Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Simpsons and Family Guy do Seoul

Sunday night, the 17th episode of The Simpsons' 30th season, "E My Sports," featured Bart becoming adept at esports and, in the last 6 minutes, going with the family to Seoul for an esports tournament. My thoughts on the episode were featured in this Korea Times article, along with those of David Mason (thanks to Jon Dunbar).

There are a few plays on words in the signs (in English), and a demonstration that there is some awareness of the Korean language, but other than that there's very little engagement with Korea. A few buildings appear, like the Lotte Tower below:

The 63 Building:

Namsan Tower:

And Jogyesa:

A subplot of the episode is Lisa's sudden desire to go to Korea too to go to Jogyesa because of their amazing sand mandalas. I was fairly certain that was not a thing you'd expect to find at Jogyesa, so it was nice to see David Mason confirm that.

The esports tournament takes place at what appears to be World Cup Stadium, and when things go awry this robot appears:

Considering Korea's plans to replace foreign English teachers with robots (one of the best inventions of 2010, said Time Magazine), this made me smile a little, but I'd imagine that's not what the writers were thinking of.

The reference below is to the fact that The Simpsons is animated in Korea.

As I noted in the article, "The Simpsons Animation and Casino is a rather lame joke, but recalls the 1992 episode Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie, where a news program reviewed the history of the animation Itchy & Scratchy and showed the studio where it was made in South Korea, which featured soldiers with bayonet-fixed rifles prodded animators in the back to make them work faster, a scene which angered The Simpson's Korean animators." Here's the scene from that episode:

The arrival of riot police at the end of the episode almost seems like a modern update to the above image, particularly considering Koreans tend not to riot at sports events.

As I noted in the article, the entire appearance of Seoul in the episode just felt shoehorned in. There's really no engagement with the place at all. It could have been anywhere.

For a far-more-engaged episode of TV, 10th episode of Family Guy's 14th season, "Candy, Quahog Marshmallow," which aired three years ago, was about a trip to Seoul taken after it's discovered the character Quagmire was once a Korean soap star. The plot can be found here:

Compared to the nondescript city scenes in The Simpsons, the following establishing shots are clearly recognizable as Seoul, Busan, Incheon Airport (despite the name change) and Gwanghwamun Plaza:

Unlike The Simpsons, there are no English language jokes shoehorned into the street scenes.

And despite that not being a makgeolli bottle, there's quite a bit of detail put into the restaurant shots...

... particularly with the walls (the beer ad is spot on):

There's a certain amount of engagement with the culture, beginning with the TV dramas which bring them to Seoul in the first place (to find the last episode of the series they were watching that their friend starred in):

The main character gets some plastic surgery done:

They watch Sistar's "Touch My Body" and are quite enamoured with Kpop for some reason.

Then they make their own Kpop video, which, while pretty dumb, is still a serviceable parody and shows a level of engagement with the actual culture, unlike The Simpsons.

There are some duds, of course. Quagmire reunites with his former costar and rekindles their romance, but decides to leave when he finds out the entire extended family lives with them. Needless to say, you'd be very, very hard-pressed to find such a thing in Seoul.

The less said about Ashton Kutcher's Pet Engine Cooking Bag ad (so you can cook dogs under the hood while you drive), the better, but there is a level of detail here that balances it out a bit (the dog on the box saying "맛있는!" and the 1000 won 할인).

And, unlike The Simpsons, there may be a joke here few would get: The bus that runs down the character in the TV drama is #588. I've read that in decades past the route for bus 588 took it past the Cheongnyangni red light district, which inspired its nickname, '588.'

It's easy enough to see, despite some cluelessness and a dog meat joke, that Family Guy engaged with Korea far more than The Simpsons, and I say this as someone who has never liked Family Guy. Those interested in the decline of the once-great Simpsons are recommended to watch the Youtube video "The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened."

Articles in the Korea Times about Yeontan and a 1960 rift between the ROK and USFK

Last week my latest Korea Times article came out, in which I wrote about the use of yeontan, or coal briquettes, to heat houses from the 1950s to the 1980s and the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning it posed. Some of this material appeared in an earlier post I wrote in which I linked this danger of poisoning and the belief in fan death. More on yeontan can be read here (click to the next message to read the conversation).

My article from January, "Forced haircuts in 1960 opened rift in Korea-U.S. alliance," was about the shaving of the heads of prostitutes found sneaking onto a US military base and how this influenced the book P.S. Wilkinson. While I was glad the "gnawing raw bones" part was included, the last few paragraphs got chopped up a bit. This was the original ending:
Five years later, C.D.B. Bryan, who was serving with USFK in 1960 as an “Ivy League” ROTC lieutenant,” recreated the incident in his Harper Prize-winning first novel, P. S. Wilkinson. His autobiographical protagonist, “Rutena Wirkenson” (as the Koreans call him) hates being stuck in Korea, a “godforsaken place,” and hates army life even more because he is plagued by incompetent superiors who happen to enjoy Korea for only one reason. (When one says, “I didn’t realize what a bad lay my wife was until I got over here,” Wilkinson, in disgust, replies, “Oh, hell, Major, your wife isn’t so bad.”)

Confronted with break-ins, Major Sturgess, who replaced his houseboy with a young woman, asks “Where else in the world do whores cut through barbed-wire fences to climb into the sack with the GIs?” and orders that the next woman to be caught have her head shaved. In his recreation of the event, however, Bryan has his hero bravely refuse to follow the order.

In April 1965, James Wade reviewed the book in the Korea Times, criticizing it for its “fake idealism,” “stilted dialogue, wilted prose,” and lines such as “This is the foulest, goddamndest country I’ve ever seen!” and “It’s the only thing - this availability of women - that makes Korea bearable.”

He also criticized the “incredible stagey scene” where Wilkinson “lectures the C.O. with insufferable primness on the immorality of his head-shaving order” As Wade put it, “His self-righteous hypocrisy…put this reader on the army’s side for the first time in memory, head-shaving and all.”
I've been doing quite a bit of research on 1970s youth culture recently by researching weekly magazines from the time. I hope to post here more often and include some of the material I've found (such as advertisements and music charts of the time), as well as to complete some long-unfinished posts and series.