Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Woman assaults child on Seoul subway, no one cares

This video above is best summarized by this article:

The video clip shows the old lady reprimanding the student for sitting cross-legged and the young girl talking back to her. Losing her temper, the old woman grabbed the girl’s hair, pushed her around and threw her on the seat in the car, while other passengers watched the scuffle.

At the end of the clip, the teen girl shouted into her cell phone, “I hate Korea, dad!” and swore at the old woman. Then she noticed the person recording the scene and said: “Upload it onto YouTube.”

Eyewitnesses explained other details not included in the video. They said the student sat with her legs crossed, wearing shoes smeared with mud and it had stained the old lady’s clothes.

She asked the girl to remove her dirty shoes from the seat and the student apologized twice. The old woman continued to scold her with abusive words and the teen girl then refuted and began talking back to the old lady, when the recording of the clip started.

The two most popular comments on the YouTube video as of right now are, unexpectedly, these two. They both have 13 votes.

"저 할미 2차선 지하철 마귀할미로 유명하다던데.. 아무것도 하지않은 여자애 다리꼰다고 시비하고, 미안하다고 2번이나 말했는데도 부모 욕하고 거기다가 머리 휘어잡으며 폭력까지한 할미를 우린 존경해야하나? 저 할미는 지금 정신상태가 정상이 아닌것같다.. 아무래도 병원에 가봐야함... 무개념한 10대 교포소녀라고 욕하기전에 저할미가 얼마나 무고한 사람들을 괴롭혀왔는지 알고 떠들었으면 한다.."

My Korean isn't great, but this one basically says that the old woman is something of a crazy old loon who is "known" (to the extent anyone is "known" on the Seoul subway) for picking fights. The commenter notes that the girl even said sorry twice, but the old bag wasn't having any of it.

The second one is simply bizarre:

"생각이있고 나라의 명예에 조금이라도 관심있다면 지우십쇼...."

"If you have even the slightest interest in this country's honour, please delete this video."

There are a couple of interesting pieces about how Korea sees itself. First, it's a country that, like the people that make up the country, is obsessed with its image. Newspaper articles are filled with rankings. I've learned more about how Korea ranks in various ways than I ever did about Canada. Whatever survey the OECD puts together is bound to make press in Korea.

Second, it's a country that sees itself as something of a secret. Korea's faults are one giant national secret until someone blabs them all onto YouTube via a video that's actually incomprehensible to the outside world without an English speaker to provide context. I'm constantly met by Koreans bemused to know that not only do I know the language, but I know the quirks, history, culture and various trivia and tidbit that make up an ancient civilization. It's not a well-kept secret Korea, nor should it be, for good or for worse.

As for the video itself, it tells you a lot about Korea. Essentially, this is an adult beating up a child in a public place while being recorded. In most of the civilized world, I think (or hope) legal charges would be forthcoming. However, when it's an old woman who has been offended by a young person, Korea's status-obsessed culture means that it doesn't matter.

All that's necessary to understand the immense power that older people have to treat younger people like garbage (though it certainly goes both ways), is to consider if the person mistreating the girl had been a foreigner. Say, a foreign man. One with dark skin, like myself. Or, one with even darker skin, like, say, a black man. A foreign black man (trust me, the foreign modifier is important) throwing a female middle school student (trust me, the female modifier is important) around like a rag doll in public? With about a hundred witnesses? And someone recording this?

Would the outcome have been the same? Of course not, and I would be the first person to argue that the guy should be arrested and, preferably, thrown out of the country. But why doesn't the woman get a similar treatment?


Tuttle said...

Y'know, Adeel, this would be a good topic for the Bloggers' Roundtable. I was introduced to this video in a bar in Itaewon on Tuesday, and I'm sure it's still making the rounds!

While we don't know what happened before the video picks up the story, the events recorded are a criminal battery. I'm amazed that not one single person stepped in to stop this assault.

But maybe it would be the same in New York (?)

Adeel said...

I think given the way it generates strong opinions about Korean society, not all of them justified, it's probably too controversial.

I don't think Korea's unique in being a place where, sometimes, people see something awful happen and do nothing. There was a case this year in Toronto where an old man was mugged on the subway, in full view of witnesses who did nothing.

That's why Korea needs to be taken to task for letting this happen, the same way people in Toronto asked how we could be so inhumane as to watch and do nothing.