Even though I was voted "Sexiest Korea Blogger" and "Best Korea Blogger Under 30" this month, I didn't have the visibility last month to get a spam comment inviting me to try it out the new Korea Sparkling Widget from the Korea Tourism Organization. All the other kids got one. But it looked like shit when I saw it for the first time, and it's proven unpopular with the bloggers. Stafford lampooned first it on Hub of Sparkle, and Charles Montgomery went at it on his blog, watching and listing a bunch of the short animated scenarios. An excerpt from his site:
Watching this widget reveals far more about what Korean thinks about foreigners (uncouth idiots) than it reveals any reason a foreigner would want to visit Korea.
I watched this thing for about 15 minutes and jotted down its little scenarios, which I reproduce below. Seventeen out of the twenty-four scenarios unarguably reveal David (our waegook hero) to be a dangerous idiot. What kind of brilliant marketing scheme is that?
Montgomery took it to the Korea Times a few days ago.
I watched some 24 vignettes during my viewing, and in 17 of them, Dave, the foreigner, was represented as a dangerous idiot who brings danger and shame wherever he goes. In one case he kicks a Korean in the testicles, in another he falls off of a ladder while hanging lanterns, is hit with a stick and pierced by an arrow and shocks an entire family of Koreans by entering their house with his shoes still on.
These are not messages that would appeal to any potential tourist. Rather, they paint Korea as a dangerous place full of potential social pitfalls. It's possible that these vignettes are meant to be humorous. If so, it's another mistake. How many countries with more successful culture-tourism campaigns use Three Stooges-type humor for self-promotion?
Most public school teachers will note that the scenarios on the wicket---which Montgomery listed on his post---are similar to those we find in our English textbooks. They often feature dialogues and readings of Westerners embarrassing themselves in Korea. You'll invariably find chapters about spicy food or tricky chopsticks or white kids who stomp through the Korean house with their shoes still on. Hell, one of the songs from the elementary school curriculum is of a Western kid going "Don't take off your shoes / Don't take off your shoes / We don't take off our shoes in the house." As if they couldn't think of any other way to teach "do" and "don't" other than drawing on something that makes us look boorish. Like an elementary-level Korean textbook with a dialogue about ordering dog soup, or a song that goes "Don't cover your mouth / Don't cover your mouth / We don't cover our mouth when we cough." Or maybe there'd be a skit about how Korean families don't even know enough to capitalize the name of the kid they're hosting, right "david"?
Montgomery closes on a positive note in his KT article:
The good news is that this represents an opportunity for the KTO. The initial idea was a good one. Creating a useful and interesting widget, and spreading it through a partially viral marketing campaign, was an inspired idea. Unfortunately, the widget as currently designed is unproductive, perhaps even destructive, and the target locations chosen for it do not seem chosen to maximize impact.
I hope that the KTO will go back to the drawing board on the widget, and this time involve some input from members of the target audience, perhaps even involving the same bloggers the KTO has targeted as potential hosts of it. The widget itself needs new content and the effort to place it on websites needs to be re-aimed.
There are many interesting and beautiful features of Korea that could be presented by it. Additionally, Koreans can be quite friendly and hospitable. It is these kinds of elements that Korea should put at the front and center of its culture-tourism marketing, not poorly-animated slapstick demonstrating what goes wrong when cultures collide.
Yes, the foreign buffonery is very tiring, the tendency to show us making mistakes or embarrassing ourselves or just acting foreign, and it's hard to find positive Western role models on Korean TV, examples of teachers not making asses of themselves or otherwise rendered ridiculous. (Though we must remember that Korean TV in general enjoys slapstick and fish out of water humor. And we might also try looking to those outside the English-speaking foreign community for examples of more successful integration). Moreover, you have to question the target audience of the widget: somebody not in Korea or not familiar with Jeollanam-do won't get the short about the Jindo Moses Miracle, to say nothing about feeling alienated by the white guy's actions, while people already in Korea will just roll their eyes at the same tired stereotypes of awkward foreigners.
Anyway, and this is me writing without putting much thought into it, what about putting together a widget that scrolled through a list of upcoming festivals or cultural events? I'd be interested in checking out something that told me what was going on every month, or when a concert was coming to town, or what festivals are happening each weekend.