Friday, May 22, 2009

SNU professor on Gwangju News love motel non-story.

Earlier this month we saw the Jeonnam Ilbo make a stink about a photo spread in the English-language magazine Gwangju News about love motels with interesting facades. Basically the paper said that the Gwangju News writer had only been in Gwangju for two months, didn't understand Korean culture, and shouldn't be passing this misinformation along to other foreign readers.

Two days ago a Seoul National University professor wrote in the Korea Herald about the non-story. A couple of excerpts from Kim Seong-kon:
As soon as the magazine came out, however, our newspapers immediately began attacking the magazine, which soon enflamed the fury of readers who felt their pride was seriously damaged. Our newspaper reports wrote: "This photo essay introduces ungrounded rumors by stating 'love motels are also a rendezvous point for extramarital affairs.'" But is it not true that love motels are a favorite place for those who are having an affair? Korean reporters also criticized the opening remarks, which began: "In Gwangju, the neon lights of a love motel are never far from view. Young couples use love motels to enjoy a romantic night away from parental scrutiny." But is that not true as well?

Nowhere in the caption was a critique of love motels, and yet it did not mitigate the Korean readers' embarrassment. Reading the photo essay, many Koreans undoubtedly became discomfited and even furious with the fact that a side of Korean society that they wanted to hide from foreigners had been exposed by a foreigner and printed in a widely circulating English magazine. "The magazine should have declined such an embarrassing photo essay," wrote one reporter, "It will surely ruin our image." That was why people's anger was aimed at the people responsible for the magazine, and at City Hall, which subsidized the magazine but not at the writer herself.

I especially like his last set of points:
Instead of pretending that there are no love motels or reacting so sensitively to foreign criticism, we should instead try to build a society where no love motels are in business. When our society cultivates a high standard of ethics and a social atmosphere that properly restrains unbridled sexual dissipation, love motels will eventually go out of business. Meanwhile, we may get some comfort from the fact that young couples and people having affairs sneak into motels to spend brief but intense moments in other countries as well.

Therefore, we really need to have the capacity to boldly show our dark side to foreigners and generously embrace criticisms from them. It would be childish if we wanted only praise and compliments. We should be open-minded and able to laugh about foreigners' insightful observations into our culture and society. When our unchecked emotional response is unleashed, the outcome is almost always to our detriment. We should not try to hide things from foreigners; they know about our flaws and weaknesses more than we think they do. What are we trying to hide anyway?


mindmetoo said...

I remember a Dave's user (*spit*) commenting that he was out with a Korean friend in Hongdae and noted there were so many love motels. His Korean friend quipped they were only used by "strange" people. He pointed out there were an awful lot of such hotels. Were there that many strange people in Korea?

His friend quickly hit the conversation eject button.

fattycat said...

I cant believe that that tiny article has gotten so much attention :P

kushibo said...

Hmm... something smells fishy. The Seoul National University Press site's organizational chart lists nobody named Kim Seong-kon or any variation of 김성곤.

Now, the site could be outdated and Professor Kim's name simply doesn't yet appear, but the name of the director of general affairs is Kim Sung-dong. It's possible that this is a pseudonym (but then why write your position and job title?) or that the KH has carried over a typo for many months.

But I think it's also plausible that this author is someone who does not hold such positions at SNU. With Kim's articles so heavily peppered with "our" to describe Korea, even while criticizing Korea, gives it a feel of someone in the Marmot's Hole commentariat. Indeed, his article's seem to hit all the notes of commentariat criticism of Korea.

Which, if true, is too bad because I like this one on criticism of the Kwangju love motels and would find it refreshing to see such talk by a local Korean in English.

bingbing said...

Jeez, Brain. Just spent a bit of time on a comment but no go. Man, you're tight.

bingbing said...

Shucks, and now the last one's come up...

Anyway, the previous comment which somehow didn't come up (and this happens with blogs) basically stated that Mr Dark Side of Korea is full of sh*t, so-called 'love motels' are fine, in fact better than 'regular' motels and that any negative feelings most have towards Korea aren't because of them but because of stuff like this.

2.2? At a university? No airfare? Only 100 more for a masters? Only 100 more again for a PhD?

Oh, please.

bingbing said...

PS I love Korea (my girlfriend laughed at me when I cried to NYPO's Arirang in Pyeongyang), I love its people, my students, co-workers, Korean mates... especially my Korean girl. Thank goodness that kind of tripe isn't permeating too much in general society.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kushibo, try "Kim, Seongkon."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

kushibo said...

Thanks, HJH. I had only bothered to look on the SNU Press site, and I still find it odd that the site hasn't been updated to include the new director. But I guess that isn't so unusual: a think tank I'd once worked for kept my name up for years after I'd called them a bunch of no-talent a-rods and stormed off, so they could keep milking the guvmint for my salary and go to room salons. But I've said too much.

It looks like Prof Kim has been hanging around the blogs or the foreigners' water cooler, because he does touch on a lot of those k-bloggish issues and couches them in a similar way. Not that that's a bad thing.

Nathan Schwartzman said...

I can't really get down with the suggestion to build a society without love motels. Not only does that sound like a joyless place to be, they're so convenient to stay at when backpacking around.

bingbing said...


'Bout time you did a post on Roh Moo-hyun, mate.

WeikuBoy said...

Professor Kim appears to understand little about the outside world. Sexual repression and the denial of human nature breed hypocrisy and scandal, and in the end impress nobody. On the other hand, the idea that love (or at least fun) might flourish despite Confucius and Korea Inc. gives me a small ray of hope for Korea's future.

Meanwhile, I now know that when Koreans talk about "ethics" - as in the lack thereof by foreigner English teachers - what they really mean is the failure to practice sexual repression and hypocrisy (to wit: by staying away from Korean women). Just as when it is said that a foreigner doesn't "understand Korean culture," what is meant is not that there is a tradition-based explanation for why women are treated so badly, or why ajosshis find it necessary to hock and spit every fifty feet on the street. What is meant is that no one is supposed to say anything that could be construed as criticism; and if the foreigner understood Korean culture, he or she would know to shut the hell up or talk instead about four distinct seasons and the wonders of kimchi.

Brian said...

I won't respond to all the comments, but bingbing (James?) what are you talking about? As the thing says when you post, it may take a minute to appear on the site. I only moderate comments when they're obscene, aggressive, or spam. And I don't get your comment about Mr. Dark Side of Korea. But, anyway, if you're from Suncheon than it's nice to have another local reader.

I just posted a little about Roh Moo-hyun. I'm usually not in front of a computer on the weekends, so I didn't get around to it. I take requests, sometimes, but I don't blog on demand. I get to things when I get to things. Thanks for understanding.