Whiplash and Bullying in Korea

Warning: This blog post will be discussing the movie Whiplash. If you have not yet seen the movie and would like to avoid any spoilers, please, stop reading this post.

 

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I went to the cinema yesterday to see what all this hype around Whiplash was about; seeing how well the movie did in Korea. By the time the movie ended, I felt conflicted. The movie aroused a mix of emotions that seemed like a combination of revulsion, hatred, pity, sympathy and, oddly, admiration. In other words, it was a very similar mix of emotions that I had felt during my time in the ROK Army.

As I watched J.K. Simmons‘ portrayal of Terence Fletcher, the abusive conservatory professor at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York, I felt like I was back in Nonsan Army Training Center. The moment he walks into his classroom, the students sit at attention and stare forward in complete silence, vigilantly watching Fletcher’s hands for the slightest movement to begin playing their assigned parts to his brutal level of perfection or else.

Of course, there are many differences between the fictional Fletcher and the real-life drill sergeants at Nonsan. Today’s ROK Army is a kinder and gentler army where every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, has to be wary of conscripts who could potentially kill themselves and others. In fact, the ROK Army has gone to the other extreme in trying to eliminate bullying and hazing. A few months before I was discharged, the battalion that I served in became one of the first units in the ROK Army to implement a new barracks policy. To explain, under this new policy, conscripts were no longer bunked with their squadmates (who each has a different rank), but rather with other conscripts of the same rank – regardless of the fact that those other same-rank conscripts might not even be part of the same company.

Although this certainly reduced the ability for soldiers to bully and haze each other, what this has done to discipline,  unit cohesion, overall morale, and combat-readiness, however, is a different matter. But I digress.

The point is that comparing Fletcher, an abusive and probably racist tyrant who would endanger a student’s life, to any typical real-life army drill sergeant in the ROK Army is ridiculous. However, the intensity, the motivation, the drive, and the intimidation that one feels whenever Simmons is on scene is the same. Simmons’ acting skill was the epitome of raw talent and the man certainly deserved the accolades that he had been awarded.

 

Image Source: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Brody-Whiplash-1200.jpg

Image Source: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Brody-Whiplash-1200.jpg

Toward the end of the movie, as Fletcher is having a drink with one of his former students, Andrew Neiman, who was played by baby-faced Miles Teller, Fletcher says something that I thought was truly amazing.

He says that the reason he was so hard on his students was in order to push them to be greater than they thought possible; that he would never apologize for trying to make his students great. And the thing that he says that nearly won me over is that in today’s society, people don’t seem to want to push people to greatness, but rather tell them that they are good enough, no matter how mediocre they may be. Fletcher then says, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.””

I wasn’t sure whether that was the lie that Fletcher told himself to justify his actions or if he was being honest. But it was an unapologetic call to say “no” to mediocrity. Regardless of what else was going on in the movie, that single line was what made me feel admiration and respect for this monster. And Fletcher truly was a monster.

I had to leave the cinema where the magic that is movie-making could no longer cloud my judgment before I realized just how truly horrific Fletcher was. Fletcher was no Coach Carter or even a Tiger Mom whose actions might possibly be defendable. Not even close. Fletcher was a simple bully and bullies do not do anything to protect or help their victims. They only seek to inflict pain and misery on their victims.

A few years ago, I remember watching on the news about a group of university students (선배) who had beaten their 후배 to “instill discipline.” The savagery of the beatings that they committed were overshadowed only by the threats and the insults they hurled at the freshman students.

When the story aired on the news, the abusers sat next to their parents as they were being interviewed, their faces blotted out and their voices disguised. They were weeping. They desperately defended themselves by saying that they only did what they did to help their 후배. I remember feeling nothing besides revulsion and disgust at those vile creatures. What was truly bizarre, however, was that some of the victims came to the defense of the abusers, giving the same excuses for them that they gave for themselves. It was absolutely chilling to see Stockholm Syndrome in action.

(For the life of me, I cannot find the link to that story.)

In the movies, however, even monsters can be made to look like misunderstood heroes. And that’s how Fletcher is portrayed in the movie. “The next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged,” Fletcher says. And Neiman, the perennially bullied student, keeps trying to win Fletcher’s respect because Neiman is determined to be the next Charlie Parker. Never mind the fact that it is revealed in the movie that one of Fletcher’s previous students, who never appeared on screen, killed himself after having been abused by him for so long – something that is not unheard of in Korea.

In real-life, bullies are the furthest thing from heroes, even the most misunderstood types. By the time I came to, a part of me was concerned about the movie’s popularity. Was it so popular in Korea because the bullying that was portrayed was reflective of so much of Korea’s militaristic and hierarchical society? Or was it popular because so many Koreans might be suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome, therefore using that movie to justify their behavior or to tell themselves that they should endure as much bullying as they can because “the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged?”

Whiplash was a truly amazing movie and J.K. Simmons’ acting chops has made him my new favorite actor. However, it was also a terrifying movie because it romanticizes and justifies bullying.

Regardless of how one may feel after having watched the movie, no one will leave the cinema without a strong opinion about it one way or the other.

The Economist on Korea’s Changing Economic Nationalism, but Lee Hyori is Doing Her Part!

Don’t often get long articles on South Korea in The Economist, but apparently tomorrow (the article is strangely dated into the future: January 17th) they will publish an article about Korean economic nationalism.  Yes, good old fashion economic nationalism!  Everybody has it, but Korea’s version seems to be a bit more, how shall we say?  Focused, aggressive and pervasive?  Yeah, that will work.

When South Korean celebrities, eager to prove their patriotism, swapped their German BMW cars for home-grown Hyundais on television, during the Asian financial crisis in 1998, they rallied the whole nation behind domestic products. To wean South Koreans off their Coke and Pepsi, a local firm launched “815 cola”, commemorating Korean liberation from Japan on August 15th 1945.

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However, such appeals to patriotism seem to have run their course, and South Koreans have rediscovered their fascination for all things foreign. What has prompted them to rethink is a growing awareness of how much more they pay for things than foreigners do—and not just because of high tariffs—and how easy it has become to import cheap stuff.

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Among the first signs that patriotic propaganda was losing its effectiveness came in 2009, when Apple launched the iPhone in South Korea. Samsung fought back by promoting its Omnia 2 mobile as “the pride of South Korea” and local media weighed in with negative reviews of its American rival. Yet Apple went on to seize a quarter of the country’s smartphone sales in one year. More recently, a petition by local grocers last March, calling for a boycott of popular Japanese-branded products, such as beer and cigarettes, flopped.

Yes, but economic nationalism is not dead!

The beautiful Lee Hyori (God bless her heart!) on Twitter said that if Ssangyong rehires all the workers they laid off in 2009, then she will star in a Ssangyong commercial promoting the Tivoli crossover, dancing in a bikini!

Lee Hyori- beautiful AND generous!

Unfortunately, Ssangyong showed their poor sense of aesthetic and business acumen by declining Hyori’s offer.

Personally?  I admire Hyori’s sense of community activism and civic virtue, whether or not it’s to promote Korean beef, or raise awareness for abandoned petsfeeding the poor or finding attractive mates for ugly Korean men.

Photo from Soompi.com.

 

The bad Korean used in the movie The Interview

I saw this movie recently on VOD, not long after Christmas, and I noticed the weird Korean too, but given that it is an American movie and all the Korean actors are Korean American or Korean Canadian, my expectations weren’t high in the first place.

Much of the pronunciation was off.  Diana Bang‘s accent was really off, although at least I thought Randall Park‘s accent was a little better.  The girl singing in the beginning clearly was a Korean-North American (probably taught how to speak Korean by either weekend language school or parents).  Nobody bothered to try and imitate the North Korean accent (which I think is fun to mimic).

So, the blog Kotaku summaries what Michael Han over at Quora had to say about the bad Korean peppered throughout the movie.

The Gibberish Korean of The Interview

What the heck is “모든|,” huh?

According to Michael Han:

Most of the Korean language spoken in the movie sounded like kindergartners speaking. This is often the case with any language used by non-native speakers. There were some supporting characters whose Korean language seemed more natural, but the main characters sounded like they use English as their primary language, and do not use Korean regularly.

Here is an exhibit A: Randall Park (Kim Jong-un in the movie) says these two lines for a subtitle: “I want his severed head on my desk!”

그 새끼 대가리 원해! (geu seki daegari won-hae!)
눈 목을 거야! (noon mok-eur guh-ya!)

Literal translation:
[I] want his head!
[I] am going to eat his eyes!

“[I] want his head” sounds more natural in Korean if it’s translated, “그 새끼 대가리 가지고 와!” (geu seki daegari gajigo wa! / “Bring me his head!”) , because no native Korean speaker would write or say “won-hae” (“[I] want”) in the context of the situation and the expression used.

Diana Bang mispronounces her character’s name in the beginning of the movie as Park Sook-yong and later corrects it to Park Sook-young.  Sook-yong being more of a guy’s name and Sook-young being the correct girl’s name (the Chinese character “龍,” pronounced yong meaning “dragon” and the Chinese character “荣,”pronounced young means “glory”).

The Gibberish Korean of The Interview

받아막다 means “confront (or ram on) to block,” instead it should say 정지 or “Stop” like:

Photos from Kotaku, via YTN or Wikimedia Commons.

A Discussion on Political Satire

Tina Fey was asked about the killing at ‘Charlie Hebdo’, and her answers made headline news.

What resonated with me in particular (and not for the reasons you might think) was:

But … we’re Americans. … Even if it’s just dumb jokes in The Interview, we have the right to make them.

So ronery with my views

So Ronery with my views

My disclaimer is:

1) I have not seen The Interview the film, but only the youtube clip where Kim’s head gets blown up.

2) I have skimmed through maybe a dozen Charlie Hebdo covers (Maybe 6 or so of the so-called anti-Muslim ones, and another 6 or so about Animal Rights) & I speak enough French to understand them.

OK, with that disclaimer, let me add another large one, I don’t condone the violence or the illegal hacking nor threatening (of the movie-goers)..however, I do find the tactics of the North Koreans (if they were responsible for the Sony hacking) much more palatable and laudable in some twisted sense, but that is another story.

When the Charlie Hebdo incident happened, and I skimmed through the covers, I found myself saying: “But it’s not very good, nor funny”.

My first question is: should political satire not be funny ( i.e. good)?

It’s heresy, I know, to ask this (all my friends in and out of France and in and out of the media business are changing their FB profile to “Je suis Charlie”) but why risk so much for such mediocre material? I found it offensive – the cartoons (a couple of them) and I am not even Muslim. And from what little I know, The Interview also looks to be a terrible film. So when Tina Fey made that remark “Even if it’s just dumb jokes in The Interview,” that bit resonated with me.

For example, my brand of humor is:

Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear and Sacha Baron Cohen. Clarkson, in particular, has not lost any support on his home turf, because he is always offending some country or some people. I still find the British “rah-rah” insensitivity a good antidote to the politically-correct-gone-overboard antics of other countries.

A skew-related subject is a film I recently watched at the cinema called Interstellar. I absolutely hated it, but virtually everybody I knew liked it, and kept saying “it’s a film, it doesn’t have to be all scientifically feasible”…they were missing the point, I wasn’t objecting to the science, I was just objecting to how crap it was – the story line and the actors.

My second question is when is it OK to make fun of people and what is free speech really?

For example, in South Korea, back during the election campaign various “street-artists” were being questioned for putting up posters depicting (President) Park as Snow White eating an apple which had her father on it. They were detained and “investigated” for breaching various rules including breaking into a building (to spray the pictures onto the street from the rooftop?) I also vaguely remember the authorities not happy with mice pictures of LMB. However, South Korea is spraying propaganda leaflets still in North Korea and the North are unhappy about that. I object to spraying any material that might litter (as anybody who lived in Seoul will know) Also, on the South Korean television we hardly have *any* political comedy nowadays. I really doubt that Japan and Korea (and definitely not China) have the same notion of “true freedom of speech and expression” as in the West. Their comedy is still shite. Why can we not have our own John Stewart or John Oliver in Asia? I swear, if we did, all our conflicts would disappear, because it’s just laugha-away-able – the problems we have between the neighbors.

Back to the topic, leading up to the Second World War, there were a lot of propaganda material against the Jewish people, depicting them as large-nosed money grabbing monsters. How is that much different from what Charlie Hebdo was doing in that it is targeting a minority in a country, and not the people in political power in their own country?

In a sense, Tina Fey hit another point when she mentions, how with the way we consume media, it’s not confined to the country anymore. I think political satire flourishes when the true freedom of expression is exercised, i.e. it is against the status quo, or the faction-in-control. When it starts to border on foreign policy, or minorities with less power, then is it still all-that? Or If we can classify some groups of people as violent, dangerous, but lacking in brain cells, what use is it to taunt them under the context of free speech? And not very well at that?

P.S. I also enjoyed Team America tremendously, why? because it was funny, and good.

P.P.S. Another Disclaimer: The views expressed on this post is a sketchy one in more than one sense of the word, and does not in any way reflect the views of the blog owner who is a very coherent and reasonable person.

Photo from morethings.com.

The USFK’s official drag queen show

War is Boring is one of my favorite (and perhaps Mr. Koehler’s as well) non-Korean related blogs.  They don’t mention Korea often, but sometimes they do.  Their latest blog post  that kind of mentions Korea, albeit in passing, is the U.S. Army’s only officially sanctioned drag queen show.

Yes, it happened in 1946 when American troops stationed in Europe and Japan had plenty of local diversions and attention from the USO to keep them entertained.  Post colonial Korea?  Not so much.  How did you keep men of the 7th Infantry Division stationed in Korea entertained, distracted and free from trouble from the local populace?  You dress a few men as women and put on burlesque shows.

Photo by Blue Delliquanti.

Japanese-Korean potato chips latest peninsular addiction

Say hello to the 허니버터칩 (“Honey Butter Chip”), the latest snack addiction in Korea.  Made by the Haitai-Calbee joint venture (Haitai the Korean company and Calbee the Japanese company), they have taken the peninsula by storm.

(Image from JoongAng Ilbo – what the heck is the Eiffel Tower doing in there?)

The chip has sold out in many places,  stores are only allowing one per customer, celebrities are instagraming themselves with the product.  There is of course the typical response when demand far outstrips supply:

(eBay screen capture)

(Image from Korea Times, U.S. Edition)

Yes, that’s right- price gouging.

Get your Honey Butter Chips right here folks.  Only $51.75 USD each (S&H included)!

Kim Yuna breaks-up with that hockey player dude

Yeah, what’s his name?  Ah, that’s right, Kim Won-jung.

Kim Yuna, Kim Won-jung (Newsis)

(Photo from Korea Times U.S. edition)

Kim Yuna finally took the advice of all her TMH oppas and dumped Won-jung recently.

According to Korea Times:

In August, Sgt. Kim Won-jung, while serving his mandatory military service as an athlete in the military corps, made headlines when he sustained leg injuries after getting in a car accident following a visit to a [Thai] massage parlor.

Kim Won-jung’s representatives reportedly told media the separation was due to his rehabilitation treatment and differences in personality

“Topless” and “bottomless” pictures

The latest controversial photo in Korea has 18 modern dance students at Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, take a “topless” photograph to commemorate their graduation.

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(Image from ohfun.net)

So, what’s up with that one guy in the right corner?  What’s his story?

Meanwhile, in ‘Murica:

(Image from NY Daily News)

What is it?  Oh, just attention whore celebrity Kim Kardashian and her technologically enhanced butt out there to “break the internet.”

Is it sexy, funny, over-the-top?  Regardless, the internetz, armed with an iconic image, is rather creative at making hilarious fun out of it.

Are South Koreans ignorant?

Ipsos Mori, a U.K. market research company has come up with an “ignorance” index of the world’s 14 most developed countries.  In defining “ignorance” Ipsos came up with nine questions about the 14 countries in the survey and asked an appropriate sample size of citizens of each country the nine questions about their respective country.

The results?

Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception: Index of Ignorance

(Image from Ipsos)

The questions were basic social facts about each country such as the rate of teen births, people over the age of 65, immigration rates, life expectancy, etc.  I took the test (available here) for both the U.S. and South Korean and I got a seven and eight out of nine questions right, respectively.

Japan (number 12) appears to blow Korea out of the water here.  Italy isn’t that surprising.  The U.S. at number two isn’t terribly surprising either, unfortunately.  Sweden, as usual in these type of indexes, outperforms.

Kansas City’s Korean good luck charm

The Irish have the Blarney Stone, the Chinese rub Buddha’s belly and the Kansas City Royals have Lee Sung-woo.

They have who, what, huh?

Okay, so the story goes that in the middle of the American major league baseball season the Kansas City Royals were just an average team in a small market with average talent, having yet another ho-hum average season in their bland 45 year history (playoff-less in the last 28 of those 45 years).  That was until a foreigner named Sung-woo Lee from far away South Korea came on the scene.  Through social media, Sung-woo was a regular fixture on Royals’ fan sites and blogs and exhorted Royals’ fans to persevere, which helped to inject much needed enthusiasm into the traditional fan base.  Interestingly enough, Sung-woo’s online participation started as an attempt to learn English by consistently conversing with American baseball fans.

(Image from KMBC, Channel 9)

Native Kansas City residents were curious about this Asian man from a far away country and his interest in their local team.  Usually, when a foreigner is interested in an American baseball team, it’s usually a team from one of the bigger markets like the NY Yankees, LA Dodgers or Seattle Mariners, etc.  But Kansas City?  As a Midwestern town they are not close to Asia or Europe and the “city” of barely 500,000 people does not have the ritz and glamour of a New York or Los Angeles.

But a committed fan Sung-woo appeared to be.  He even came to Kansas City in August of this year for a 10 day stay.  Locals gave him a hero’s welcome, rolled out the red carpet and showered him with Midwestern hospitality.  They named a hot dog in his honor and even had him throw the first pitch in a game against the A’s.  But the real news is what happened to the team during his little Kansas City vacation: an eight game winning streak that put them in the wild card hunt.  The New York Post called this the baseball “feel good” story of the year.  Locals call him the “superfan.”   NPR said he’s spread “Korean pixie dust” on the team.  Korea Times US Edition called it “Korean Karma.”  KMBC channel 9 reporter Kris Ketz simply called Sung-woo their “good luck charm.”

American baseball is a notoriously superstitious sport.  The 2002 Angels had the rally monkey, which some believe helped propel a pretty average talent wise team all the way to winning the World Series.  Well, not to say that a man and a monkey are the same thing, but it appears the good luck charm thing is happening again this year and this time it could very well be the Royals who benefit.  They swept the Baltimore Orioles for the AL Championship yesterday and will either play the Giants or Cardinals for the MLB World Series.

Photo of the Day: My, those are some nice waegook-in (외국인) bosoms there, huh Rep. Kwon?

A ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker caught looking at a sexy picture during a National Assembly audit.

(Image from KoreaBANG)

Saenuri lawmaker Rep. Kwon Seong-dong using company time and bandwidth to explore extracurricular pursuits.

UPDATE

Well, well, what do we have here?  A larger version of the picture that the Honorable Rep. Kwon was so intently staring at?

(Image from Seoul Shimbun)

Why, say hello to September 2011 Playboy Playmate of the Month Tiffany Toth.

NSFW here.