Monday, April 07, 2008

Apologies in comparison

Brian over at Brian in Jeollanam-do has been doing a commendable job covering the response to the cosmetic company Coreana's ad campaign, which uses obvious Nazi imagery and refers to Hitler in the ads. The company asked him to remove the copies of the commercials he put on youtube, as they had changed the ads (by removing a single word - "Hitler" - from the line "Even Hitler didn't unite east and west").

Here's an image used in one of the ads:

I couldn't help but remember this photo:

"히로히토도 동과서를 다 갖지는 못했다"

Suffice to say, the photo above got a much different response when it first appeared four years ago. Whereas Coreana felt the only thing they needed to do was remove the word "Hitler," those involved in the photos taken below felt compelled to respond rather differently.

It all started on February 12, 2004. As the Chosun Ilbo tells us,
Lee Seung-yeon, Lototo Inc. and Netian Entertainment Inc. held a press conference Thursday and said “we are taking photos and making a film on the subject of the ‘comfort women’ starring Lee Seung-yeon, and it will be made available from early March by way of a paid service through the wireless service provider, Syswall.”
Here are the photos that were released to the media (a couple are NSFW).

You can imagine how well the last two photos went over. The company's explanation is unbelievable:
They said they were motivated by the recent "Dokdo Islet dispute’ between Korea and Japan, and chose the subject because they were distressed to see the ‘comfort women’ issue being forgotten all the time.

They also said that the “'comfort women’ were the model upon which the sexuality of women was commercialized and were the starting point for a wrong history. They said that much of the profit from the collection would go to help the women who were ‘comfort women.'

The production company said that the filming was done on Palau Island in the Pacific, where the ‘comfort girls’ were really taken to, and plans to conduct second and third filmings in Japan, Nepal and other countries.

How shooting erotic photos of a woman dressed as a comfort woman, crouching in front of a Japanese soldier, and standing before a rising sun Japanese flag work as a protest against the commercialization of women's sexuality is beyond me. The surviving comfort women were not amused:
“I want to see Lee Seung-yeon on her knees in front of me telling me how this all began,” cried Hwang Geum-ju, one of the 132 former Korean comfort woman still living. She and several women’s groups demanded yesterday that the photographer and the production company involved in the shoot cancel their plans to open the Web site.

In a press conference yesterday Ms. Lee defended the photographs as an attempt to “console” the comfort women, not to exploit them. She said she would donate part of the proceeds from the project to them.
So began the apologizing process.

On February 16, Park Ji-woo apologized and shaved his head.

The comfort women were unimpressed, so the next day, Lee Seung-yeon went to the House of Sharing in Gwangju (Gyeonggi-do) and apologized. Members of the media seem to outnumber the participants by at least 10 to 1.

Note the recording devices at bottom right above (and bottom left below).

In the end she tearfully apologizes. Between the crying and the overwhelming presence of the media, I can't help but be reminded of this.

More photos can be found here.

Being made to kneel and cry in front of the comfort women was not thorough enough, however.
Ms. Lee said in a magazine interview that she is ready to give up her career in the entertainment industry. After the 20-minute apology, the former comfort women were still dissatisfied. “The entertainment company director should have come too. Are they mocking us?” they said after Ms. Lee left.
The next day the company director asked to be allowed to show the footage that had been taken to civic groups and members of the government in order to prove that his intentions had been good. This didn't get a favorable response.
“Ms. Lee apologized to comfort women yesterday and the women begged her to destroy all the photos from the project. She cried on her knees but it was all a show,” senior council official Kang Hye-ju said. “We filed a court request for the photographs and video to be banned from distribution on the Internet. We will wait for the court’s decision on provisional disposition.”
The Chosun Ilbo wrote that
It seems like the company's constant delays in destroying the footage are because the company fears serious financial losses. Netian has been pleading that the project is not commercial, and one can see the company's pure intentions by watching the video and looking at the photos, but Korean Internet users have yet to be convinced.

Quite the contrary, users are condemning Netian for being defensive and failing to realize just what they've done.

The next day, Park, joined by several dozen photographers, burned the photos.

With this, after passing from head-shaving to bowing and tears to flames, the furor died down.

I'm sure I don't have to point out the rather large gulf between this and the response of Coreana to western 'concern' over the Nazi- themed commercials. Simply changing a word or a similar action on the part of Netian would never have sufficed to appease the anger of many groups in Korea. Differing perceptions of the Nazis and the imperial Japanese certainly play an important role in this, but note also the difference between a politely worded letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a comfort woman who can say, "I want to see Lee Seung-yeon on her knees in front of me". Those affected by the Nazis, and westerners in general as a group within Korea, simply do not have the voice (and the power to get it heard) that many groups in Korea have. Getting Coreana to dump the whole ad or apologize will require much more than a polite letter.


Brian said...

Jesus, I had never heard of that whole thing before. Really puts the whole "Japan never properly apologized to Korea" argument in a different light, when you see what a few comfort women demanded---or were made to believe it was appropriate to demand---of a few in the entertainment industry.

Incidentally, I wonder if that Coreana ad has been pulled. Haven't seen it on TV in the last two days. You know, they still haven't made any apology or a real public statement. Unfortunately I'm not convinced that will ever happen.

Anonymous said...

Long-term foreign residents know well the fairground ride that is the Korean Apology Demand.

Google search words: 2002, "two girls", a"ccidental deaths", USFK, President, apology.

Anonymous said...

Two notes (although they are not directly relevant to the Coreana campaign:

1. The picture of a dirty Lee Seung-yeon wearing only the chogori top with her breasts showing is more surprising (and in some ways shocking) than the others. While the others seem more symbolic, that picture suggests it was taken just after a rape.

2. If I remember correctly, the comfort women behaved very badly. It's anathema to say, but they behaved rather like gangsters. At one point, I remember Lee Seung-yeon went to sit down and one of the women grabbed the chair, shoved it out of her way and said in very low language, "I don't want her to sit. I want her to kneel before me." and then ordered Lee Seung-hyun to kneel on the floor.

(Yes, they went through hell, but it doesn't give them the right to behave badly. Too many people have the idea that somehow an ordeal frees them from having to follow normal rules of behavior.)

And a note to anonymous: The most honest comment I heard about apologies in Korea was from a woman protesting Koizumi's first visit to Korea: "What's the use of a hundred apologies? We want compensation."

Anonymous said...

Gangsters? Behaving badly?

These women were brutally raped over and over and over again, and then some media types decide to capitalize on their image through sickening commercialization. Park and Lee tried to make money off their suffering.

I think most people would be very unforgiving in such a situation. It doesn't make them gangsters.

(But I agree that the Coreana ad is also extremely tasteless and I wish a Jewish group or someone located in Korea would give the company a history lesson and demand that kind of tearful apology.)

Anonymous said...

I am a different anonymous.

You can't rape the willing. The so called comfort women were prostitutes who made mad cash selling their twa ts.

hot.pork said...

"You can't rape the willing. The so called comfort women were prostitutes who made mad cash selling their twa ts."

Wow. I hope I can meet you someday so I can kick in all your teeth. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain comfort women because you probably already know. That said, you're a coward hiding behind anonymous commenting.

Seth Gecko said...

hot.pork said...
"you're a coward hiding behind anonymous commenting."

Lol, I guess "hot.pork" is your Christian name, then?

On a related note, don't you think it's inapropriate to use the name "hot.pork" during this particular discussion?

Anonymous said...

That was really interesting and informative. It is interesting to see around the world how people view women who have been forced into the sex trade. I saw over and over again people in Nepal who believed that girls sold into prostitution were there willingly and that they were rich because of it. I found it hard to believe that those people actually believed the girls got to keep the money. It is an immense amount of cultural denial and shirking of collective responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I happen to know those Grandmothers personally and I proudly claim them as my own Grandmothers.

1) Gangsters?! These women - who have lived in a hell none of us can imagine are the most affectionate women I have ever known. I have known them for close to a year: I have held their hands as they walked with me telling me about life in Korea - not just as "comfort women" but as their everyday life! They have fed me and fussed over me even though I do not speak Korean very well. They have hugged me and stroked my cheek affectionately as Grandmas do.

My biological Grandmother was a survivor and had I seen either of these people finding "erotica" in this situation I would lose my mind. It was not out of line for them to not want her to set near them. You have to earn respect as a human being and she has none. That apology was staged and anyone can see that. My Grandmothers are not stupid.

To the anoymous asshole: these women lived in extreme poverty after WW2 - what happened to the money you say they made? These women were as you as eight at times - that's selling their bodies. I am offended when the term forced prostitution is used to describe what happened but this constant ignorant slander of them reflects the indency of human beings. You are sick and ignorant get your head out of your ass.

They truly have nothing to gain with their testimonies and demands. Most want to give any money they get to building their museum or to charities fighting Human trafficking - I know this through many convos with them and knowing them so personally. Many were not fortunate enough like my Grandmother to have descendents to leave anything to. These women no longer are victims but activists and they will be the first to say so. The most important thing to them is an apology and truth be told but IMO the truth is WELL known only a selected few, i.e. You are complete dumbasses with no reading comprehension or listening skills.

These women are my heart.

Anonymous said...

This whole public demonstration is idiotic. The people don't have the right to demand anything from those publishers. While I am not condoning their actions, they have the choice to continue with them.
Racist and politically incorrect things happen every day. If someone calls you a nigger or another derogatory term, do you violently make them kneel before you, beg, shave their heads, and destroy their livelihoods? I know you sometimes wish you could, but it solves nothing. It only feeds your selfish pride and arrogance.

These former comfort women have become hardened through their terrible encounter, but that doesn't give them the right to publicly humiliate these two people. Using their status as bearers of hate upon the Jap. imperialists, they've charged people into a senseless flurry of anger. They are no better than disgusting fearmongerers. They've ruined the lives of these two people, all for their petty pride. What would it do to them to allow the photos to go through? Chances are, these hags will never see the damned photos, and if the photos don't sell due to public outrage, then the company will get the message and not publish stuff like that again.

These women are no better than Hitler in their manipulation of people. In the end the old hags are standing there with the pain, suffering, and demolished lives of those two poor people. Like I said, I'm not supporting the pictures, but these old ladies have taken it too far, all for their petty pride.


Anonymous said...

You're so obviously biased towards those women that you have no merit to be talking here. Neutral thought is ALWAYS better than being skewed to another group. If you had any common sense you would realize that your comment is just about as useful as a preacher of Islam stating that all other religions are false and Mohammad is the true savior. So go stuff it.

Also, your points are completely idiotic. All you do is dance around the fact that the grandmas destroyed the lives of these two people all for their pride. Sure they went through hell, but that doesn't give them the right to make OTHER people suffer. Politely asking for the pictures to stop being produced is much saner and more courteous.

The fact remains that the grandmas had no reason to be this hateful besides their pride. Logically, it would not befit society to condone their actions.

But why am I arguing with you. It's obvious you won't see the blatant fact. Just know that I tried persuading you, and this is all the time that I will spend on the likes of you. I know that any arguments you will have will be clumsy and naive, so don't even bother with a response.

Anonymous said...

Comfort women were taken away from their homes to be given to Japanese soldiers forcefully, much like a slave. They didn't sell themselves in any way.