Saturday, 8 August 2009

On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Korean Journalists, Part 2: Why, Yes, Korea DOES have a Bats&!# Media! Why do you ask?

On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Korean Journalists: Let's not all crap our pants now Part 2: Why, Yes, Korea DOES have a Batshit Media! Why do you ask?

Table of contents:
On Ugly English Teachers and Racist English Teachers: Let's not all Crap our Pants Now: Intro
Part 1: But You're TEACHERS!
An Open Letter to new English Teachers in Korea
Part 2: Why, Yes, Korea DOES have a Batshit Media! Why do you ask?
Part 3: Yeah, Some Self-Reflection Is Called For, but not From You, Ms. Choi
Part 4: Racism, Culture-shock, Acclimation and Integration in Minjokland
Part 5: The PR Campaign: 'Seyo's Marching Orders

OK. Last time, I talked about what we English teachers can do to avoid living down to the sterotypes written about us. I'd like to spend one more sentence emphasizing that... This. Stereotyping. Goes. Both. Ways.. When Westerners say that Koreans are all credulous drones ready to swallow any piece of drivel the media serves up, it grates on the sane, savvy, Korean media consumers just as much as it annoys US when Choi HuiSeon says the whole lot of us is no better than that one yahoo who published that one blog that one time about selling fake diplomas. It's exactly the same thing: holding up the dokdo-finger-choppers as the quintessential Korean is just as lazy and flip and unfair as Lee Eun-eung telling everybody that none of us are any better than the worst photo of the worst night of the worst of us.

In fact, let's extend that a little farther, and acknowledge as well that, despite the title of this post, it is ALSO irresponsible of us to unequivocally say, "Korea has a batshit media," painting it all with the same brush: just as with the deviant English teachers being held up as the norm, let's remember that the racist smear job is, for all we know, the deviation, rather than the norm, as well, and let's also remember that the media in our home countries, be it British tabloids publishing addresses of sex offenders or Fox "Barack Hussein Obama" news, can be pretty batshit insane, too. At best, it would be hypocritical for us to be selective and generalise about the Korean media's selective reporting, ya know? And yeah, that "what I know of it" qualifier pretty much has to stand until I can read enough Korean to see for myself.

Alright. So now that that's been said, let's move on to what exactly IS going on when these kinds of reports get printed.

In the English language Korean media:

It's one thing when Korea's English media publishes this kind of junk. The Korea Times is fond of these kinds of stories, as we know... we also know that The Korea Times' circulation more often ends up in the hands of Koreans studying English than it ends up in the hands of anybody, Korean OR otherwise, using it as an authoritative news source for world news. We all have other sources, and even for our K-news, we mostly read the Korea Times to get riled up or offended...admit it. Frankly, one of the main reasons I end up going back to The Korea Times, despite all its faults, is because out of all the Korean English news websites, it has the best layout, so it's an easier source to access what I'm interested in reading. That's all. Like that psycho ex who's always good for a booty call, it's hard to stay away, even when you know all the baggage that comes with. Any time a story comes up, if it's important enough for us to read the entire article, or get upset enough to write about it, it's also important enough that we cross-check it against other sources and news feeds, isn't it? There's no real need to get SO worked up about it, when you consider all the other sources people are using. It comforts me to remember that Koreans usually use English media sources for English practice, not for forming their final opinions on English teachers, so in the end, all the times and similar sources really accomplish with these stories is make Korea look bad to those who DO check it as a local source, to learn about Korea, so again, lets not all crap our pants here, OK?

And why the hate-on for English teachers in English K-media sources? Who knows? To venture a guess... perhaps it's for a bit of vicarious, passive-aggressive revenge. See, a lot of Koreans living in Korea kind of resent that their bosses demand that they improve their ability in a language they rarely, if ever, use. If they've achieved a high enough level to read the Korea Times, they've had tons of time to build up a nice, healthy hate-on for the forces that insist they study English, and if reading a bunch of teacha-hating on The Times' pages gives them a bit of satisfaction, bully for them. Anybody who's studied English enough to read The Times MUST have had enough interaction with Foreign English Teachers to have formed their own impressions of Foreign English Teachers, and to identify the smell of bullshit when The Times starts trolling... right?

So, given all that, can we cool the histrionics over English language smear jobs on English teachers? Actually, on second thought, we don't NEED to cool the histrionics, because there's nothing more fun than getting all righteous and angry on a comment board somewhere, but there's no REAL need to get QUITE so worked up, unless it IS just for the fun of it.

That leaves hack jobs and hit pieces published in the Korean language media, and this IS cause for a little more concern. See, if these hit pieces are written in the English media, we can rest assured that anybody with enough English to read it, also has enough of the global perspective that intensively studying a language provides, that they'll have the savvy to take such one-sided junk with a grain of salt. However, when it's happening BEHIND the language barrier, it's a bit more problematic, first because foreign teachers might not know about it, and have no chance to respond, but more dangerously, because some? many? most? monolingual Koreans DON'T have the experience with global citizens that comes of learning English, or any other language. This increases the risk that, for some? many? of these kinds of people, ALL THEY KNOW about foreign English teachers is what they're told. This is dangerous: in the same way that, as Kushibo reminds us, getting all our information about Korea from K-blogs will draw in our minds a mental picture of what I like to call a composite FrankenKorean -- a mix-and-match patchwork of all the wackiest, worst stories we've heard about Koeans at their craziest, which, while originally based in stuff that actually happened, after so much selective filtering, has almost no resemblance to any single Korean we might encounter. In the same way, and for the same reasons (that is, being trapped on opposite sides of the language barrier blocks us from understanding each other more accurately) if Koreans are only getting second hand information about foreigners and foreign teachers, depending on those sources, we might end up with a frankenTeacher just as easily -- the portrait of an English teacher we have seen before on Anti-English Spectrum and other media scare-bits, but which, just like FrankenKorean, has no resemblance to any ACTUAL human beings whatsoever, at the end of the day. When it occurs in the Korean media, it is more dangerous, because of the increased danger of profiling, and because of our diminished ability to defend ourselves. This is where I believe it IS time for an English Teacher Anti-Defamation committee to form, whether associated with other English teacher organizations or not. I would like, love, to see a group established that is in touch with the Korean Press Arbitration Committee, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and the editors of Korea's major papers, as well as some major news sources elswehere, and (to inflate my own importance) the kinds of bloggers who are often the shock troops when media slur-jobs come up, in order to make sure that Korean media decision-makers know that English teachers, and the international community, ARE paying attention, and we will not stand for being ripped unfairly, and we know where to go, what to do, and who to call, if it happens, so that some semblance of accountability develops. I'd join the club myself if it existed, but I wouldn't be much help to it, because my own Korean is rubbish, and such a project would require bilingual humanpower. But I'd still join, and fill out forms, or draft letters for someone to translsate, or whatever.

A couple more things need to be said here.

One: English teachers are not Korea's only whipping boys and girls. At other times, the Korean media scapegoats lawyers, lawmakers, chaebol owners, private academies, the political left, the political right, the politicized church, the rich and arrogant, the poor and angry, Japan, and everything associated with Japan, and America, and everything associated with America, have all been tapped as the source of what ails Korea, too. We English teachers actually get a pretty small slice of the blame-shifting pie, in the grand scheme of things.

Two: (Most) Koreans know this. Seriously, Koreans know their media isn't working the way it should, and that should be acknowledged. And if I approach conversations with Koreans about Korea's media in a high-handed "You know, where I come from, the media is..." attitude, I'm going to dig myself a hole if I forget the all-important qualifiers: some, often, sometimes, it seems, when I talk about this stuff. Koreans ain't as credulous as they are made out to be on comment boards about Mad Bull Shit, and telling them they are won't make you any friends. It's also intellectually lazy.

So yeah, the Korean media CAN be batshit, and yeah, English teachers should be banding together to speak out against media hysteria, but a lot of Koreans also want a new media, and know that it's messed up, know that the connection between the media and big money, the media and the government, the media and political extremists, are not how they should be, and Korean journalists are taking part in this corrupt culture instead of stepping out of it. Yeah, excuses can be made that Korea's still learning how to have a free press: depending on who you ask, the Korean media has only been free from government intervention since 1987 or 1993, or some would say it still isn't, or that it's just as deep in the pockets of big money as it used to be in the pockets of big government. But many of Korea's people aren't satisfied with this situation either, so, as one of the wisest blog comments I've read at The Marmot's Hole (Yeah. How about that!) says (wish I could find it back) it helps us to consider Korea like a construction site, with a big sign at the entrance saying, "Work in Progress. Pardon the Mess". Korea hasn't had a whole lot of time to put the pieces in the right places, so yeah, we should be part of the dialogue on deciding where the pieces should go, but we should also be patient. I'll talk about this more in part 4.

Stay tuned for
On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Korean Journalists, Part 3: Yeah, Some Self-Reflection is Called For, but not From You, Ms. Choi

oh and one more thing: winky or no winky, it's still insulting; there are a dozen politer ways to have drawn attention to this.


asadalthought said...

Another good post, I think you're doing a really good job with these.

I'd also just like to add that the BBC had a recent article on their website about a survey in various countries, and in it, Koreans were the ones who trusted their print media the least out of all countries surveyed.

On top of that, most koreans don't consider the Chosun Ilbo a legitimate source of news anyway - they just ignore it completely. And I know enough Korean that means my teachers force me to read newspapers, and I can tell you that the Korean language media is far more likely to criticise Korea than the English language media is. Part of the problem, I think, is that they don't like criticising Korea so outsiders can find out Korea's bad points. This means they have more space to fill in the English language media, and it all-too-often gets filled with crap.

we all know there's no excuse for a major news service allowing that sort of stuff to be published, and giving a public voice to the likes of Anti-English Spectrum. On the other hand, most Koreans don't ever read that stuff, and if they did, I'm sure the majority wouldn't take it seriously either. There are enough Koreans who actually like us, that we should really be getting them on our side!

I like your idea for a group who can form an educated, smart and responsible response to some of the disgraces that come out of the Korean media, but I think it shouldn't just be a group of expats - why not bring in Koreans to help? And you were certainly right in saying such a group should be in contact with the National Human Rights Commission , they certainly seem to be gaining momentum in recent years and months.

Chris in South Korea said...

@asadal - it sounds like Korean Media Watch might be someone / something worth supporting. The problem / question is effectiveness - at no point are expats going to have the same influence / effect on Koreans as the Korean media. If we get close, the politician feeling threatened can sic the police on you for your attempts to get political. It's hard to make change if you're not noticed, and it's hard not to get caught making the changes you are making. It's a no-win situation - IF the angst stays within the expat community. With some sympathetic / forward-thinking Koreans? Anything's possible. Now, where to find them?

Nice posts, Rob :)

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Party Pooper said...

Cambridge Exams = Jack Shit in Korea for life! Waste your money on one today!

By the way, Robo, Kushibo is pissing his pants because one of your paragraphs in this post is similar to something he wrote a while back. Give the poor guy a hat tip or something before his wee little head explodes.

Roboseyo said...

I think my updated post has an appropriate response, given the way Kushibo chose to draw attention to his original post.

kushibo said...

My apologies for any offense you may have felt. I really didn't mean any.

Roboseyo said...

Apology accepted, thanks.