Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Death Threats, K-Bloggers, Lousy Korea

I wrote an article for The Korea Herald about the Lousy Korea incident, which you can also read about at I'm No Picasso here; the best commentary on the issue so far is coming from Korean Rum Diary, who's made some interesting and thoughtful posts on the topic.  His first discusses critics of negative blogs; his second is actually a long comment from the blogger Lousy Korea, and his third responds to the article I wrote today in the Korea Herald.  In the comments to the first of KRD's posts, The Korean leaves a response that's worth reading.

You can read my article in the Korea Herald here. Duplicate link here in case the first goes dead.

I'd written a big, really long post about this issue that I was going to run this week, but while writing the Herald article, I asked LK to contact me, and during that correspondence, she said that she doesn't wish this thing to be made too much more of a big deal, for the sake of some of the people whose lives have been threatened.

So I'm going to summarize my long post, instead of publishing the whole thing.  Interestingly, it referenced the same news story KRD mentioned: Muslims threatening South Park for their Muhammed portrayal.

Here's the bullet point version of the original post:

1. Yeah, Lousy Korea had a harsh tone that was quite provocative.
2. I'm No Picasso notes here that "hater K-bloggers" and "psycho nutizens" are both extreme fringes who do not represent their groups, but who sometimes makes their entire group look bad.
3. Yep, Korean Sentry can be hateful... but no worse than some of Dave's ESL's Hate Korea comment threads.
4. A lot of this stuff relates to my old "Why Do Expats Complain"/"Why Do Koreans Get So Defensive" teamup.

Longer points:

5. (똥)개 눈에는 똥만 보인다 - a Korean saying literally translated, according to Girlfriendoseyo, "The dog that eats shit, only looks for shit."  I think "The dog with shit in his eye sees only shit" is snappier, but basically, some kinds of writing reveal more about the writer than the subject.  Such extreme writing speaks for itself, and undermines itself with its vitriol; if somebody's having SUCH a bad time in Korea, they ought to be pitied, and then ignored.

6. Most of the "Hate Korea" blogs out there have fewer than 50 followers: they're not reaching a large audience, nor are they really trying to.  It's mostly a few buddies passing notes to each other in class.

(with apologies to Jason Ryan)
Q: If a tree shouts, "Korea sucks" in the forest, ten other trees shout, "Hear, hear!" and nobody else is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
A: Who cares?  I have more important things to worry about.

7.  "Hate Korea" blogs and the extreme reactions they engender lead to a perception that expats and Korean society are incompatible - in the same way that South Park's Mohammed jokes and militant groups' overreactions create the perception that Muslims will NEVER integrate into Western society.  Is the laugh that South Park got for taking cracks at Mohammed worth the mutual alienation that develops between Muslim and Western society?  I don't know.

8. While there are enough Koreans who can read English and access OUR complaining blogs, there are way too few expats who can read enough Korean to answer the K-defenders with "But a Korean blogger said the same thing yesterday!" and provide a link.  That's too bad.

9. Free speech doesn't mean Speech without consequences.  Free speech, even on the internet, has consequences, be that hundreds of commenters flaming me for saying "Wondergirls suck" or Birthers shrieking because I wrote in support of Obamacare, expressing yourself on the internet has consequences. The Marmot, Garry Bevers, Kushibo, and Brian in Jeollanam-do have all been personally attacked or threatened for their online actions.  You own everything you say on the internet, forever.  No, people shouldn't be allowed to publish my address and phone my employer: there are appropriate and inappropriate responses to free speech, but speech DOES have consequences.  Even anonymous speech can be traced by smart, persistent people, and a dedicated sleuth might expose even the thing you thought was completely anonymous!

10. The cycle of Misunderstanding: I really think there's a big misunderstanding leading to the negative cycle of Haters and K-defenders.  Here's how it works:

  1. Expats vent online, kind of like a group therapy session (the internet's good for getting together group therapy and support communities)
  2. K-defenders read the venting and miss the group-therapy context, and react.  Maybe they start out rationally (which would be fine if the point of the forum really were intellectual exchange, but it isn't: it's catharsis), maybe they don't start out rationally.  But they react.
  3. Expats mistake the K-defender's defensiveness for either an invalidation of their right to free speech, or a denial of the realities they face every day.  Instead of explaining, "Kindly leave us to our group therapy," they double-down, and re-assert their right to free speech, usually by saying even nastier things about Korea.
  4. Repeat steps 2-4 until everyone hates everyone.

11. You're not the first one to notice this blog is one-sided.  K-defenders forget that the other people who read the "Hate Korea" blogs have brains, probably don't believe everything they read on the internet, and most likely suspect any blog that is one-sided, either positive (suspected to be propaganda) or negative (suspected to be vendetta).  Readers will seek out other sources, if they care enough to get the full story. If readers are so disengaged and incurious they don't check their facts and read other sources, who cares what they think?

12. When people are putting stuff on the internet, I don't know if "You're not my intended audience" can/should be a "get out of jail free" card; regardless, if it's something easily misunderstood, it's the barest of prudence to put a disclaimer on the front page: something like "This blog is a satire;" or "this blog is just my own opinion;" or "I usually write when I'm feeling a lot of feelings, so the things you read here might not reflect how I feel 80-95% of the time;" or "These are jokes. Lighten up or move on."

13. In my own experience of K-defensiveness, I don't think it's as bad as it used to be, but I don't know if that's because there are more Koreans able to talk openly to foreigners about negative topics, because I'm getting better at presenting my thoughts tactfully, or because I'm getting better at spotting who is and who isn't up to those kinds of discussions, and I naturally avoid those who can't.

who knows.


Brian said...

Very nice work here. I decided not to do anything about this (for the time being), just because there's no sense giving attention to a shitty blog that few people read anyway. A lot of the posturing now and "free speech" talk is ridiculous as well, as if this person is some kind of crusader for insulting Koreans and then getting upset when they respond.

I got an email about this a few days ago, with the headline something like "Korean netizens threaten expat blogger," and thought it sounded intriguing. Then I opened the email and saw who it was, and thought that if any person deserved the wrath of netizens, it was this.

Death threats are extreme---I don't know and haven't researched these particular ones or if they were actually credible---for a few blog posts that nobody reads, but the blogger was going for that sort of reaction, and nobody should be surprised that a series of posts calling Koreans monkeys and c**ts provokes people.

I don't want to come out as somebody who doesn't stand up for K-bloggers. I've been in trouble myself, though I like to consider my fights good ones, part of the conversation that tried to fight for the credibility of foreigners to comment on Korean culture, not defending myself after scores of insulting posts.

The author comes out now and says it was satire . . . um, it wasn't very good. You brought up good points in your Herald article, but the blog isn't one that really needs more attention than that, and will likely be forgotten in a few weeks.

Chris in South Korea said...

Regarding #6 (hate blogs don't reach a large group): they don't necessarily have to. The primary audience / demographic is light years removed from the damage done within the circles it's passed around. We're in the age of the viral video, the viral website, and the viral blogpost. If something is so popular / controversial that it gets passed around, it doesn't matter whether only one person originally read it or follows the blog.

The point comes back to this: post what you want, when you want - but be prepared to face the music. That doesn't mean limiting your freedom of speech - but be prepared to face your critics. If they're calling for your death, that's when to get the authorities involved - but that's a different story altogether.

I'm no Picasso said...

You know, Mr. Roboseyo. I appreciate your ability to address (or be aware of) your audience. It's a rare talent.

DSW said...

Thanks for the link, and well done again on the article.

And thanks for the translation of: (똥)개 눈에는 똥만 보인다 - I read that a few days ago and was wondering.

The White Buffalo said...

Hello, Lobbie.

Sorry we got off on the wrong foot last night.

I was drunk.

I think you're just swell.

Lobbie Ass-Crown, I ruv you.

Lobbie Ass-Crown, I need you.

You da haily-chested sexy man!

Prease be my boyfliend!

I mean that sincerely.

So long for now.

And Blian Golden Balls to you, my sexy friend.

Charles Montgomery said...

Nice job, Rob,

And to give credit to Mr. Wonderful (even though he won't let me on his poll - Mr. W is like Stephen Revere Jr.), his language, his alleged political views, and the disconnect between the photo he posted of his bad self and what he actually looks like?

All instantly reveal his site to be a parody.

LOL.. word verification messie

The Seoul Searcher said...

I personally have no sympathy for Lousy Korea. I never got the chance to read her blog, but after going to KoreaSentry (which I also didn't know existed, but will probably visit there more often thanks to you) I saw one of her posts that said the only good thing about Korea is socks and throwing garbage out the window for old ladies to pick up.

I think a good test for white Americans and Canadians on what is and what is not allowed as constructive criticism is this.

Replace all the instances of Koreans or Korea with Blacks and Black Communities. Re-read the article you wrote.

Would you feel comfortable showing that to a Black person you don't know in America and saying that you authored it?

If the answer is yes, then go ahead and post it. If the answer is no, then what you wrote is borderline hate speech.

For some reason talking about black people makes most whites cower in fear and censor themselves, even on the internet.

But for another reason, Asians or Koreans in this case are fair game.

Anonymous said...

The satire was almost as much focused on the K-blog scene as it was on Korean cultural traits and inter-cultural conflict. I'm thinking of the hyper-awareness regarding my little experience in Korea and how crucial it is to write about it. I'll bet that half of her ideas came from reading other K-blogs.

The posts some of you have written about Lousy Korea are some of your most interesting, just as Lousy Korea was easily the most interesting K-blog.

Much what was written in Lousy Korea was offensive if you took it at all seriously, but how anyone could read Lousy Korea and not recognize the humor is amazing. You may not have thought it was funny, but that's another matter.

Granted, the non-native English readers aren't going to get it, but the rest of us probably should.

I do not think Lousy Korea hated Korea or Koreans, particularly. I think Korean Rum Diary (my second favorite blog) displays more actual distaste for the nation. Not that I mind either way.

Lousy Korea was essentially humorous and not essentially bitter. Part of the humor was her consistently staying in character. She's the rude and self-centered opportunist who hates her life in Korea but will put up with anything until she has enough cash to go spend a year on a beach near the mountains. She didn't go soft when confronted. When someone complained in a comment, she insulted them and gave them more of the same.

It just would not do to label something like that up front as satire. As soon as you call it satire, it no longer really is.

Burndog said...

Korean Sentry is worse than Dave's. I don't love Dave's...I don't even go there anymore...BUT...on Dave's you can report a racist statement, and the statement will be removed, and the person warned. At KS the racism flows un-heeded.

It's a shame.

I enjoyed your article though, well done Sir.

The Seoul Searcher said...

John, satire is all good in my book, but if it really was satire, she should have mentioned it in a disclaimer somewhere on her blog.

As someone of Korean descent, even if the author herself were to send me an e-mail and tell me it was satire, I am still incensed by what she wrote.

Again I'd have to invoke my litmus test here, that even if someone were to satirize the KKK, that doesn't automatically make it okay to use negative images of blacks or poke fun and black culture or black people when assuming the role of the Klansman in your satire. (unless you yourself are black. Double standard? yes. Life's not fair, get over it.)

Much in this case, LousyKorea, who I assume was a non-Korean, may very well have been there to satirize the hate Korea bloggers, yet she did so at the expense of Koreans, regardless of whether it was meant to be a joke or not, it was in poor taste. If you can't see why anyone is offended by what she wrote, joking or not, then you live in a box.
Even if I don't take it seriously it still makes me somewhat angry.

Charles Montgomery said...

At some point the thing about satire and parody is that it should reveal itself....

Otherwise the satirist or parodist is poor at what they are trying to do.

c.f. Swift..

Anonymous said...

As I said before, Lousy Korea was a troll for trolls sake. When I first read her blog, I thought this was written by a girl I use to work with. She would be all sweet and nice when she needed to be and as soon as the back was turned, the haate and the venom from her would come out. Lousy Korea was joke on the fat foreign female. Every once in a while I parody the fine feathered folks at Korean Sentry and I end the article with a statement saying, 'If you figured out I am mocking a racist statement, you are intelectually superior to the racist that said it, which of course isn't that hard to become.' I too get threats all the time. I like how one Korean person describes these people, "A pathetic losers with no friends and no life."

Chris in South Korea said...

I was going to mention something about the supposed satire... Especially as someone that writes satire about Korea / Koreans. I don't mean it in an offensive way, and those posts are clearly marked... but still, what's to stop someone with bunched panties from coming after me? Just because I have negative feelings about a country does NOT give the ultra-nationalists a right to threaten someone. I wasn't exactly a big fan of the U.S. - even while I lived there... In any case, free speech does not necessarily mean speech without consequence. Refer to the Nazi uniforms wearers who got beat up outside of a theater. Free speech? Yes. Without consequence? Definitely not.

Anonymous said...

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Roboseyo said...

Maybe more than 50 hits a day; I was going by number of followers/subscribers. I get more hits a day than my number of followers, too, but the followers are the ones I know take my blog seriously enough to keep track of it.

Sam Suhr said...

"Korean Sentry is worse than Dave's... on Dave's you can report a racist statement, and the statement will be removed, and the person warned. At KS the racism flows un-heeded"

Funny, after a few years of lurking at both Dave's and Korean Sentry I have the opposite impression. I have seen slur after racist slur directed against Koreans -- some subtle, some amazingly vile -- on Dave's, going seemingly unnoticed; I therefore conclude that the supposed self-policing system doesn't work well, if at all. As for KS, I HAVE seen threads removed for offensive content. Also, it should be noted that many of the worst offenders spouting racist nonsense at KS and other such forums are actually non-Koreans trolling for trouble.

Sam Suhr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Three years ago I wrote this blog entry about a conversation that happened in a car I was in, which my Korean wife - who fact-checks all my blog entries - later related to me.

Earlier this year some Korean netizens - self-proclaimed 'defenders of their culture' according to the sites they operate from (even though a good number of them don't actually live in Korea and never did), found this blog entry and proceeded to direct abuse at me and - oddly - also the people who they imagine read my blog (they may indeed, be imaginary).

It's the second time this has happened since I came here in 2006 and in each case I would have characterised the blog entry in question as fairly innocuous - the kind of anecdotal experience any blogger in Korea could write about. And yet, it was made fairly clear that I should shut up.

Open up the newspaper any day of the week and its full of the problems Koreans have with their own society - employment issues, education stress, social and economic inequality, the demands for a 'fair society'. Korea is no different from the U.S. or my own country in this respect. But there is a belief among people of a certain mindset here that when foreigners experience the same problems in their daily lives they should not be allowed to voice their opinion in the same way Koreans do.

On balance, I like Korea and I like my life here, but I won't be cyberbullied into saying that everything is perfect, which appears to be what they want, and I can't really accept the idea that abuse and threats are the price I have to pay for civilly voicing my opinion or relating something I witnessed.

When people set out to write provocative blogs - especially satirical ones - and come unstuck because of it, I think sometimes one feels the underlying sense of schadenfreude among some of the other expats here. I find it hard to defend those kind of blogs personally. But life is rarely as simple as the extreme cases we postulate for the sake of a simplistic argument. What should really give anyone who writes here pause for thought - given the well documented behaviour of certain netizen groups and the media - is the following quote by Cardinal Richelieu:

"Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him."

To put it another way, anyone can potentially fall under the spotlight of hate groups for almost any reason, it doesn't have to be logical or even in context. This is not - if my experience is in any way indicative - an issue limited to a few 'angry bloggers' writing deliberately provocative material.