The menace of ‘foreign peril’ media
In the last days of May, a blogger found a report aired by a major Korean television network titled “The shocking reality about relationships with foreigners.” It accused foreign men of being creeps, and Korean women of being too easily seduced by foreign cads. He posted the video, with English subtitles, on his page, Scroozle.com. On May 31, a Facebook group of people outraged by the video was formed, and by June 5 it had gained 8,000 members.
Those facts alone reveal a few things: First, there is a problem with accountability and outdated attitudes at this particular media organization; second, Korea’s media is no longer watched only by Koreans, and the non-Koreans watching television have the Korean-language ability to translate, and the perspective to demand the media abandon race-baiting sensationalism; and third, there are a lot of people who want to see change. These three facts alone should give the news company heads serious pause.
As Korea enjoys an ever-higher profile in commerce (Hyundai and Samsung), culture (K-pop and dramas), and events (G20 and the Olympics), the pre-G20 Summit public campaign slogan echoes louder than ever: “The World Is Watching.” And what does the world see? In “The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners,” the world sees harsh sexism in a public forum: The report’s attitude that Korean women are so easily fooled by foreign men infantilizes women and deeply insults the freedom and intelligence of Korea’s dynamic, diverse, self-aware and self-determining female population.
The social context in Korea only adds urgency: Migrant workers, expat populations, international marriages and biracial children are all increasing in numbers, and if Korea’s institutions are not ready to handle diversity, and to train Korea’s youth to re-imagine Korea as a diverse country, the next generation will be a rocky one. It is good to offer language classes for migrants, but on the other side, introducing an idea of Korea to Koreans that includes more than just pure-blooded ethnic Koreans will make this country feel more welcoming for the various people who call it home.
As the Canadian husband of a Korean wife, and the father of a Korean child, this program hurts me, and those like me, who are making Korea our long-term home, because of the narrative beneath it: that foreign things are a threat to Korea’s purity. The purity these ideas promote is a purity that focuses on exclusion: Drawing a line around “pure” Korea and defending it. Unfortunately, that pure Korea does not exist. First of all, Koreans have travelled to and from other parts of Asia through all Korean history: Korea’s literary and historical documents are mostly written in Chinese, and its traditional cultural roots come from China (Confucianism) and India (Buddhism). Koreans who say all foreign influences are negative, or that traditional Korea had none, are incorrect.
The task of achieving a “glocal” (global and local) society occurs on two levels. One level is the macro, large-scale level: the politics, the policy and the media representation of Korea’s diverse population must be addressed. It is time for expats to become more organized. Those with language skill and cultural understanding, those with influence and connections, need to take up this cause, and reach out to Korean proponents of healthy diversity, to have a voice in policies, to assert that we are stakeholders in Korea, too, and to influence media to take a more welcoming, inclusive perspective of Korea. Embassies, chambers of commerce and individuals must align with government ministries, civic groups, NGOs, lawmakers and agenda-setters to play a more active role in the official and public versions of Korea’s growing diversity.
The second level is the micro, small-scale level: Every expat and migrant in Korea lives in a neighborhood and interacts with Koreans every day. And every Korean who deals with non-Koreans balances what they see in the media about expats against experiences they have with the expats they meet. If our day-to-day behavior in our own neighborhoods contradicts a “foreign peril” story like this one, our Korean friends will shake their heads and trust their own eyes more than the TV narrative. If our day-to-day behavior is ugly, like the behavior featured in these sensationalist hack-jobs, then such a news story becomes a confirmation instead of a contradiction, prejudices deepen and we must take some of the blame ourselves.
It is up to every one of us to set a good example.
The opinions expressed here do not represent those of Groove Korea. To read more of Rob’s writings, go to his blog at http://roboseyo.blogspot.com. — Ed.