By James Pearson, Raphael Rashid
In the crowded chambers of Twitter debates, social activists can sometimes be destroyed by their followers. Indeed, the expression of distaste in the face of the lifestyle choices of others can often lead to the kind of dog-eat-dog “bitching” that only the fittest can truly survive.
At the height of her fame, she graced the cover of almost every magazine and was considered one of the country’s most iconic, beautiful and famous women. Although she once went on national television holding boxes of “safe” Korean beef, she’s perhaps
now best known for her outspoken love of animals, their rights and vegetarianism. As somewhat of a broccoli-eating sex symbol, Lee Hyo-ri has been one of Korea’s most defining icons ― a sort of Asian Brigitte Bardot, if you will.
Both beauty queens have regularly been photographed showcasing their “puppies” to promote their politics and both have been very vocal in their opposition to meat-eaters. But unlike her French counterpart, Lee has not yet abandoned her lavish lifestyle, as Bardot did, to make activism a full-time pursuit. And unlike Bardot, she has the luxury of conveying her thoughts to almost half-a-million fans on Twitter. And, even more unlike Bardot, she’s not a raging xenophobe.
This April, Lee tweeted a response to the so-called “Devil Equus” incident, a fairly gruesome affair surrounding a viral video depicting the driver of a car that had attached a dog by its lead to the rear bumper and dragged it to death on a busy expressway. Upon the driver receiving a light-handed penalty, Lee took to her Twitter account to publicly wish the man would be reborn as his own hopeless dog and experience a similar fate. The ensuing online demonization of said man resulted in him apparently contacting Lee and her agents on allegations of defamation, becoming one of the most talked about online topics at the time.
Last week, however, Lee caused a storm on all three major Korean portal sites (Daum, Naver and Nate) as she once again took to Twitter to voice her disgust, this time with meat-eaters. Perhaps a little bitter, Lee’s words weren’t quite to the taste of some, with tens of thousands of people criticizing her posts. Citing allegations of hypocrisy, many netizens were keen to highlight that, not too long ago, Lee herself was working hard as the PR ambassador for the Hanwoo (Korean Beef) Association. Whilst some took the opportunity to posit that Lee may have been fanning the flames in the pursuit of more personal gain and attention, others merely rolled their eyes at the thought of a very public figure, doing their best to share very private affections with the rest of the world.
But Lee wasn’t the only animal rights activist to ruffle a few chicken feathers in this week’s online meat-eating debate. Catfights emerged over the revelation that an Italian restaurant in Incheon had added a new special to their menu. According to the ristorante’s head chef, his decision to introduce dog-meat spaghetti to his repertoire was merely an attempt to add a variant to his already popular “spaghetti alla carne” dish. Nevertheless, it was clear that the restaurateur had quite literally made a dog’s dinner of it. The snoopy culinary change sent some animal rights activists barking mad, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the controversial creation from the menu. Campaigners branded the dish as unethical and inedible, forcing the restaurant’s proprietor to publish an online apology that subsequently went viral.
But as dog-eating in Korea still exists, Korean netizens mounted their online horses to defend the age-old tradition, and though it is not necessarily a custom enjoyed by the majority of the population, many argued that the practice is no different or better than the less frowned-upon consumption of chickens, cows and pigs that constitute the global meat market. Indeed, France, the home of some of the world’s most revered cuisine, regularly stacks its supermarket shelves sky-high with vacuum-packed horse meat, snails and, lest we forget, frog legs.
In keeping with this soul-searching trend, a survey headlined “the standard of Korean international manners” also became one of the most discussed stories of the week. Pollsters asked over 600 recently-abroad Korean businessmen what aspect they found most embarrassing about their fellow overseas countrymen. The most popular result revealed valuable face was mostly lost “when others made loud noises on the street or in public places,” followed by “when you bump into someone but then ignore them and just walk past.” Such revelations concluded that 57.6 percent of respondents agreed that Koreans “don’t observe etiquette” when overseas. The majority of netizens agreed by saying that Koreans simply didn’t know how to do as the Romans do, regardless of whether they were in Rome or not. But in all fairness, whose fellow citizens truly are their nation’s representative “top dogs” when they travel overseas? How “Roman” are you in Korea?
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 into English. They can be contacted on www.koreabang.com or via Twitter: @koreaBANG.