Looking to Learn Korean for Free? Well, Be Prepared for Some Racism
I was going through Sejong Institute’s YouTube playlist to find useful material for my Korean tutoring classes. Then I found this. Let me take you down Racist Hill. Commentary at the bottom.
The trope of Jeongnam, the Korean master of condescension, ends with him looking at the two black men’s shirts and pointing out “So, you’re the older brother? You look like it”. Here, the narrative is that the black men chose to play the Black Big Brother Trope.
Although Jeongnam treats the three group of foreigners in the same condescending way, it is striking how explicitly racist the script is. Let’s look at the three groups of foreigners he interacts with.
First, he meets the white American soldiers. With whom he has a brief exchange. This is done in informal/non-honorific language (반말).
Second, he meets the Turkish man, “Abdul”. Although Abdul has a considerably more complex script compared to the other three groups, Jeongnam condescends him by (a) Telling him to fix his pronunciation (I’ve been to that same Turkish restaurant several times since it opened, and the owner spoke fluent Korean each time); and further denigrates him by (b) continuing to talk to him in informal/non-honorific language (반말), while Abdul continues to address him in full formal/honorific language. The exchange with the American soldiers was conducted in a power balance (both used non-honorific language) – here, he continued to act as the “superior” man by talking down to Abdul. This is the kind of behaviour displayed by a shitty boss, or an adult talking to a very young child (and even many choose to address children in honorific forms these days). In many Seoul universities, it has become customary to hold “hierarchy sensibility” sessions at the beginning of the term when new students join the cohort: All students must address each other in honorific form regardless of age, unless otherwise suggested and agreed upon voluntarily by the younger student.
Third, he meets the two black men. Which spirals into outright racism when (1) he tells them they’re “turning the neighbourhood dark” (which the show even chose to translate as making the neighbourhood look bad), and when the show’s writers chose to run The Oldest Anti-Black Trope, the “Big Black Brotha” joke by literally making them wear black shirts with the insignia big brother and little brother. He takes it further by telling the men to “smile more” – adding insult to, well, insult. Who usually hears the “You should smile more” comment? Three guesses. The men are humiliated further when they obediently say “Yes, sir” – displaying the same linguistic power imbalance between the two groups.
This program, Please Find Her, is a web drama funded by Sejong Institute and KBS. Here is a rare display of whiteface, with the protagonist, set to be a Dutchchman called Jan, being played by a Korean actor. It took me three close looks to go “Wait…this actor looks familiar. He looks like a Korean actor “. And I wondered, “Maybe they meant to portray Jan as a Korean adoptee?”. Nope. “Maybe Jan is an ethnic Korean who is Dutch?”. Nope.
Here is a Korean actor with no ties to the Netherlands whatsoever who is playing a Dutchman. There are enough actors who are either Dutch or of Dutch ancestry or with ties to the Netherlands in the world.
I am deeply disappointed at this poor narrative on foreigners in South Korea, funded by Korean taxpayers. Talking down to other people of colour while saluting white people, casting a Korean actor to play a Dutchman. This is not a web drama suitable for a global audience looking for a taste of Hallyu in their endeavours to learn the Korean language.
Edited for clarity on 18 May.
그녀를 찾아줘 1화 / Please Find Her Ep.1 (ENG) 17 Oct 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssviTiq2vRM