Tuesday, 22 February 2011

On Netizens finding Blackout Korea, And Rampant Public Drunkenness

So that one-joke novelty site blackout Korea got discovered by the Korean netizens.

And while a few comments on the blog post that brought BOK to the Korean blogosphere include sentiments like "Yah, public drunkenness is kind of a cultural embarrassment," others were quick to blame the usual scapegoat: English teachers.

One blog, the subtly titled: "Englishteachersout" even compares the pictures on BlackoutKorea to the photos at Abu Gharib.

Now that's just stupid. The English teachers didn't trap these Koreans, force-feed them alcohol until they passed out, and THEN take the pictures.

Also: the passed-out Koreans' faces aren't shown. I don't know if the writer of EnglishTeachersOut noticed that... so when people aren't personally being singled out (other than the dumb foreigners who DO show their faces in shaming them), what remains is the cultural shame, I guess, of one of Korea's dirty secrets (rampant, extreme public drunkenness) being posted on the internet.


I wrote about the mean-spirited battle between stupid, mean-spirited expat blogs in Korea, and knee-jerk raging K-netizens back when death threats prompted a number of K-blogs to shut down last year.

Those points still stand.  In fact, I encourage you to go read them.



(source)

A few points, then I’m out:

1. The "hate Korea bloggers" and the "why are you hate the Korea go home" netizens deserve each other.

2. Nobody deserves to have their personal details published, or their life threatened, because of their practicing of free speech.  Even if their free speech is offensive to some people.

3. The people in these pictures ought to have thought more carefully about including their faces in the photos: you own everything you put on the internet, forever. Generally, Koreans behaving badly are smart enough not to publish pictures of their hijinks on the internet. They know how the K-internet works: they all remember dog poop girl. Expats in Korea ought to take a page from their book.

4. While it would be nice to let the "Hate Korea" bloggers and the "Why are you hate the Korea?" defenders just cancel each other out, but it doesn't end there. The bad blood generated there contributes to the poisonous English Education atmosphere in Korea, because English teachers are always blamed: notice how nobody suspected any of the expats in the pictures to be investment bankers or engineers. It also raises the pitch of the mutual alienation between the archetypal "complaining expat" and the "crazy netizen defender," and worst of all, sometimes legitimately interesting K-blogs are caught in the crossfire: Korean Rum Diary started off kind of mean-spirited, but as it went on, the tone became much more thoughtful and fair, but because it started off on the wrong foot, the K-defenders kept hounding the writer, and when he left Korea, he took the entire site down. That's a loss for the English K-blogosphere. The fact that the defenders' English may not be sharp enough to catch the nuance, or that they only skim the angriest post (which got linked) and decide to hound the writer, leads to undeserving writers getting treated like trolls, from time to time.

5. Nobody knows the real motivation of Blackout Korea: we've seen before that international attention of an embarrassing kind can be the thing that prompts some self-reflection in Korean society, and maybe Blackout Korea was pitching for bringing it home to Korea that the amount and degree of public drunkenness here is a national disgrace.  Maybe the writer tried every other method he/she could imagine before resorting to a stupid blog like Blackout Korea.  And yes, I think the blog is stupid.

6. There are better ways to bring that point home.

but

7. Public drunkenness in Korea IS a national disgrace. It is.  Undeniably.  Shooting the messenger doesn't change the fact I had to dodge street pizza walking to work at 7am on Wednesday mornings, back when I worked in Jongno.

My final point:
Some people say Blackout Korea is just a funny website.

As I wrote in the Lousy Korea post: Is the laugh that South Park got for taking cracks at Mohammed worth the mutual alienation that develops between Muslim and Western society when their controversial episode airs? I don't know.

Is the laugh that BlackoutKorea got for taking cracks at drunk Koreans in public worth the mutual alienation that comes out of the K-netizen backlash? I don't know, but I'd rather not have to be asking the question.

And to the people whose faces are now on this guy's blog front page (see below): does it still seem like a good idea?

[Edit: the pictures have been blacked out on the English Teachers Out page, so I'm taking it out of this post.]


And memo to all non-ethnic Asian expats in Korea: go ahead and act however you like, but don't put pictures of that shit on the internet, and don't do it in my neighborhood, because you can do what you like (within the law) but I'd rather not be held responsible for your behavior, just because neither of us look like Koreans.

(more background links: Asian Correspondent, Chosun Ilbo (who found the site), the Korean blog of the guy who wrote the EnglishTeachersOut blog, and an interview with Blackout Korea... let's say of all the motivations to create the blog... the ones stated are somewhere at the bottom of the barrel.)

29 comments:

chiam said...

"Public drunkenness in Korea IS a national disgrace."

It is not a national disgrace. It may be upsetting, but a national disgrace? I think you're over reacting.

It has been my experience that this kind of thinking mostly comes from people who have grown up in societies where this sort of thing puts you in the drunk tank at the police station. Public drunkenness is alive and well EVERYWHERE. Drunk driving, which actually puts other people in danger, doesn't happen in other countries? I'm pretty sure the police in Korea prefer that someone who is drunk sleeps it off on the street instead of trying to drive home.

Is it a national disgrace when people who are really drunk fall asleep in a nightclub in Korea? I think it's pretty cool that clubs let people nap. Try doing that in Toronto. You'll be kicked out seconds after you close your eyes.

You bring up "practicing of free speech", but how about the freedom to sleep on the street if you think you're too drunk to get home, or too exhausted from long hours at work? Knowing and growing up in a society where you feel safe enough to sleep in public is, in my opinion, a fantastic thing. Growing up in a society where someone who is sleeping in public is disgraceful is, in my opinion, very sad.

In a previous post you talked about how driving in Korea is "different" and that when you get used to the style of driving in Korea, driving becomes easier. You did not say "bad driving in Korea is a national disgrace! Shooting the messenger doesn't change the fact I had to dodge bad drivers driving to work".

Were you brought up to think sleeping in public is socially unacceptable? How about "getting used to that" instead of claiming it's a national disgrace?

I've slept a few nights outside in Seoul. Was I too drunk a few times? Yes. Was I too tired a few times? Yes. Am I a disgrace? No. Do you think I'm a disgrace because I admit I did?

Blackout Korea is juvenile humor, at best. I ignore it.

Englishteacherout is juvenile also. Also ignored.

Roboseyo said...

Chiam: my three favorite lines from your comment:
"I'm pretty sure the police in Korea prefer that someone who is drunk sleeps it off on the street instead of trying to drive home."

"Blackout Korea is juvenile humor, at best. I ignore it.
Englishteacherout is juvenile also. Also ignored."

I wholly agree with your final two sentences: best ignored... except that the reputation of English teachers at large often ends up the collateral damage of stupid, juvenile shit like this.

I'd rather people were passed out than throwing up on my shoes, or picking a fight with me, or driving, that's true... living in jongno for more than a year, I saw lots of the first two. And while for the most part MEN passing out in the street dont have to worry too much, I don't know if women can say the same, given some of the posts going around the Korea tumblr blogs right now.

Personally? I think if Seoul's subways ran 24 hours (at least on weekends), that'd solve a lot of the problem, I think the drunk tank should exist in Korea for troublemakers, and yeah, maybe the fact I lived in Jongno for quite a while makes me biased...

then again, the WHO's recent report tags Korea as the world's biggest per capita consumer of spirits, and the fifth biggest per capita consumer in the world...it IS kind of embarrassing that I have to tell my friends visiting Korea, "Unless you want to see Korea in its worst light, be back in your hotel room by eleven"

http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msbgsruprofiles.pdf

Roboseyo said...

sixth largest. my bad.

조안나 said...

I never liked seeing black out Korea myself, it always made me a little embarrassed that this is how westerners behave in korea. But know that the netizens have found it I don't want to get lumped into that same category. The point that the English Teacher Out blog made that made me the angriest (more than the abu ghraib photos, which are insulting to say the least) is that he suggests that foreigners don't bother to learn the language.

I've been studying Korean since before I came to Korea and I'm now studying for the TOPIK test. Most of my friends are at least basic conversational in the language or can at least read hangul and order food. I agree that people don't take the time to study. But it's hard as we all work full time and are more or less hired BECAUSE we can't speak Korean, not despite the fact that we can't speak Korean.

We're continually used on the subways and around town as a means to practice English. If I wanted to practice Korean while I'm in America, I'm not going to walk up to every Asian person I see and try to ask them where they're from and how old they are in Korean and hope they speak Korean.

Anyway, Korean netizens should be upset by BOK, because it is insulting to us and them. But I think that it shows a lot of insights into Korean culture as well. I've yet to meet a Korean who likes 회식 and yet, every boss expects their workers to attend them and invites their clients out to them. Then the drinking starts and people are expected to drink for as long as the boss does. The good old "just say no" thing that they taught us in middle school doesn't quite work here. And then people are passed out drunk on the streets.

Shouldn't BOK send some sort of signal to the netizens that maybe, if they want their culture to be respected by the world, they need to start acting in a respectable manner when they are in public? I understand Chaim's point that this just is Korean culture and we should try to accept it, but at the same time, Korea is VERY concerned about how the world views it. If and when the Olympics come to Korea, how would they like it for journalists from around the world to see this side of Korean "culture"? I'm sure they'd be embarrassed too.

ripcitytoseoul.com said...

I hope you don't mind my shameless plug Rob, but here goes.

To address #5 on your list of points, I conducted a Q&A with the person behind BlackOutKorea, who remains nameless due to threats, which will be published in the March "The New Seoul Establishment Issue" of NEH Magazine. That issue will be available online at http://nehmagazine.com/ in the beginning of March.

Anonymous said...

Little glad that the Koreans did not find the picture of a Waygook Girl sitting on the drunk Korean anjd smiling.

They pulled it pretty quickly when I pointed out that it could be considered assault.

Skippy666

The Aloof Observer said...

Hmm sleeping in public: freedom or disgrace? I think maybe sleeping in public during the day is fine. However, if you are so drunk that cannot make it home or are so poor that you have no home to go to... I think that is a bit of a disgrace in many 1st World countries' eyes. I place Korea somewhere in the 2nd World. The rampant abuse of alcohol (esp Soju) here is linked to the high pressure culture here I suppose. Anyhow, I am glad people are walking and crashing anywhere instead of driving and crashing into another person or their car. The whole drunken, wife beating image... yeah that is a little shameful and it is a little bit of a negative Korean sterotype that is unfortunately true is some cases.
I think that is what is so shaming. It is shameful in any country. Maybe a lot of Koreans are not shamed by drinking so much soju or whatever then passing out on the side of the road and waking up in the morning in a pool of your own dried vomit. Maybe not, but I bet you the majority would not tell their family, friends, or boss about it....so you tell me who is ashamed?.....

BuckyHermit said...

I don't like the counter-blog but I think some credit does need to be given to its creator for making it more or less bilingual. He's not hiding the blog from English speakers like a lot of Korean blogs of its kind do, and opening the door for rebuttals from foreigners.

It's a bit of an abrupt counter-blog to BOK but at least it opens the door to discussion.

Roboseyo said...

Bucky: you're right... though it now seems comments there are closed.

3gyupsal said...

I'm surprised someone hasn't come out with a public urination blog. Juvenile, yes, but not quite as defensible as a drunk sleeping blog.

(I am in no way advocating the establishment of a public urination blog, though I would like to see more progress in reducing the instances of it. )

3gyupsal said...

I'll agree that BOK is rather childish, but to play the devils advocate, it does counter the stereotype of Koreans as study and workaholic droids in western countries. BOK, depicts Korea as a party country.

Again, I don't link to that blog, or really like it that much, but I wouldn't say that Korea comes off bad. Drinking and passing out in the street seems a lot more fun than studying English to enter college.

Jen said...

I'm not sure why this should be called a National Disgrace. The person, or people who drink too much and sleep on the streets are all individuals. It's their own respective faults. There are plenty of people who mistakes when they drink in other races too. People who takes pictures of that kind of shit and write about it are just haters. Anyone could point out a mistake, see which race makes that mistake the most and then ridicule them but seriously? That is hate and that is racism.

There are rude people in every race, there are druken idiots in every race. But there are also kind caring people in every race too.

Brian said...

Please, I think we're finally beyond "first," "second," and "third" world designations, especially when they're used improperly.

I thought the site was funny and harmless when it was just passed out drunks. I don't think public drunkeness---or public blackoutedness---is a national disgrace, but the rampant alcoholism may be.

But, once the jerks got involved it became something mean-spirited, hateful, and immature. The inevitable backlash isn't about Koreans "not getting" humor, as some commenters and bloggers say. There would never have been any backlash were the site just of Koreans passed out in unusual places.

The English Teachers Out blog is probably best left ignored, but some people couldn't resist commenting or engaging him/her. The comparisons to Abu Ghrab are ridiculous, and the discussion of "qualified" has been done to death for the past several years (either people get it or or they don't). But blogs and responses like that are useful because they remind us that teachers shouldn't be acting like that. I know that not everyone pictured may be a teacher, but there's a good chance they are. If you don't want Koreans to think that English teachers go around simulating sex with passed out Koreans, then English teachers shouldn't go around simulating sex with passed out Koreans.

Chris in South Korea said...

Since the aforementioned blog's comments have been closed, there seems only one logical answer: he either couldn't keep up with the responses his website generated, or decided to take the easy road out, in classic passive-aggressive tone.

The concept behind BOK seems sound - highlight an absurd thing or a behavior you don't like in a creative way to a world that might not otherwise pay attention. Think back to any number of internet businesses that did outrageous marketing stunts during the dot-com boom to get people's attention.

The question I'd like to answer regards that 'sleeping on the street is ok' line: DO Koreans actually think being passed-out on the street is an acceptable way to be? Being sprawled out at a jimjilbang is one thing; at least there your personal belongings are safely tucked away in a locker, and you're less likely to get harassed.

Robert Koehler said...

Public drunkenness in Korea IS a national disgrace. It is. Undeniably.
Is it? As a non-Korean, I don't want to speak for Koreans, but I do get the sense that while most would probably agree that passing out in the middle of the street is probably a bad thing, they're fairly tolerant of public drunkeness. Booze is part of the culture, and social attitudes reflect this. I'm not sure why they should regard that fact that one can walk through downtown Seoul at 4am bombed out of your gourd and reasonably expect to make it home alive and with your property intact a "national disgrace?" Don't like public drunkeness? Move to Saudi Arabia. Or maybe Singapore --- I'm told fun is illegal there.

the WHO's recent report tags Korea as the world's biggest per capita consumer of spirits, and the fifth biggest per capita consumer in the world...

So?

it IS kind of embarrassing that I have to tell my friends visiting Korea, "Unless you want to see Korea in its worst light, be back in your hotel room by eleven"

Are you serious? Korea is at its most fun and lively at night. I like living in a country where places are open and hopping late at night. Sure, there are bad drunks out there, but most of the revelers are just out to have a good time. When I talk with Koreans who have returned from overseas, especially North America, the most common complaint is how boring it gets at night.

PS: Jongno used to be my favorite area to go drinking.

The point that the English Teacher Out blog made that made me the angriest (more than the abu ghraib photos, which are insulting to say the least) is that he suggests that foreigners don't bother to learn the language.

While this is becoming less true now than it used to be, to quote Dr. Gregory House, there's a reason the stereotype exists.

Shouldn't BOK send some sort of signal to the netizens that maybe, if they want their culture to be respected by the world, they need to start acting in a respectable manner when they are in public?

Frankly, I think BOK would be better served sending out signals to other foreigners that if they want to be respected by their host nation, they should show some respect and refrain from posting photographs of themselves mocking and molesting unconscious Koreans like frat boys/girls.

I understand Chaim's point that this just is Korean culture and we should try to accept it, but at the same time, Korea is VERY concerned about how the world views it. If and when the Olympics come to Korea, how would they like it for journalists from around the world to see this side of Korean "culture"?

Yes, sadly, many Koreans --- at least those in positions of authority, anyway --- are overly concerned with how the world views them. Others don't really care how foreigners view them, and still others think if said journalists didn't like this side of Korean "culture," the AREX can now carry you in safety and comfort from downtown Seoul to Incheon International Airport in under an hour.

However, if you are so drunk that cannot make it home or are so poor that you have no home to go to... I think that is a bit of a disgrace in many 1st World countries' eyes.

It seems to me with half the EU facing economic collapse and the United States in hock to the Bank of China, the First World really shouldn't have the time to worry about Korean drinking habits.

I place Korea somewhere in the 2nd World.

Christ, if Korea's 2nd world, I shudder to imagine where you'd place California or New York...

He's not hiding the blog from English speakers like a lot of Korean blogs of its kind do, and opening the door for rebuttals from foreigners.

Those Korean blogs aren't hiding. They're just blogging in their own language. If he blogs stuff in English for your benefit, it's a favor.

Anonymous said...

Rob, we are awaiting your awesome rebuttal

Schplook said...

What I agree with, for what it's worth:

1. BOK was kind of funny when it was anonymous drunk people passed out in unusual places/positions.

2. Posing with and touching the passed out people is over the line and unacceptable.

What is most interesting to me, however, is the Abu Ghraib comparisons. Since I have just read The Lucifer Effect (book, website), which covers just how the whole culture of abuse/torture came about, I happen to think there's something to the comparison. The comparison mind you, not the equation. It's not the same thing, but it's a bad thing (I won't go as far to call it evil, but could become evil if encouraged) and a consequence of the same psychological, social, and situational causes argued by the author, Philip Zimbardo.

Relevant comparisons of causative factors between BOK and Abu Ghraib:

1. Social: a small group of people that make up your reference group (of what is acceptble); the bad behaviour is normalised by these peers and reinforced by getting approval when sharing the evidence with your in-group (the BOK blog, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib).

2. Situational: a sense that there are no consequences for your actions (as you're away from home and there are limited/no social repercussions for your actions).

3. Psychological: it's easy to dehumanise the 'other' when you don't speak their language and don't understand their culture; the road to bad (or 'evil') deeds is travelled in small steps, so it's not easy to detect when you actually crossed the line.

That's my take: the same root causes are at work but, of course, nowhere near to the same degree.

Roboseyo said...

Anonymous:

Who said my rebuttal was going to be awesome?

Who said I had to make a rebuttal at all? I already said my piece in the original post.

Thanks for all your comments, everyone: I really appreciate them.

Schplook said...

On closer inspection, scratch what I said about the road to evil being travelled in small steps.

Blackout Korea:
Posts 1 & 2: faces visible, but not highly detailed.
Post 3: unrelated video.
Post 4: face smearing of unconscious person.
Post 5: face clearly recognisable.
Posts 6 & 7: more acceptable as faces are not shown.
Post 8: the first trophy shot with a foreigner posing with and touching a passed out person at a bar.

I upgrade my assessment from slow descent to evil, to almost immediate, blatant arseholery.

I apologise for my previous underestimation of how terrible BOK is. The one time I visited the site, all I remembered was the bizarre positions. Now I realise that the new, worse images are not as far removed as I thought.

Absolutely unjustifiable.

Anonymous said...

A couple of corrections.

"the passed-out Koreans' faces aren't shown"

Not true. A quick browse through the site revealed many faces. They would certainly be recognizable to their friends and family. One even shows a guy painting marmite on a passed out Korean's face. Many pics show people simply napping during the day with no evidence of alcohol.

"their practicing of free speech"

This isn't "free speech". In fact, it is ILLEGAL in Korea to publish people's photos without their consent.

Becky said...

There are sites in the U.S. making fun of things such as:

http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/?page_id=9798

But I do agree that Korea has a problem but it seems to be acceptable over here. Work hard, party harder.

Bintz said...

Hello

My plan has been changed. I will never shut down the counter-blog.

But it is considerable to change its URL. I will visit here again when it's changed.

Best
Bintz

Anonymous said...

Years ago on Dave's ESl a poster named mindmetoo posted a photo essay called "The Drunks of Insadong". As I remember I was one of the few or maybe the only member of Dave's ESL who said it was in very bad taste.

English teachers in Korea by and large are immature. Blackoutkorea is unfortunately a reflection of the childishness of numerous foreign English teachers. Their shameful behavior far surpasses the images of some harmless drunks sleeping next to a sidewalk pizza.

Roboseyo said...

Anonymous:

well then what about the drunks who start fights?

I think it's unhelpful to categorically say "this group of drunks is better than this group of drunks" -- look at a group of Korean people who are the same age as young English teachers, and they'll shout, fight, sing, pass out, puke, and fuck about the same amount as those same young English teachers. It's not a feature of race or culture, it's a feature of youth.

Anonymous said...

Rob: About your youth comment.

I fully agree with you that it is probably a youth thing and not a cultural difference per se. Perhaps my post could have been clearer. I think the creators of Blackoutkorea and the Dave's poster who posted "The Drunks of Insadong" are showing their level of maturity in the very creation of such drivel.

It is a shame that these types of teachers get so much publicity in Korea. Essentially what I mean is that because most foreign English teachers in Korea are pretty young they tend to do foolish and childish things.

People get drunk and pass out in every country. Writing with black markers on their faces, posing for photos with them and generally making fun of them is the type of adolescent behavior most folks give up on when they become adults.

It's not that one group is better than the other. The drunks passed out in public might be embarrassing themselves --but barring that-- they are harming no one.

I too am an English teacher here in Korea. And I am ashamed that others who hold the same title post such nonsense on the interwebs.

Roboseyo said...

Anon:

I think anybody who posts such pictures, of themselves, or others, especially with faces, is pretty much a grade-A fool. I generally operate on the principle that "you own everything you post on the internet, forever" and anybody who doesn't is being an idiot.

For the record, foreigners in Korea aren't the only ones who get in trouble if they post pictures of drunken misbehavior on the internet: Koreans in Korea have also been in the center of public "look at these assholes" campaigns for doing the same.

http://rokdrop.com/2009/06/03/gangnam-party-draws-korean-media-ire/

Roboseyo said...

also for the record:

every time a story like this comes around, it seems that the K-internet's response is a little more moderated and subdued than the time before. Compared to the English Spectrum Party incident in 2005, the public response to Blackout Korea (other than the lovely Bintz) has been much less extreme and virulent than past reactions.

Now, if every person whose face appears on that blog gets traced to their workplace and experiences a "fire this racist idiot English teacher" campaign, I take back what I just said, and return to my previous image of Korean netizens as hyper-sensitive knee-jerk racists who'd rather shoot the messenger than do a little soul-searching of their own culture.

mindmetoo said...

||Years ago on Dave's ESl a poster named mindmetoo posted a photo essay called "The Drunks of Insadong". As I remember I was one of the few or maybe the only member of Dave's ESL who said it was in very bad taste.||

This would be the thread here:

http://forums.eslcafe.com/korea/viewtopic.php?t=96212&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=mindmetoo+drunks&start=0

I would be mindmetoo.

I'm sure a newspaper running a photo of a naked little girl with her skin burned off by US napalm would be considered in bad taste too. Many at that time thought as much. Others might consider it a landmark example of photo journalism that reflects the hidden horrors of war. And it helped stop a war. And helped keep other little girls from suffering the same fate.

Anonymous, simply waving your hands around and pronouncing something bad taste then and now without logic or reason just compounds your original error.

Hapki on Fri Aug 17, 2007 9:57 pm correctly divined my intent so I won't fully rehearse it here. But in short: insadong is where Koreans take everyone from simple tourists to dignitaries to show them someone's idea of traditional korea and korean values. And yet koreans don't seem to notice the drunks, something tourists surely notice. If Korean are so blind, it might be this is such a common sight that they don't even notice. And that speaks volumes about a larger social problem.

On my Seoul Survivors podcast I related a story where on a cold morning I saw some shopkeeps rustle a bum from their front door with brooms and mops. The man couldn't walk. He could only drag himself away. And then we have the recent case of the guy at Seoul Station who was tossed into the snow to die.

Koreans have a way of rapidly changing their society when their polite fictions are exposed by foreigners. Sorry, anonymous, for exposing them hoping to affect change. What I didn't do is treat them like a bounty a la some people featured on blackout korea. I just snapped what I saw in an area of Seoul intended to be a show piece and posted the photos for comment.

Foreigner Joy said...

Featured this on my recent post on:
http://expatabundance.blogspot.com/

:)