Passion politics: a fruitful week for the foul-mouthed
From fits of expletives to the science of dating, this week has been passionate to say the least. One of the hottest topics was a story about dating practices. Korean netizens avidly discussed the economics of blind dates (aka “sogeting”) in response to a popular survey that said 68 percent of men agreed they should pay for dinner on the first date, but not for coffee afterwards. This was in contrast to the 51.4 percent of women who thought men should instead pay for everything. Disgruntled, some male netizens claimed this 51.4 percent must be
Such sentiment might also explain why “Date Girl” became the latest addition to the exponentially growing “Ladygate” series we wrote about last week. A screenshot of a Kakao Talk message between a failed blind date couple was uploaded online, revealing an angry and indignant “Date Girl,” upset that her prospective prince made her fork out 7,000 won for coffee (despite the fact he had spent 78,000 won on the rest of their dinner-and-movie extravaganza). It’s not the very public quarrel between our hopeless couple that is of interest here but, rather, the fact that a private conversation about who should pay for coffee became one of the most highly-ranked news stories of the week. To the outside observer, this may seem a little odd. However, in a dating society that often considers financial status and family background as much as looks, perhaps it isn’t. And those familiar with the nature of Korean news and media will soon realize that, in such a “wired-in” state, the ones who read the news, often make the news quicker than those writing it.
But where outbursts of emotion failed to materialize for “Date Girl,” a very different kind of passion has been sweeping the Korean Internet over the last week as countless stories riddled with profanity dominated the headlines. From an unsuspecting North Korean defector to the President himself, it seems no one has been safe from a bad-mannered dressing down.
The saga began when Jeon Won-chaek, a self-styled “conservative controversialist” lawyer, appeared on the KBS “Live Late Night Debate” and, true to his title, argued that members of the National Assembly should be able to unreservedly proclaim that “Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are sons of b***hes.” While conservative Web portals began to (perhaps a little ironically) dub him “the great Jeon” for his remarks, progressive netizens were quick to accuse him of fanning the flames of McCarthy-era “ideological interrogation.”
Although there are few who might disagree with Jeon’s choice of words, the North Korean leaders weren’t the only ones to come under verbal attack this week. President Lee Myung-bak, who has been resisting a long and sustained attack from the North Korean propaganda machine (that has been labeling the incumbent president a “rat” and his supporters “traitors”), came under fire from a South Korean netizen who was immediately indicted on charges of “intimidation” for publishing an article entitled “Lee Myung-bak, You Son of a B***h.” The netizen in question, editor of political website Surprise, was venting frustration at prosecutors he believed had prematurely concluded that the brother of former President Roh Moo-hyun was guilty of the bribery allegations filed against him.
The following day, just as the commotion had started to subside, one of Korea’s most well-known and outspoken authors, Gong Ji-young (author of ``The Crucible,’’ a book that would later became a blockbuster of the same name), tweeted to her almost 500,000 followers: “If I stand before the president and call him a son of a b***h, will they arrest me too?” This further contributed to online expletive exchange.
But no other person caused bigger online waves than Lim Su-kyung, student activist-turned-politician, dubbed the “flower of unification” thanks to her illegal trip to Pyongyang in 1989. Baek Yo-sep, a North Korean defector and human rights advocate, had taken a picture with Lim when dining in the same restaurant and, much to his surprise, was subjected to a barrage of profanities such as “betrayer b***ard” and “son of a b***h” when he questioned why she had asked the waiter to delete the photo of the two of them together. Baek posted his grievances on his Facebook page, which quickly went viral. Although Lim has since apologized, netizens in their thousands flocked to condemn her outburst, with many suggesting the incident had exposed her true colors as a “commie.” At a time when the ruling party has expressed their determination to expel any lawmakers with even the slightest hint of pro-North Korean sentiment, Lim will need more than just a clever spin doctor to fix this one.
Perhaps the liberal use of crass language could be interpreted as quite crude, especially coming from the ‘respectable’ lawmakers, politicians and esteemed artists in society. Luckily, in a culture that evokes equally emotional responses from both politics and dating, it is clear that Korea appreciates passion too.
James Pearson and Raphael Rashid are co-editors of the website koreaBANG, a daily-updated blog that translates the latest hot issues on the Korean Internet. They can be contacted via www.koreabang.com.