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Category Archives: Annoying Things About Korea
Can It Really Be This Easy?
For those of you that don’t know, Lady Gaga is coming to Korea, to start her Born This Way worldwide tour. Popular? You could say that. According to Wikipedia, “she has sold an estimated 23 million albums and 64 million singles worldwide, which makes her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. As of 8 April 2012, she has sold 7,246,566 singles in the United Kingdom.” Somehow, the headlines around Lady Gaga’s arrival in Korea is being shared with…protests by Korean Christian groups. The very nature of these protests displays why Korea remains an enigma to many. “Enigma” is a carefully, tactfully chose word; other words that can be used are “incomprehensible” or “pathetic.” In any case, this type of behavior, and the publicity being shown upon it, is definitely an Annoying Thing About Korea.
Told you this was going to be easy. Turn on Korean TV for about a nanosecond. Flip through about 5 channels. There, you will find a line of dancing girls between the ages of 18 and 25, wearing threads disguised as miniskirts. Go to any car/motorcyle/camera exhibit and you get the same thing. Wanna see some examples? Ever hear of YouTube?
Need more? Soju, the national drink of Korea, has this type of advertisement. Everywhere. The photo is from this excellent article in the blog The Grand Narrative.
You could, in your wildest imagination, say that this is represents the smallest slice of Korean society. You would be dead wrong. It is pervasive. These videos and advertisements are everywhere. Do the groups protesting against Lady Gaga as “inappropriate for minors,” suggest a 24-hour curfew for the youth of Korea? Wait, no TV inside the apartment, either.
Don’t like Lady Gaga? Fine. You don’t get it, but whatever. Use the church and Christianity as the vessel through which you protest? Disgusting blasphemy. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the obvious question of why the The Korean Association of Church Communication and the Alliance for Sound Culture In Sexuality are not parked in front of every TV and advertisement in the nation. Instead, let’s ask the simplest of Sunday school questions. Ever hear of the phrase, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Evidently, that lesson went untaught in Korea, or perhaps more to the point, the listeners weren’t listening at all.
Wait, there is more, and it is specific to Lady Gaga. Let me first say that I am a newly-converted fan. At first, I had doubts about her as a Madonna-wannabe. However, there are certain incontrovertible facts. Among them are that she has written her own lyrics. I am quite certain that we can rest at night with the notion that JYP’s groups have nothing to do with the composition of classics such as “Nobody,” or “Gee.” In addition, if you actually took time to listen to the lyrics, you get a message that isn’t against Christian (or other religious) ideals, either.
Example, here are lyrics from “Born This Way.”
“I’m beautiful in my way, God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track baby, I was born this way.”
Hardly against religious ideals. Those ideals were largely learned from her upbringing at one of the most expensive private Catholic schools in Manhattan. For church groups to be those leading the protests is peculiar, at best. That is as tactfully as it can be stated.
What Other Conclusion Is There?
So advanced, and yet so primitive. That is Korea. Advanced technology, advanced education, advanced infrastructure. Bias, social inequality and blatant prejudice, however, coexist in Korea with the advanced nature of Korea’s economy. Perhaps that is the aim of Korea: to keep outsiders out, and to make non-Koreans uncomfortable in Korea. This little episode? Another example of how and why foreigners may not fully accept Korea. Episodes like this make Korea difficult to defend.
That isn’t to say that Lady Gaga will be poorly received in Korea. I guarantee you that by the time that the concert occurs, those attending will not have the pointless protests in mind. So while it is virtually assured that the concert will be an enormous success (it follows her, and she is a master at creating it), it is unfortunate that the primitive aspects of Korea must also be on display for the world to observe.
Licensing Agreements Are a Pain In The Neck
If you stay in a hotel like a Sheraton/Hyatt/Hilton, then maybe you are getting around this. Otherwise, if you are from Europe or the U.S., then you know the painful truth. Live sporting events are streamed online for view from the comfort of your computer/laptop/ipad/Galaxy (as the case may be). If you are in the U.S., and are a tennis fan (one of a dying breed), then you can simply go to www.usopen.com. Voila! You have the choice of 4-6 different matches, picture-in-picture, etc. The same can be said about the exceptionally good UK BBC online streaming service (unavailable outside the UK). Next weekend, it will get worse, as the National Football League will begin. The problem? There is usually a lack of international licensing agreements for telecast into Korea, and the result is that the online streaming services are not available. The same can be said about Amazon’s Prime, and Netflix. Apparently, Netflix is rolling out to over 40 countries around the world today, and hopefully Korea will not be far behind. Don’t bet any money on that outcome, as Korea has a long history protecting its own companies (how long did it take for the iPhone to reach Korea).
There are quite a few, although they may be a bit cumbersome. First, there is something called Slingbox, and if your parents have cable TV service at home, then you can stream it anywhere in the world. It’s true, I’ve used it in Korea. Second, you can use one of many different live TV streaming sites, such as justin.tv which also works. The problem with justin.tv is that apparently, there are limits that the service puts on each country’s access points. Given the large number of US military personnel, it may be difficult to use justin.tv for very popular sporting events. Third, you can mask your ip address. Just go in Google and search for “free proxy server.” For the nerds out there, you can change your proxy server to simulate your location to be in the US or UK, and then can access some online streaming services. This is not foolproof, because the streaming is slow, and the services have learned how to identify/block proxy servers.
Still A Half-Step Slow
The irony is deep whenever barriers and technology and Korea are used in the same sentence. As one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, with the most competitive global technology companies in the world, and with one of the most well-educated populations in the world, every time that complete access to technology is not available in Korea, the Seoul Gyopo Guide is annoyed. And so should you be.
Then again, given the amount of domestic discord caused by the NFL, maybe that’s a good thing.
It’s Difficult to Know Where to Start
This news article appeared in Yonhap today, which makes Korea seem like Planet Backwards. School-age children study 10 hours a day from elementary school through secondary school. They compete like crazy (sometimes to insanity) to obtain admission to Korea’s elite universities, and then to Korean corporations. You would have thought that once a person found a job, he/she would expect to do his/her best on the job, and be compensated based upon performance. You would be wrong in certain cases.
Do We Really Have Nothing Better to Do?
The cost of living is high, the rate of inflation is increasing, households are struggling: the demonstrators have nothing better to do? Instead, they leave another, ugly example of why foreigner investors can find Korea a troubling place to allocate capital. It would be almost impossible for a foreign investor to accept this attitude by employees, unless the price of investment were ridiculously attractive. If the price of investment were “ridiculously attractive,” then of course, there would be another demonstration against the purchase price. Now, Korea is a highly developed economy, but one can only wonder how much more developed it would be if meritocracy truly reigned, and if people didn’t waste their time demonstrating needlessly.
All That is Wrong With Korea
To those that have high hopes for Korea and its people, this is discouraging. To those that champion individual rights, this is disgusting. To those that believe that Korea can achieve even more, this gives you pause. To those watching Korea from abroad, this makes you wonder if this totalitarian, thought-control action has occurred in North or South Korea. What is “this?” This is Korea’s corporate-sponsored censorship. It can only occur when multiple parties participate. In this case, it is Samsung Electronics, and Naver.com.
Lots of Blame to Go Around
This article was published in The Hankoryeh. An IT blogger in Korea posted a review of the Samsung Galaxy 2 on his blog, hosted on Naver. His negative post disappeared from his blog on May 6 in accordance with a demand by Samsung. Huh?
Let me get this straight. A private consumer buys a product, and posts his opinion on a blog. The manufacturer can apply enough pressure on the host of the blog, and then the post itself is banned? Those that would defend either Samsung Electronics or Naver miss the point: the author has an opinion, and is entitled to voice it, period. Readers can accept or reject the opinion after reading it. It is completely irrelevant whether or not other people share the opinion or not. It is relevant that Samsung objected and was able to pressure Naver into censoring the blog post.
Is it Samsung, or Samsuck? Is it Naver, or Never?
Samsung Electronics looks juvenile and churlish, at best, in making the demand of Naver. If you surf the internet for about one nanosecond, you will find both positive and negative reviews of Apple’s iPhone. Do you really believe that Apple believes that all criticisms are justified? Uh, no. Do you see Apple responding by attempting to censor the publication of the criticism? Again, the answer is no. Apple has its fans and its haters, and deals with both. While not explicitly the reason for this post, it is precisely the criticisms of products by native Koreans which has made Korean companies global leaders in design and features in the international marketplace. Evidently, that factor has been totally disregarded
Naver is Samsung’s partner in crime. Some countries are established purely on the basis of defending the right to free express an opinion. Did you ever hear of the United States? Naver, apparently, hasn’t.
The Hankoryeh Deserves Kudos
Given the backdrop, The Hankoryeh gives us reason for hope. It could have chosen to not run the story. But, The Hankoryeh did. The Seoul Gyopo Guide rhetorically asks, “Where are the other newspapers, such as the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and Korea Herald?” Their silence is deafening. By not running the story, they are, in effect, agreeing with Naver’s (or is it Never?) position.
Bonus: English Through Entertainment Lesson
The U.K.’s rock band Pink Floyd is one of the world’s most famous. While diehard fans will say that The Dark Side of the Moon is their greatest single album, most casual observers know Pink Floyd for the album called The Wall. What is the “Wall?” It is made of bricks, and here is an almost exhaustive description of those bricks. One of those bricks is an “an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel.” In other words, institutional thought control. One way to do this? Censorship.
This song, in the 1980s, became a “battle cry” for youth in some small way (partly because students like to protest against studying). Almost profoundly (almost, mind you), the song was a protest against society’s attempts to make all people think, behave, and believe the same. That will eventually fail, as shown in this video of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).
Koreans are not accustomed to complaining about violations of individual rights. Native Koreans are very likely to shrug their shoulders when reading this post. That is just sad. On one hand, many are aware that this occurs. On the other hand, you can imagine that so much more could have been done up until now, so much more could be done now, and so much more can be accomplished in the future, if this type of mindset didn’t exist. It is particularly ironic (and inane), that Samsung Electronics, a global leader in innovation, is the one guilty. That the partner in crime is an internet portal, Naver.com, adds insult to injury. In short, corporate-sponsored censorship is surely one of the most Annoying Things About Korea, and is symptomatic of the societal juxtapositions prevalent in Korea.
Fears of Radiation Are Elevated in Korea
By now, native Koreans are used to living under an umbrella of underlying fear. This is one aspect of the Korean psyche. Fear of being subjugated, fear of being attacked by North Korea, and now, fear of radiation. However, today, the Chosun Ilbo reported that retailers have begun to introduce “radiation protective” products.
Koreans’ Love of Fads
In no small way, Koreans love fads. Have you ever heard of K-POP??? Super Junior, SNSD, 2NE1, the list is endless. The Seoul Gyopo Guide PROMISES that in the annals of great music, in 100 years, the number of KPOP groups included in list of great musicians/vocalists will be exactly…zero. That is NOT to say this is trend isn’t viable, nor unprofitable. There are positive aspects of Koreans’ love of detail, however. Samsung, LG Electronics, and Hyundai-Kia are some of the Korean companies that have benefited because Korean consumers are highly, highly demanding.
Fear of Radiation and Koreans’ Love of Fads = Exploitation
Well, many Koreans spend much of their savings on the private education system (hagwons), in part due to dedication to their children. Given that dedication, the timeline of the Japanese tsunami, and the resulting radioactive fallout, have combined to create an “opportunity” for businesses, which have created ridiculous products for fad-crazed, fear-stricken Koreans. Some of the fear is well-placed because governments have a poor track record in revealing the entire truth, and Korea is no exception. However, the products, and the practices of retailers which are blatantly taking advantage of this combination is indeed annoying, to say the least.