Saturday, March 12, 2011

A day of infamy for the South Korean media

Yesterday was a day full of the Korean media applying simply stunning, CNN-esque newstainment standards (since copied by The Daily Show and the Onion News Network) to its right and left. To the right is Japan and to the left lies China.

Before the massive earthquake in Japan yesterday afternoon, there was the long-running story of Korean diplomats leaking information to a Chinese women with whom they were romantically involved. Her face was splashed all over the news, in contrast to the Korean men whose faces were blurred out to the point of being silhouettes.

Someone suggested to me that though this was horrible, it was excusable because Koreans have not had much experiences with foreigners. You could try to explain why Korean students tend to refer to blacks as being dirty or looking like monkeys, but the Chinese Han Dynasty invaded Korea over 2,000 years ago, to give just one example. It's not like they've never seen a Chinese person before.

And then, of course, there was the earthquake. In the middle of last night's newscast, MBC took the time to inform us that one of the most powerful earthquakes had disrupted the schedules of Korean entertainers, or more specifically, had checked the unfettered advance of the Korean wave, where ubiquitous Korean culture can be proven superior to inferior Japanese entertainment, thereby proving the superiority of the great Han people of KOREA, Republic of.

Using the headline "일본 한류 열풍 타격", the MBC news anchor went on to inform us that "there are concerns that the earthquake in Japan will deal a large blow to the Korean Wave craze across the country. Because concerts and appearances in Japan had to be rescheduled, it looks as though the Korean Wave is subsiding."

Feel free to correct my translation of the original Korean: "이번 대지진이 일본 내 신 한류 열풍에도 큰 타격을 주지 않을까 우려된다. 일본내 공연이나 출연 일정을 조정할 수밖에 없어 당장 신 한류 열푸풍이 위축될 것ㅌ으로 보인다."

Elsewhere, the Joongang Ilbo and the Seoul Shinmun ran headlines that read "Japan Sinking", a reference to a 2006 Korean movie that depicts Japan consumed by natural disaster. You can see pictures of today's Joongang Ilbo here and the Seoul Shinmun here.

Now, of course, my criticism is of the Korean media, particularly the established old guard of major dailies such as the Joongang Ilbo, Donga Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo, who learned to do business with both colonial Japan and then dictatorial Korea by shutting their mouth and not being too critical or open-minded. I do often agree with them when they take a hardline against North Korea, but clearly they were out to lunch today.

The article linking to MBC's coverage is by the equivalent of a tabloid, sort of like the New York Post taking ABC to task for its coverage of a natural disaster, a rather shameful state of affairs. And, of course, just as CNN running airheaded bullshit doesn't mean all Americans think that way (or watch), Koreans obviously took notice.

And, after all, the Sports Seoul article on MBC's coverage is headlined "Viewers criticize MBC News for worrying about Korean Wave during Japan earthquake coverage", and I've seen dozens of Tweets on this topic criticizing empty-headed nationalism.

As for Japan, the earthquake happened at 2:46 local time (the same time zone as Korea). I was rearranging my classroom at the time. I was home about a half hour later to read about army response to an earthquake that I presumed was a minor one that had taken place hours earlier.

I didn't know until today that news and emergency response had been so swift, as remarkable as Japanese preparation for this event. The death toll may rise much higher, but considering that this was the fourth-strongest earthquake in recorded history, the damage seems to be, mercifully, not as horrendous as it could have been.

A densely populated country (if Japan was as big as Canada, it would have 5 billion people) hit by a massive earthquake could do far, far, far worse than Japan. Japan's preparation for a massive earthquake of this sort, developed by the Kanto earthquake of 1923 (80,000 dead) and refined by the Kobe earthquake of 1995 (6,000 dead) may well make this the strongest yet safest of the three major earthquakes to hit Japan in the last 100 years.


Jennifer said...

Wow. It almost is as if Korea reacts like a self-centered child.
Japan's preparedness and reaction is quite admirable.

Adeel said...

From what I saw online and watching the news (it was in a public place), everyone was pretty much stunned by what had happened.

This was really just severe myopia, similar to one person who posted that "I hope everyone from our country is okay". Granted, there are about a million Koreans living in Japan, but there are another 125 million or so Japanese living there.

Korea is hardly a stranger to the sort of annoying myopia that follows a natural disaster. There's a maddening tendency, Canada being no exception, to write things like "Dozens die in car bomb, Canadian spills latte in ensuing melee".

After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the Toronto Star decided that the real tragedy weren't the 12,000 (eventually 68,000) deaths that day, but the 1,400 layoffs that day.

Jennifer said...

I know you're right, and I meant really the Korean "media."

CNN yesterday seemed to be reporting the news with the same excitement as a sports event.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I think it gets hard to find new angles when a news item is getting constant coverage, and maybe that's why things like "what will this mean for the Korean Wave" sort of barrel bottom-scrapers come up.

I remember being startled during news coverage of 9/11 when the news agency I was watching/listening to called up novelist Tom Clancy, because in one of his earlier novels, a character had flown an airplane into the US Senate building and killed the president and most of the senate. I thought "wtf? Phoning a novelist?"... but they'd already repeated all the facts and needed to say something.

Doesn't make it less asinine, and if that came up as a talking point during the 6:00 world news rundown, it'd be totally inexcusable...but ... anyway...

One of the kpop blogs I link had a post saying "all kpop stars in japan accounted for and well" and thought that was absolutely germane.

Adeel said...

Personally, I thought that was a common barrel-scraper for the English-language media, which seems to take a dozen stories at random from around the world.