I first visited Korea during the 2002 World Cup. Four years later, for reasons that still elude me, several of the main broadcasters here wanted to interview me and ask about my thoughts on that most special of times.
Among them was MBC. Two of the other companies wanted me to wear face paint and dance around like a performing monkey as I gave my views on Korea’s chances in 2006, but MBC took to their task with admirable seriousness, whether I deserved it or not. Also, on the day of the interview, I was due to move house; the MBC crew volunteered to carry my belongings in their van to my new place. This was something I never expected, nor asked for.
Since then, I have always appreciated MBC for their professionalism, and the kindness their team showed me that day. Unfortunately ― as every Westerner in Korea not living under a rock now knows ― the producers of ``Viewing the World Moment to Moment (Sesangbogi Sisigakgak)’’ have now ruined their organization’s reputation. This is particularly unfortunate for those MBC journalists who are on strike, and have nothing to do with the way the place is being run now.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the obvious xenophobia of the segment, which basically portrays “foreigners” as sexually degenerate, drunken, HIV-infested scum, who love nothing better than to prey on “innocent” Korean girls. The main issue for me is, as a journalist, how do the people who made the show gain employment with a seemingly respectable media outlet? Journalists aren’t always the most ethical bunch, but we need to have standards in terms of not twisting and exaggerating things in order to fit our prejudices, and we need to get our facts straight. The program’s team seems to show no interest in doing this.
Consider the portion where the obligatory university professor makes the comment that because there are relatively few foreigners in Korea, women have to, how shall I say, ``hook up,’’ with them quickly. This does not make any logical sense, but it doesn’t stop MBC from making something of it. And consider the part where they telephone a Korean woman, whom they consider a ``victim’’ of a foreign sexual predator. She tells them absolutely nothing, and yet they twist her lack of response by telling us that often, such ``victims’’ don’t want to talk about their supposed exploitation. Again, where is the logic?
Hearing that phone call, I couldn’t help but think the real exploiter was the journalist. Who was this person to invade a woman’s privacy, and question her about her sex life? So far in the ``foreign community’’ (if there is such a thing) there have been a lot of complaints about the xenophobic aspect of the MBC report, but very little about the misogyny it also contained. It is a misogyny disguised as a desire to protect women from nasty foreigners, but ultimately is the product of a classic kind of male hypocrisy: the belief that the women of one’s own country are ``our women,’’ and thus property.
Instead of dealing with the uncomfortable truth that some women might actually be ― gasp ― attracted to foreign men, the piece gives the impression that these poor, helpless flowers of virginal Korean purity just want to learn English, and in return, all they receive is sexual exploitation, and possibly the HIV virus. I hate to break it to the program’s staff, but nobody out drinking in Itaewon on a Saturday night is looking to study.
The constant use of the word ``foreigners’’ amuses me as well. If we include North Korea, there are around 70 million Koreans ― roughly 1 percent of the world’s population. To MBC then, the 99 percent of men in the world who are not Korean are potentially dangerous, HIV-carrying perverts, it seems. I wonder if they have some sort of hierarchy of filth, or do they consider, say, Brazilian, Canadian, Russian, Nigerian, British, and Japanese men all equally disgusting?
The fact is that men from all these nations like having sex. So do Korean men. The whole world ― apart from the MBC production team, apparently ― knows this basic truth: men are all the same (if female, repeat those five words again and again, until they stick in your mind forever ― it will help you enormously). So why specifically portray “foreigners” as lusty Lotharios? I know Korea has a low birth rate, but I don’t believe the men of this country have a lack of interest in women.
The segment obviously stank of prejudice, driven by insecurity and fear. To my amusement, it seemed to show foreign men as exotic, and in possession of some kind of sexual juju that can be deployed to entice unsuspecting Korean girls into their bedrooms. As much as every man may desire such ability, I don’t think that many of us possess it. I’m pretty certain that I don’t, and I’m also pretty certain that the average Chad or Brad down in Itaewon on the weekend, with his beer belly and his baseball cap, doesn’t have it either. But now, because of the program’s producers, we have all become blue-eyed Rasputins. Should we complain, or thank them?!?
If I were Korean though, I’d definitely be complaining: since the clip has been subtitled in English, and gone viral, there are now thousands of people around the world who will think that this country is xenophobic and unwelcoming. I’d like to say to anyone who came to that opinion that Korea is still a wonderful place, and well worth visiting ― in spite of the best efforts of utterly unprofessional MBC producers to hurt their country’s reputation.
Daniel Tudor is the foreign correspondent for The Economist and is the author of the forthcoming book, ``Korea: The Impossible Country.’’ He holds degrees from Oxford University and Manchester University. You can follow him on twitter @danielrtudor.