MBC brings Multicultural Panic to Korea

By Robert Kelly.

Xenophobia so sloppy and racist, Glenn Beck himself would blush…

I came late to this controversy, but it merits some quick comment given just how creepy the above vid is.

This ‘report’ was shown in primetime on Korea’s largest TV network, on a holiday when people would likely be home with family (and was then rebroadcast until the explosion of response halted it). While xenophobia is fairly common in the Korean media, this is so nasty – especially at this very late date in the long, tiresome ‘Korean women dating western men’ discussion – that it has gone viral in the expat blog world of Korea. It even got into the Wall Street Journal.

I rarely blog about this sort of thing. As an IR academic, domestic politics and sociology aren’t really my area, and I don’t really see myself as a ‘k-blogger’ or whatever. I don’t like blogging about identity politics in Korea, as I think it is prone to recycled stereotyping that tells us little. And I have broadly argued against our (foreigners) participation in the Korean multiculturalism debate, because it’s their country and they themselves need to decide what they want from us. It’s their choice.

But this is the nastiest race-baiting – primetime, slap-dash unprofessional, on a major network, for a general audience – I’ve seen in my time here. (Full disclosure: my wife is Korean). Casual racism is a widespread problem in Korea, as any foreigner living here can tell you. Wide-eyed kids shamelessly point at you like you are a martian; people stare at your body hair; grade and high schoolers giggle and smirk; the old ladies glare at you on the subway; average folks on their cell phones will pause their conversations to remark, ‘hey, a foreigner just walked by me!,’ as if it’s some kind of major event in their day (presumably they think I can’t understand that, or maybe they don’t care?). It’s all fairly fatiguing (read this for a good example), and that’s for white westerners. I can’t imagine being from Southeast Asia or an LDC here. In fact, Cambodian import brides have been so badly abused, the Cambodian government made it illegal for its citizens to marry Koreans. (This hugely embarrassing and deeply disturbing restriction was scarecely reported by the Korean media.) And when the Korean race hang-up gets wrapped into sex, it breeds genuinely disturbing levels of xenophobia, especially for an OECD/G-20 country that really ought to know better. Hence this vid.

Here is some good background on just how prevalent this sort of ‘pot-smoking foreign perverts steal our women!’ schtick really is in Korea (follow the many, many depressing links). Here is more that captures just how much the Korea media trafficks in creepy race-mongering. The WSJ link above is helpful too, as is this review of this ‘foreigner-gate.’

Next, here is the Facebook page to join to encourage the Korean media to stop this kinda stuff. It’s better than you’d think, complete with discussion of MBC’s soap opera where the foreigner gives his Korean girlfriend… (wait for it)…syphilis! Good grief.

Finally, don’t forget the really serioues problem of race in Korea – not the discomfort over westerners, but the treatment of guest-labor from LDCs.

This is all terribly ugly and should embarrass all those Sarah Palinite Koreans, who never cease to insist to me that Korea is the most amazing country ever. No. It’s not actually, because racist outbursts like this vid are downside of all that self-congratulatory, ‘Korea power,’ minjeok nationalism taught in the schools. So can the government and Arirang TV please stop shamelessly pushing resident-foreigners into mawkish, forced displays of over-the-top ‘Koreaphilia’? Enough with the propaganda!

Enjoy this response video. It’s funny and clever.

The guy’s shirt says ‘foreigner’ in Korean.

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