Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mirror Images, or The State of English Language Journalism In Korea

I am intrigued by the way these two articles came across my feed around the same time. Because they are the mirror images of each other.

Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this!

(that was part two. Part one of Hey everyone! Foreigners are all like this! is here:

And then:

Hey everyone! Koreans are all like this!

I'd love to lock the two authors in a room together, although I have to give the author of the first article more of a break than the second, because living in the country one was raised in, and not seeking out the company of people with different backgrounds than oneself is much more forgivable than moving overseas and doing the same. And frankly, his take on his own culture is about as clumsy. Responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of the Korea Times editor here.

Bottom line: these are both blog posts that are not worthy of publication in places purporting to be media outlets. I'm fine with "Koreans are all rude" on a blog post. Lots of people agree with the sentiment, and that's allowed. But it's not news. There was no investigation going on (unless chatting up the disgruntled corner of expat bars counts as journalistic research now), and the article was so all over the place, nothing useful can be made of it anyway, except catharsis. Jumping from language to parking to subway pushing to sidewalk blocking to thoughtless comments to enforcement of public smoking laws places this in blog rant turf, not op/ed page territory. And that the author wouldn't even put her full name to it again, suggests it belongs on an anonymous tumblr or something, where I would happily ignore it, instead of holding it up to the standard from the site's "about page" -- "The Korea Observer is an online newspaper founded in February 2013 with the support of the Seoul City government by award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon with the motto, “Be the voice for the voiceless.”" Anonymity in journalism is OK with me. When you're criticising the president and people with earpieces are hanging around in the park across your street and your writing partner was already arrested this month. But anonymity for "Koreans are rude y'all!" makes it into a mockery.

Complaining that koreans are rude is not giving voice to the voiceless. I've been hearing that voice bouncing around the online expat echo chamber for a decade now, and this piece conveniently gathers every gripe into one place, but has added nothing new other than that. White gripes about Korea are not the voiceless that need outlets like Korea Observer. Get your shit together, Award-winning investigative journalist Lee Tae-hoon!

Both articles are great examples of why it's important to talk with, and listen to the views and opinions of the subjects of one's writing: "Laura" would have found most Koreans are just as offended as she is by the breaches of etiquette she writes about, and Mr. Choi would have been quickly disabused of his stereotyped views of Korea if he'd been listening to the foreigners he met, or meeting more than just a handful who'd "drunk the Korea Kool-aid" (which happens).

So... while we could come up with a mirror image list to go with my "Five signs the author of the article you're reading doesn't know much about Korea" to use for articles like "Differences Between Koreans and Foreigners," (wouldn't be hard, and both lists boil down to this: look for evidence that the author has actually consulted with a variety of people in the group they're writing about, and respects them as humans) for now, let me just mention that e-mailing Mr. Choi with angry rants, or bugging him online, is extremely unlikely to disabuse him of his stereotyped views of foreigners, and perhaps will only succeed in replacing his clumsy stereotypes of foreigners with negative ones, and for people like "Laura" ... I regularly say that it's incredibly unhelpful to say "If you don't like it, go home"... but there are in fact times when, if Korea really does make a person as unhappy as all this, the exit option IS probably the best. Either that, or it's time to go soak in a jimjilbang, climb a mountain, eat some great Korean food, and hang out with people who don't complain. They exist. Or start a complainey blog. That's what blogs are for.

Anyway, see you all again in 14 months, the next time two equally dumb articles from opposite sides are published close to each other, and we can go around this hamster wheel again.