Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SNL Korea Video Mock Overseas Adoptees Searching For their Parents. Uncool.

Some might say, after the third case of blackface, we should stop getting overly worked up when SNL Korea does something bone-headed and offensive.

Well, others might say, after the third case, we should get even more worked up than the first time, because somebody's not pulling their heads out of their arses. Because SNL Korea just keeps throwing down stupid, insulting skits.

This video floated into my radar on Facebook.

It's a four minute clip of an overseas adoptee meeting his birth mother at the airport.

Here is an explanation of the video from AdoptionJustice.com, which has written a "Dear SNL Korea" letter you really must read:

The title is taken from a former TV show that showed adoptee reunions. The adopted character’s name is Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
Announcer: Now I am going to meet you. Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
Jason (in a stupid fake accent and very polite Korean): It’s nice to meet you, mom. I am Jason Doo-yeong Anderson.
(still in a stupid fake accent but now very rude Korean, making fun of the fact that is hard for English speakers to remember all the different levels of politeness built into the Korean language): Why did you abandon me? Were you extremely poor at that time? You will be punished because you abandoned your baby. OK OK, but I but I ….
(now speaking medium-polite Korean):  But I am OK. Because I am meeting mom now. OK OK listen.
(now speaking informal Korean, rude to his mom): I heard this from my American mom. I drink a lot because I take after my Korean mom. Like my mom. OK.
When Korean people drink alcohol, they sing and dance… So, you like some?
[Dances and sings]: Look at my shoulders [etc.]
You know this song?
(in rude Korean): You know this song? Oojima, omma. (Sounds like “don’t cry” or “don’t laugh.” He pronounces it weird so we don’t really know what he’s saying.)
Be sure to have one drink with me.
If I become an alcohol drinking dog, call daeri…. Call daeri, OK? OK, listen. [This is in reference to a service in Korea that you can call if you're drunk. Someone will come and drive you home in your own car.]
When I meet Mom, there is one thing I really want to show her. Taekwondo. Taekwondo, OK. Look at this. I practiced a lot.
Mom, let’s not be separated.

OK. I'm not an adoptee, but I care that adoptees, and others who have complicated relationships with mainstream Korean society and mainstream Korean identities, find a place of belonging, and a place of dignity here. So this article is my small contribution, in solidarity with my adoptee friends. Because it sucks when some asshat writers at some TV show make a whole group feel like they don't belong, or that they deserve to be mocked.

Gleaned from blog posts like this from PeaceShannon, a few facebook conversations, and my own read of the video, here are some of the things wrong with this:

  1. Mocking the attempts by foreigners to learn Korean (I'm not an adoptee, but I can relate to this at least... FU SNL Korea!), without mentioning the fact the reason some adoptees can't speak Korean is because they were sent away from their birth country and alienated from their birth culture. (Way to lighten that load of alienation, chums!)
  2. The mother never speaks or shows her face -- though in the frame for almost the whole skit, she's somehow forced out of the scene, dehumanising her, or minimising her relevance. As with actual birth mothers in many adoption discourses.
  3. Referencing that he takes after his mom because he drinks a lot - which is not a reach to connect to stereotypes regarding the loose morals of unwed mothers.
  4. Belittling the attempts overseas adoptees make to connect with their birth culture -- the awful taekwondo demonstration.
  5. Having an adult adoptee simper like a child, when media and government discourses are kind of known for patronizing adoptees as if even the adults were still children (a government minister declaring "I love you" to a conference of adoptees? Really? Note also the emotive language in the linked article.)
A lot of adoptees have tried and tried, unable to find their birth parents. I can't imagine how it would feel to see a sometimes painful and often difficult journey - one they may have dreamed of for their whole life, only to find that shoddy or falsified paperwork has made it so that only 2.7% of adoptees actually find their parents - trivialized this way. That's right. 2.7% (source) So for the 97.3% of adoptees who try to find their parents but can't, this is a mockery multiplied upon mockery. And really, really gross.

Here are some responses from Reddit/r/Korea demonstrating the reason this skit is risible.

Mean was one of the words that came to my mind as well. Or perhaps cruel.

And that's the heart of it right there. My son is Korean and Canadian, and if I saw his efforts to make a connection with either of those cultures thrown back in his face like this skit does, I'd be fucking livid.

[Update over]

I now give the floor to adoptees - the actual people mocked in this skit, who are well capable of speaking for themselves.

Peace Shannon is a great blog to spend some time on, to get to understand why some adoptees are quite unhappy with how the Korean overseas adoption system runs. Some quotes:
lets mock the psychological and physical effort it took to reclaim some of it for themselves, like learning korean or taekwondo. this is particularly ridiculous that they’re mocking these efforts when they are expected of adoptees by koreans. you’re korean? why can’t you speak korean? and then one someone makes the effort, apparently that will be rewarded by laughing at your pronunciation.

Dear SNL Korea,   
I am so thankful that during my nine years living in Korea, I have met the most wonderful people...I am thankful to have met unwed mothers, overseas and domestic adoptees, people who grew up in orphanages, people with disabilities, GLBT people, mixed-race people, migrant workers, and people of all different classes and backgrounds in Korea. They have shown me what a diverse place Korea really is, and the great place that this could be if only the Korea public would become an open and welcoming society for all, free of prejudice and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes....
 [break... go read the whole thing]
SNL, your skit doesn’t make me think that all Koreans are ignorant bigots because luckily, I am already surrounded by amazing Koreans whom I know and love. However, I am not sure how this skit will be understood by the many overseas adoptees who have never been to Korea, may never get to Korea, and may never meet a Korean even once in their lives. 
And this chilling closing line:
"You may think that you are giving a funny representation of adoptees to Korea, but you have also have given us adoptees this representation of Korea and Koreans."

Thanks for making fun me of and the rest of the overseas Korean adoptees. I am one of these adoptees you are mocking the most. I do not speak any Korean and I have been searching for my family for some years now. I am spending my vacations searching for my family and for the culture that was taken away from me. I have spent many million won on my trips back to Korea. I do not think that I ever will feel 100 % Korean because I did not grew up in Korea, my birth country. Maybe my mom was not a saint, but why do you have to mock me and her for that? 
If I have missed any posts that deserve a link here, please let me know.

[Update II] GOAL (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link) has written an excellent, and gracious, open letter, here.

I will assume that this skit was born from ignorance rather than malicious intent because I can work with ignorance by helping to educate the writers, actors and producer on where they went wrong and explaining why this skit was hurtful to the many, many adoptees, Koreans, and birth family members that saw this. 
It was uncomfortable because adoptees didn’t have a choice in the adoption. ... It was uncomfortable because the actor who was portraying the adoptee Jason Dooyoung Anderson visually reinforces the idea that adoptees are pitiable in their efforts to grasp Korean concepts ... 
It was uncomfortable because a reunion between an adoptee and his or her birth parents is for many adoptees, a very, very long awaited moment in their lives. The SNL Korea skit made a mockery of that sacred moment and that hurts.
and this is the part that destroyed me:
It was uncomfortable because adoptees who have little to no information about their birth families bravely go on shows like 사람을 찾습니다, 지금 만나러 갑니다 or others knowing that the show is deliberately dramatizing the experience and milking the emotional moments for every tear they can get, but they allow themselves to be put on display for the entire country in a manner that can be embarrassing and humiliating because they have run out of options and these shows actually facilitate reunions. SNL Korea’s skit just piles onto that feeling of humiliation because it is mocking a setting where we already feel extremely vulnerable and discourages adoptees from using the media to assist with their reunion efforts.

GOAL has also just released an international press release on the topic, asking for an on-air apology, and suggesting that they be approached beforehand if SNL Korea is considering airing more adoptee-related content.
[End update]

And please reach out to SNL Korea on their Facebook page or their Twitter account @tvN_snl, in whichever language you know ('cause the world is watching) but Korean if you can ('cause the staff there has demonstrated enough ignorance recently that there may be doubts they can read anything else)

[Update: Another letter]

Follow-up in the next post.


Roboseyo said...

But Roboseyo! Somebody in another country made fun of Koreans one time! So nobody can ever criticize Koreans for making a video like this!




You didn't paint all Koreans in your critique, only SNL Korea.

And... now that I think about it, the tu quoque argument doesn't cancel things out... it just means that lots of places have things to sort out...


Now that those comments are out of the way...

Roboseyo said...


Roboseyo said...

Put as many miss swan or long duk dong clips as you like up... the point remains: it only shows that both US and Korean media have some f'ed up issues to deal with, not that I'm thereby not allowed to get upset about the SNL Korea clip.

Roboseyo said...

As I say to my wife, pointing out my shortcomings do not excuse yours. (of course, that never works with her)

Roboseyo said...

SNL America --->Mocks those in power
SNL Korea ---> Mocks those who are not

Roboseyo said...

Well put sir.

Roboseyo said...

When I see these pieces on different blogs it is always written as if the writers of the show are out of step with the thinking of the majority of Koreans. That they are an aberration to be pointed out. But after 10 years of living here, and these things happening countless times, from different sources (one that comes to mind was a lecture by an immigration official or Education office worker about Korea's drug policies), I have come to believe this racist/backwards thinking is not an aberration of Korean society's view - it is Korean society's view.

I think at it's core Korea is quite a racist and intolerant place.

Roboseyo said...

A lot Koreans in America hate on Korean adoptees too. I'm adopted and never honestly cared to find my family but I've been to Korea and loved it there. All the Koreans I met were jealous with envy that I was American and wanted to come with me. I find it funny they make fun of something they wish they could be but never will.

Roboseyo said...

There are ways of finding out what "the majority of Koreans" think, feel, or believe. Usually it involves surveys and statistics, a bit of critical thinking about the way those surveys were designed (lest statistics turn out to have been manipulated), and comparison of responses to similar questions, or the unfolding of similar events, over time. That's a huge burden of proof, and I find it easier to focus on a few specific groups or individuals, for the most part. You're sticking your neck out pretty far when you start making "at its core" type statements... and I wonder how your favorite Korean friends would feel if they knew what you were saying about them online.

The response to this skit has been outrage among Korean SNS as well... http://m.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/Mobile/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0001967077

and within the day of this story reaching SNS, SNL Korea has had an (unsatisfactory, but still...) official response.


so... maybe Korea's changing? That's happened before, you know, even if there remain some backwards thinkers in positions to regularly show their asses.

In most cases, the closer I look, the more diversity of opinion I see among Koreans. And maybe I'm being just as stubborn as you, about different things, but at least I'm not writing off fifty million people I haven't met.

Roboseyo said...

Korea just can't win. Expats bitch about Korean comedy being nothing more than mindless slapstick, and how Korea never produces any biting social satire. Then SNL actually puts out a mildly edgy skit about an issue that Korea never would have dared publicize, let alone joke about on national TV--and now Korean-American adoptees are aghast--"HOW can they be so cruel? How can they pick on the weak and powerless?" While this isn't a great sketch--it's main jokes come from fairly stock "dumb foreigners trying to look/act/sound Korean" gags--I applaud SNL for taking a chance on a formerly taboo topic in Korean culture. If your satire isn't offending anybody, you're not doing it right.

Roboseyo said...

My thoughts exactly. I personally view all this bullshit outrage as a good thing. Keep offending, Korean comedy practioners!

Roboseyo said...

it doesn't take any courage to mock adoptees.

Take on the Chaebol if you want to impress me with satire. Easy pickings are poor sport.

Roboseyo said...

I agree 100%. Also, I think that the sketch makes fun of the shmalzy-ass TV show that these adoptee reunions are on. And in your outrage Rob, why don't you ever mention the fact that the TV show being mocked exploits those same adoptees. Sure let's show the pain and anguish of decades and plaster this private moment all over the airwaves with teary music (and a hint of condemnation for the mother). That's great TV. If your son does ever get in touch with his roots, let's hope he doesn't do it on national TV, because I don't want to see it. ITS A RIDICULOUS PARODY of an equally ridiculous show - not a condemnation of an entire diaspora. Lighten up!

Roboseyo said...

MBC (the network that produces the adoptees show) is a big ass corporation.

Roboseyo said...

The original shows are risible, there's no doubt about that. I've read the accounts of adoptees who have undergone the spectacle because it was the last option for trying to connect with their birth families, and it's horrible that happens.

I don't think this skit made it clear enough that was what they were mocking. If they'd had the adoptee kid swatting away the cameras in his face while trying to talk to his mother, and cut to reaction shots when he made a language error, the skit would have been funnier, and the satire would have cut where it was supposed to.

Roboseyo said...

If the target of the satire was intended to be MBC, SNL Korea failed to convey that in the acting, filming, and script. I'm not convinced.

Roboseyo said...

Thank you.

There was no courage in this skit. Adoptees have been easy targets the world over forever. All this skit did was further the steroetype of the faceless "birthmother" and turn adoptees into buffoons. The only dial

Roboseyo said...

Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Both the SNL skit and the Ms. Swan sketches were funny (the later a bit annoying, but funny). I actually laughed out loud at the SNL skit. I guess, some people get more easily offended than others. Lighten up folks!

Roboseyo said...

Being a Korean Adoptee myself, I believe that people are taking this much too seriously. Yes, the subject is a bit touchy and the translation of what was said may be a bit questionable, but this is Saturday Night Live. Sometimes it's offensive, but that is more or less what it's supposed to do: tip toe close to the line of poking fun and being offensive. That's what SNL is all about. Even with a learning disorder where it can be hard to distinguish sarcasm from not, I could still find the humor of this. Don't like the sketch? Then don't watch it anymore.
Realistically, if I was to ever meet my birthmother, I would probably say the same thing. :)

Roboseyo said...

Amen! Thank you!

Roboseyo said...

It doesn't matter if they're the minority now: if they are feeling emboldened to speak up, and continue to grow more bold, they will change the discourses in time. Look how fast public opinion on gay marriage shifted in the USA - from the early 1990s "gay is ew" to now, when states are legalizing gay marriage to nationwide praise -- societies change when people start speaking up.

Roboseyo said...


Roboseyo said...

Thanks for the link to this excellent open letter. I've added a link to it in an update.

Roboseyo said...

Deciding not to watch it is a legitimate response, but I think starting or contributing to a conversation about it can lead to more positive end results. Nobody's obligated to do that, and I'm sure a lot of people adoptee or not, opted to just shut the tv off... but I for one am glad a few people thought it was worthwhile to talk about it.

If you're looking for your birth mother, I hope the process is a smooth and generally positive experience for you. If not, be well, and thanks for your comment!