Monthly Archives: April 2012

Annoying Things About Korea #15: Lady Gaga Greeted By Korean Hypocrisy and Blasphemy

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,[1] 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.[2]” 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.

Hypocrisy First
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.

Blasphemy Exemplified
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.

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A Different Kind of IMF 시대. The Good Kind.

Seoul Pledges $15 Billion to the IMF
In the late 1990s, South Korea faced sovereign default. The things you read about Greece? Korea was in virtually the same situation. It received enormous international financial assistance, in the form of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In Korea, this was called IMF시대 (please don’t say “HEY! Just like 소녀시대). Controversy ensued, but Korea paid back the loans, with interest, and in advance. It was an era of austerity for Korea and the Korean economy. One dollar bought 2,100 Korean Won at the time.

How Things Have Changed
This week, the IMF doubled the size of its reserves. Why? Europe, virtually the entire continent (except Germany and Great Britain), is being engulfed by debt that it cannot handle. Hat in hand, IMF President Lagarde, an elegant Frenchwoman, has secured pledges from the international community. Not surprisingly, the IMF has turned to Asia. One of the donors? South Korea, to the tune of $15 Billion. So while struggles continue for everyday Koreans, and the stress level is high, the correct context is that Korea has come very, very far in a remarkably short period of time. This seemingly small headline is just a simple reminder of that incontrovertible fact.

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Japan’s Excruciating, Inevitable Economic Decline and Korea

This Is NOT An Personal Vendetta Against Japan, Nor The Japanese
Let’s get this straight. Japan has accomplished the near-impossible. No natural resources, surrounded by no allies to speak of, and thousands of miles away from the largest developed markets, Japan had, at one time, grown to the second largest economy in the world, with less than half the population of the U.S., the world’s largest economy. But things change, and the decline of Japan is akin to the train wreck that no can help but to watch. The Seoul Gyopo Guide has pointed this out on many occasions. And while the Japanese language is easy for native Korean speakers to learn, this blog has stated that learning Japanese is a huge waste of time.

Japan’s Inexorable Economic Decline Continues
Recently, some headlines have grabbed the attention of the Seoul Gyopo Guide. One, here at CNBC.com, points out the decay of the Japanese manufacturing sector. From electronics to automobiles, Japan’s decline has been relatively swift. Perhaps most punishing of all, Sony, the standard-bearer of Japanese excellence, has become a second-class citizen in the technology world. To readers of this blog, these articles are not news at all. A very strong Japanese Yen, coupled with an aging population that doesn’t demand the absolute best features in its products, add up to a very unsavory combination. Where innovation is king, Samsung and Apple now carry the torch. Thirty years ago, Sony was the unparalleled, unchallenged leader. Their slogan at that time? Sony. The One and Only.
Today, perhaps it should be “Sony. One of Many.” or “Sony. One of the Lonely.”

Lessons For Korea
Korea and Japan share a very complicated relationship. Love, hate, and envy are just a few words that can be used. Hallyu stars are enormous in Japan. Kara et al probably spend more time in Japan than Korea. It makes sense; Japan still has a population more than twice the size of South Korea’s. It has been said that the economic revelations in Japan usually exhibit themselves in Korea a decade later. Fortunately, this has not been the case so far. Beaten down by the Asian currency crisis, and IMF involvement, Korea has avoided the over-expansion that has plagued the Japanese banking system. That said, there are certain similarities. The first of those is the unwieldy corporate structure of the chaebol is similar to the conglomerate structure of Japan. The second is that the Korean population is rapidly aging. So while in the past, Japan has been a model of sorts for Korea, now it is merely a model of what to avoid, and not what to become.

Posted in $JPY, $KRW, Japan, Korean Economy, Korean Society | Leave a comment