UPDATE #2 (Brendon Carr, 14 Dec. 2006): Video of the KBS program is available by BitTorrent which you may download (if you have a BitTorrent client) at the following link: http://www.mininova.org/tor/512615. Thanks to commenter “ihaveseoul” who posted the link in the comments section of related Marmot’s Hole entry Sign Letter Demanding Apology from KBS.
UPDATE: The NGO Cultural Solidarity has released a statement blasting the production team of “Minyeodeului Suda” for its failure to take seriously what it [Cultural Solidarity] considered a pretty overt display of racism. Frankly, I rarely agree with much of anything Cultural Solidarity says, but when they are right, they’re right, and the statement they issued—together with the viewer and netizen condemnation of what they saw on the show—is a great example of just how much things have changed. The key points in the statement, IMHO—regardless of the “intention,” the very idea that to use racist language and actions directed at an individual of a particular race in such an open manner to “improve the show’s mood” is itself indicative of society’s racism; this incident could happen because Korean society is racist in that it favors white people while holding people of color in contempt; and the worst part is that the producers are seemingly clueless as to just how racist what happened was.
I know some commenters have stated their belief that this isn’t a big deal—the joke may have been of bad taste, but it was still just a joke. Before, I would have said this incident was born more of ignorance than actual racism, but if the Hines Ward craze should have taught us anything, it’s that while there are exceptions, the fact remains that not all “foreigners” are treated equal. Many Koreans acknowledge as much, and there is no point pretending anymore that negative stereotypes concerning blacks and other “dark-skinned” ethnic groups (and conversly, generally positive stereotypes about white folk) don’t exist.
Another thing about this whole mess irks me (as it did the Kyunghang Shinmun reporter I linked below), and it’s this—the show seems like an opportunity for Korean male entertainers to flirt with a bunch of foreign female exchange students and Russian models. I have to wonder what KBS2 might think of a show featuring a panel of five Korean female entertainers covorting with a bunch of foreign male exchange students and English teachers.
Somehow, I doubt that would go over real well.
The program brings together 16 lovely and unmarried young women residing in Korea to discuss Korean culture and Korean men, and in the process hopes to break down cultural barriers. The show includes a panel of five (Korean) men. Among the questions (from the website):
- What was the most embarrassing thing to happen to you in Korea?
- What kind of things do Koreans do that you can understand least?
- What dating places have you gone with your Korean boyfriend?
- When have you felt, “Ah, I’ve become a real Korean now”?
- What are five good things about Korean men?
- What Korean entertainer would you like to have as a boyfriend?
The show also apparently has “corners” featuring foreign women doing all the stupid little things foreigners are supposed to do on Korean TV, including a song-and-dance section, a “trying Korean food” section and a Korean dictation section.
All was as it should be—maybe—until lovely African-American Leslie Benfield was performing a rendition of a Korean song. It was then that one of the panel—singer Cheon Myeong-hun—jumped up on stage wearing a rasta wig and began chanting “sikameos, sikameos,” a reference to a black-face routine made famous by comedian Lee Bong-won.
Not cool, said many of the program’s viewers. Not cool at all.
Especially since Ms. Benfield had confessed on the show’s first episode that she’d been disregarded by her boyfriend’s parents because she’s black.
The show’s production team, however, told StarNews there was no racist intent behind Cheon’s stunt. They explained Cheon did what he did to give the show’s atmosphere a bit of a boost. They also said they have no intention of dropping Cheon from the show.
This isn’t the first time the show has run into problems—viewers had criticized previous episodes for incorrectly explaining Korean culture and Korean sayings. Others have criticized it for “sexually commercializing” foreign women and seemingly emphasizing physical contact between the panel and the guest women over actual discussion.