefully mull the reason why our foreign friends are so readily prone to pick on our weak points and shortcomings while we are doing ever so much to welcome them. Hasn't our overindulgence in humbleness brought about a self-degradation?
Well, there certainly wasn't going to be any more humbleness on the part of the Donga Ilbo, as we'll see (in fact, during the Olympics the Donga Ilbo was far more likely to take a nationalist, anti-American stance than the Hankyoreh). And when it was learned that the American swimmers had stolen a mask from a hotel (reported by AP as a 'concrete block'), people got angry:
Police and Seoul newspapers said Monday they have been flooded with calls from irate people demanding the two Americans receive prison sentences.

Newpapers, which referred to the incident under the headline ''Ugly Americans,'' said many readers were calling to complain, and the publications backed the calls for tough treatment. 

The newspapers continued to bristle with denunciations of U.S. press coverage of the Olympics and South Korea. Commentators charged the U.S. media was trying to blacken the nation's image. 

The influential Chosun Ilbo said in an editorial, ''The theft case involving the U.S. swimmers clearly shows the overbearing attitude of Americans.''
[An AP article in the September 26 Stars and Stripes also quoted the Chosun-Ilbo as saying, "NBC has tried to show South Korea is culturally backward by showing our negative aspects."]

''How is NBC, which reported the momentary violent act in the boxing in such a manner, going to explain the theft case involving athletes from its own country?'' Joong-Ang Ilbo said. 

The boxing incident was extensively covered by television around the world. But NBC is the only foreign network seen in South Korea, where it is shown on a U.S. military network. 
As is pointed out here, NBC also stood out for other reasons: "To cover the story, NBC will send more than 1,100 people to Seoul, including about 500 engineers, 70 cameramen, 60 directors and 60 producers." That makes up 10% of the 11,000 journalists who were there.
However, as the New York Times continues,
Koreans can watch NBC coverage live on the American military station here, although many of those questioned said their reaction was based on South Korean news reports and hearsay.

Some of the ill feeling clearly results from high expectations of a country South Koreans long regarded as a benevolent patron.

"I heard that NBC repeated the boxing scene for an hour," Mr. Chung said. "It was news, but it was not something to be picked over like that. A lot of Koreans consider Americans as the elder brother. An elder brother should try to cover the mistakes of the younger brother." [...]

"It was news and we covered it as news; it wasn't viewed as a condemnation of the Korean people," said Terry Ewert, coordinating producer for the Olympics for NBC Sports. "But they're very sensitive about their country. You say anything wrong about Korean society and it's like taking a swipe at their whole culture."[...]

In addition to some admiring portraits of South Korean economic and political progress, NBC has broadcast reports prepared by its news and sports divisions on Korean sweatshops, squatters forced from their homes as Seoul prepared for the Olympics, urban poor, prostitutes, and adoption of Korean children by foreigners. Bob Eaton, executive producer for the Olympics for NBC News, and Michael Weisman, executive producer for NBC Sports, said they had received complaints about several of the broadcasts.

Regarding the decision to shelve a planned program on Korean women that was scheduled Monday night, Kevin Monaghan, an NBC spokesman, said: "We know people are very sensitive now about features involving Korea, and the piece wouldn't have been a positive piece."
To quote from that NYT article again,
Koreans can watch NBC coverage live on the American military station here, although many of those questioned said their reaction was based on South Korean news reports and hearsay.
Make no mistake, the media was leading the charge to make Koreans feel aggrieved, insulted, and ready to take action (and, of course, some did take physical action in Itaewon in at least three different cases).

On Monday, September 26, the Donga Ilbo had no less than five articles about the Americans or their broadcasters - none of which were positive. (One, on page 15, about the US soldiers who were arrested, is looked at here.) The first was a column on page two I'll translate as "Phoning in rage," in which Yeon Guk-hui of the foreign news department offered his views (which were more measured than in the rest of the paper):
For a few days now, newspapers have been getting quite a lot of phone calls with strong voices. Among them some have denounced the violence of the Korean athletes during an Olympic boxing match, while others have used the opportunity to vent anger about American NBC's broadcasting stance. We'll slowly mull over self-criticism, but first if we examine NBC's reports, there isn't anyone who wouldn't be angry.[...]

We have many questions we would like to ask NBC. If we visited big cities like San Francisco and New York and went to Harlem and reported extensively on beggars, homosexuals, drunks and drug addicts and played them up, how would you feel? If the Chinese and Soviet media go from shouting the perennial "The US is a country swarming with beggars, gangsters and fraudsters" to "Now American imperialism will collapse," the NBC reporting team would convince and help the Chinese and Soviet people to understand the truth about America as well.
The third sentence in the second paragraph above featured in an AP article, though the word 'homosexuals' was omitted.

On page 13 of the Donga Ilbo was a round-up of Olympics stories which featured the sub-headline "American officials are 'hush hush' about reports of the swimmers' theft":
Upon hearing of the three swimmers, including gold medalists, caught and turned over to police for stealing a sculpture from a hotel, the US Olympic Committee reacted as if it was not a big deal.

However, the US Olympic Committee did not let its athletes know about it and kept it quiet among its officials.

A Korean volunteer for the US Olympic Committee said, "Last time when the violent incident in the boxing area happened, the US Olympic Committee was deluged with phone calls from irate citizens calling to complain about NBC's attitude towards broadcasting." "This incident provides a chance to correct the arrogant attitude of Americans."
Also on page 13 was an article about NBC:
"NBC's unfair concealment, only reports on 'violence'"
AP wires quotes of critical statements made by Korean media and politicians
Only introduces people to Seoul's dark side
Organizers of Seoul Olympics [only] interested in medals

Korean newspapers and politicians have criticized the biased and distorted reporting by foreign media about Korea related to the violence that occurred in the boxing arena on the 22nd.

In the case of the boxing arena incident, major Korean newspapers criticized the foreign media's exaggerated reports which made no mention of the referee's fairness, in particular the American broadcaster NBC, which is intent on reporting on the negative aspects of Korea, including the boxing incident.

One newspaper pointed out that "In introducing Seoul, NBC reports exaggerated its dark side such as dog meat soup and dirty markets in slum areas."

A prominent member of Korea's ruling Democratic Justice Party expressed regret at NBC's coverage, warning that "If NBC continues with its distorted reports about Korea, it will further inflame the anti-American sentiment already spreading among the Korean people."

Meanwhile, South Korea's media criticized Japanese newspapers for exaggerated reports about the possibility of terrorist threats by the Japanese Red Army during the Olympics.
Page 14 of that edition of the Donga Ilbo featured the following column by Jeong Dong-woo:
American broadcaster's distorted reports
A deluge of angry phone calls saying "NBC is slandering us"

After reporting the robbery by American swimmers, including an Olympic gold medalist, on September 24, every broadcaster and newspaper received a torrent of phone calls from citizens condemning the American athletes. In indignation and agitation, citizens with the same voice are standing up to the American network NBC, which gave more than one hour of live coverage to the disturbance caused by some Korean athletes and coaches whose dissatisfaction over an Olympic boxing preliminary match decision had boiled over, coverage which criticized the incident as if the entire Korean people had taken part.

Readers said, "Korea's media should also spotlight crimes by Americans." As well, some readers suggested as a title for such a newspaper article, "Hideous crimes are a reflection of the American national character."

When it became known that on that day the American press issued only very brief reports about the incident, the US Embassy was deluged with critical phone calls which asked, "Why isn't the American media covering this incident to the same degree they did the boxing arena protest incident?"

One citizen in his forties drove around Gwanghwamun intersection with a large piece of paper pasted to the back window of his car which read "Strip the thieves of their gold medals!" Such 'anger' among the people is due to distorted reports about Korea by the American media, including NBC, which haven't said a word about the incident.

NBC, which has exclusive rights to the Olympics in the US, came early to Korea for the opening and broadcast special reports in the US such as "The truth about the trafficking of women in Itaewon" and "Black marketing of goods from USFK PXs."  As well, rather than look at the Olympic preparations, it focuses on the dark side and looks at things in a negative light, such as on the 23rd when it showed a meeting of Sechongryeon (Seoul Student Alliance) at Korea University and introduced [Americans to] Korean red-light districts.

Some Korean Americans made international calls to the Donga Ilbo and said that NBC's broadcasts in the US, with such distorted, biased reports, were significantly lowering the diginity and morale of Korea Americans.

At this point, the angry voices of the people say they can't tell whether NBC has come to broadcast the Olympics or to slander the Olympic hosts.

Not long ago, teenage children of US soldiers caused controversy when they group-assaulted a pregnant Korean housewife. As well, on the 24th four drunk US soldiers got a free ride to Itaewon and fled, and when the driver chased them, demanding the fare, they pulled out a knife and badly injured him. Such crimes as these by Americans which arouse national repulsion are increasing.

These incidents happening one after another during the Olympics are casting a dark shadow on Korean-American relations. The American press has to realize that their distorted reporting severely hurting the pride and self respect of Korean citizens who for 7 years have endured all kinds of difficulties together to prepare for the Olympics and is causing anti-American sentiment to become widespread.
Well, Koreans might be shocked to realize that NBC had actually first formed back in the 1920s hoping to one day slander Korea as an Olympic host - in fact, it was its driving aim. Or not.

A September 28 Korea Herald article titled "Ugly incidents undermine historic image of US as global benefactor" (and subtitled "Americans' presence here comes under sharp questioning") wonders if the US is the 'same Uncle Sam who came to the rescue when the Korean War broke out' or whether it is an 'imperialistic power.'
A majority of Koreans may feel that Korea owes the United states much for what it is now. It seems apparent, however, that this perception is being eroded at a fast pace.

One incident that caused a slide in the US reputation among Koreans involves two teenagers, both children of US military officials stationed in Seoul.

Earlier this month, they allegedly beat a pregnant woman waiting for her husband to return home from his office.

The two American teens may not represent the whole United States. Nevertheless, they left an indelible image of an arrogant America in the minds of many Koreans, who asked how dare they punch and slap a defenceless woman in a land far from their home.
Mentioning the 'unbalanced coverage' of the boxing incident and swimmers' theft by the US media and the 'deluge of phone calls' from 'irked' Koreans and reports that a US official dealing with the swimmers told Korean reporters to "Get out of here," the article ends with these paragraphs about the US:
Is it the same nation that went into a secret pact with Japan (the Katsura –Taft agreement of 1905), permitting Japan to annex Korea five years later in exchange for its unhampered dominance over the Philippines?

Or is it the nation which poured billions of dollars into Korea to help it stand on its own feet after independence from Japanese colonial rule?

The United States, now standing between these two historical facts, is not as appealing to Koreans now as it was in the past.
Looking at the laundry list of crimes by 'America' suddenly being enumerated, even going back to 1905 (when the UK was more at fault than the US), I couldn't help but remember this comment by Sperwer at the Marmot's Hole:
[Y]ou can be sure that rather than moving along "Korea" is simply adding this to its elephantine memory of slights and insults to be avenged in a manner wildly disproportionate to the actual offense. It may be pushed onto the back burner for awhile, but beware the return of the repressed.
Once the media began to prescribe outrage as an antidote to the humiliation that they said people were supposed to be feeling ("many of those questioned said their reaction was based on South Korean news reports and hearsay"), even events as far back as Taft-Katsura and the Sinmi Yangyo (of 1871 - remember this article?) were fair game to reach back to to throw on the humiliation bonfire, and it was from here, that any action by an American (or by NBC) that could be construed as an insult to the Korean people would be seized upon by the media to cultivate outrage. And with events of the the second week of the Olympics, from taxi-fleeing soldiers to a taxi-kicking runner to insulting-T-shirt-ordering NBC staffers, there were lots of sparks for papers like the Donga Ilbo to take into their hands and kindle into something outrageous. In doing so, they appeared to hit upon a cathartic way for the populace to "remedy the damage to their national pride."

Not that this should be so surprising. With the easing up of restrictions on the media after democratization began, they not only suddenly had the freedom to say more than they could previously, they had a safe outlet in targeting the US.

By the end of the week, however, even the politicians who had joined in the 'Yankee bashing' had begun to realize that things were going too far.


jjj_alltheway said...

What would a S. Korea rather read about during the 2014 Sochi, Russian Winter Olympics(not in any particular order)?

1.)Tales of Russian dog soup vs./or taxi fleeing soldiers?

2).Russian tear gas vs./or a taxi-kicking runner?

3).Or Russian terrorists vs. Olympic broadcasting company staffers making T-shirts?

King Baeksu said...

What we seem to have here is a clinical case of narcissistic personality disorder on a national scale. The main point of the Olympics is not to impose one's sense of "national pride" upon the rest of the world, and throw hissy fits when the world doesn't always recognize one's own self-image -- as happens all too often in real life, of course. The purpose of the Olympics is to promote peace, solidarity and better understanding among the global community of nations through athletics and sport. I wonder how many editors at the Donga Ilbo, Choson Ilbo, Korea Times and Korea Herald were familiar with this quote by Pierre de Coubertin, the "father of the modern Olympics Games":

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

More likely, the prevailing mind-set mirrored the Korean spirit of ruthless, mercantilist capitalism: A brutal zero-sum game and life-and-death struggle to the very end. Well, at least the foreign athletes and visitors who came to Korea at the time got a "better understanding" of Korean culture, didn't they?