The cast in the KBS television sketch comedy "Gag Concert" portray black characters in painted faces in the episode that aired Sunday. / Korea Times
Skit show reveals obsession with blackface makeup
By Jung Min-ho
It's entirely inappropriate for 21st century television to feature people wearing blackface makeup, but KBS ― Korea's state-run broadcaster ― must have missed the memo, or indeed the twentieth century.
In Sunday's edition of ''Gag Concert,'' a popular sketch comedy show, comedians Kwak Beom, Kim Jung-hoon and Hong Ye-sul painted their faces and wore curly wigs to portray black characters on stage. They popped out of a cardboard drink machine because another female character wanted ''coffee made from African beans.''
In this pathetic attempt at social commentary, the comedians exposed not only their ignorance but also an appalling dearth of creativity. The fact that KBS allowed the pre-recorded skit to get on the air was also a serious lapse in judgment.
"These are huge entertainment companies with educated staff that are approving and promoting insulting black people as individuals for a laugh," a former English teacher, who has lived in Seoul for four years, told The Korea Times.
"It is hurtful for anyone, no matter your race, to be portrayed as laughingstock on TV, and then hear those same stereotypes reflected in people's opinions here."
Chris Weatherspoon, an American graduate student majoring in advanced imaging science, multimedia and film at Chung-Ang University, said that such comedy is strongly frowned upon in most countries.
"When Korean artists use blackfaces, they actually perpetuate the stereotype that Korea is still a poor country lacking in culture or sophistication," Weatherspoon said.
Some Korean fans also seem to find the description problematic. After the show, a Korean fan pointed out on an Internet viewer board that, "such comedy should be refrained," at least on the government-controlled network.
Korean television has a long and disturbing history of racial insensitivity.
In January 2012, The production director of MBC's show, "Quiz that Changes the World," apologized to fans after a blackface comedy sequence, saying that he would consider fans watching overseas and make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.
In December 2011, "Saturday Night Live Korea" was criticized after featuring a skit in which the comedians painted their faces to appear to be African-American.
G-Dragon's selfie of his black-painted face on his Instagram account last year also landed him in hot water.
Experts say Korea's blackface comedy dates back to the 1980s. Despite its racist element, such comedy wasn't criticized much — until K-pop started grabbing worldwide attention.
"I just think that Korean culture in general is a little behind the times when it comes to accepting diversity, and I don't just mean tolerating the presence of diversity in Korea, but actually viewing diverse people as socially, professionally and intellectually equal to Koreans," the English teacher said.
"I have Korean friends who truly believe they aren't racist and yet they tell me that black people are naturally more aggressive or tell me stereotypes … Korean TV using ‘blackface' with actors in basketball jerseys, big gold chains around their necks and wigs acting ridiculous only exacerbates these ideas."