Same vibes

Trust me, I’m a doctor. [2]

Yes, this post is about that WSJ op-ed. Since its publication about 30 hours ago, it has kept turning up in my Twitter timeline, like a bad penny. I must have seen it at least 100 times. I guess this tells me a lot about the skewed composition of my social media bubbles. Anyway, I enjoy self-deprecating jokes, and I even have a collection of ‘not-a-real-doctor’ routines, but this piece grates on me on many levels.

If Dr Biden and Professor Cato have to put up with this kind of ์–ด๊ทธ๋กœ, what chance do I have? And what about those 70+ female students in my class who have just embarked on their journey to become a Doctor of Philosophy?

I don’t think I have met a Joseph Epstein myself (yet), but I have noticed something along the way. Those who have told me that they are not precious about their titles are all men and those who have suggested that I should put mine explicitly in my email signature and PowerPoint slides are all women. A tiny sample obviously, but no exception so far. Once I have realised this pattern, I find myself thinking about it regularly.

L’enfer, c’est parmi nous. [3]

A colleague I admire has shared on Facebook her experience of being a recipient of corporal punishment in school in India. A lot of comments have followed, echoing the post. I haven’t chimed in myself, but I could have. After all, I am no stranger to the topic, having gone through the South Korean schooling system.

One thing, however, that seems to set my memories apart from whatโ€™s shared in the post and comments is collective punishment. Teachers set a task, where some are bound to fail, and if anyone does fail, the entire class gets punished, usually physically.

They might have thought they were raising collective-minded citizens, but in reality, they were simply programming kids to loathe the weakest link the group. I regularly think about that giant psychological experiment we were subjected to, how the practice still prevails in schools and military bases, and how it has shaped Korean society as it is.

Dรฉjร  vu, dรฉjร  entendu [11]

“๋„ˆ, ๊ณ ์†Œํ•  ๊ฑฐ์•ผ” ์ด๋ณ„ ์—ฌ์„ฑ ํ˜‘๋ฐ•๋„๊ตฌ๋กœ ์•…์šฉ๋˜๋Š” ๋‚™ํƒœ์ฃ„ (์ด์ง€ํ›ˆ et al., ๋™์•„์ผ๋ณด, 27 November 2017)

Emigrants called #HometoVote in abortion referendum (Ciara Kenny, The Irish Times, 8 February 2018)

Poland abortion: Protests against bill imposing new limits (BBC News, 26 March 2018)

๋‚™ํƒœ๊ฐ€ ์ฃ„๋ผ๋ฉด, ๊ทธ ๋ฒ”์ธ์€ ๊ตญ๊ฐ€์ž…๋‹ˆ๋‹ค (ํ•œ๊ตญ์—ฌ์„ฑ๋ฏผ์šฐํšŒ, OhmyNews, 17 August 2018)

‘๊ณต๋ฒ”’์ธ ๋‚จ์„ฑ์˜ ์ฑ…์ž„์€ ์–ด๋””์—๋„ ์—†๋‹ค… ๋‚™ํƒœ์ฃ„๋ฅผ ํ์ง€ํ•˜๋ผ (์ด์ง„์†ก, ๊ฒฝํ–ฅ์‹ ๋ฌธ, 9 September 2020; see in conjunction with RT @allyjung It’s official: South Korea will abandon its 66-year-long ban on abortion as the Constitutional Court ruled today the criminal laws banning abortion unconstitutional, saying the laws “excessively infringe upon women’s rights to choose.” It means S.Korean MPs will have to revise the current criminal laws on abortion by December 2020, after which the laws will no longer be effective automatically. [โ€ฆ] (11 April 2019).)

All abortion bans are about controlling women (Denise Maes, Colorado Politics, 2 October 2020)

For future archaeologists [2]

Greater than the sum of one’s many selves [3]

If youย are a teacher and looking for a real-life vignette for your class on the messy intersections of identities, here is one for you.


— A bunch of high school boys in Uijeongbu, South Korea, did a blackface parody for their graduation photoshoot. [Pictures in question can be seen in this news article among many others.]

— Sam Okyere, a Ghanaian TV personality in Korea, spoke up against it, both in Korean and in English, on his Instagram on 6 August. [The full text of his post, now deleted, has been reported here.]

— Having met with an extremely hostile backlash, in the news media and social media alike, Okyere ended up publicly apologising (!) for any offence (!!) he had unintentionally caused, on 7 August. [The apology post has been captured here and his first offline appearance since here.]

This microcosmic incident of racism in Korea (or as some call it K-racism) offers many additional layers for you, the teacher, to throw in for further discussion.

— The graduation photos of Uijeongbu High School, where students dress as individuals representing the news of that year, has become a much-anticipated annual event for a broader online audience and the stakes are higher year on year. The school publishes those photos on its Facebook and YouTube pages.

— This is not the first time its students wore blackface.

— While students of this all-boy high school in Gyeonggi Province have been celebrated for their wit and creativity, students of Jakjeon Girls’ High School were trolled and sexually harassed when their costume pictures of similar nature were shared beyond their circles of friends on Facebook in 2016.

— Okyere’s first post has attracted a variety of criticisms and hatred remarks, each of which chose to focus on certain aspects of his identity at the expense of other aspects. For example:

  • Those students are minors and he is an adult. Some argue that by re-posting their pictures and making a serious allegation of racism, he violated their privacy and placed them in potential harm.
  • He has on air made racist and sexist comments himself before.
  • He first came to the country on a Korean government scholarship and he makes a living in Korean showbiz.
  • Some, including a journalist, claim that he adopts a different ‘tone‘ when he posts in Korean and in English.

— His apology post has also attracted a wide array of responses.

  • Some sympathise with him, pushing new hashtags: #I_Stand_with_Sam_Okyere and #๋‚˜๋Š”_์ƒ˜_์˜ค์ทจ๋ฆฌ์™€_์—ฐ๋Œ€ํ•ฉ๋‹ˆ๋‹ค.
  • Some argue that blackface cannot be construed as a racist act in Korea where it is ‘imported’ without its historical and political context.
  • Some Black observers, seemingly outside Korea, have expressed their disappointment in Okyere’s backing down.
  • Some believe that the Uijeongbu students are in the clear since Benjamin Aidoo from the Ghana Dancing Pallbearers, the actual person that the boys parodied, implicitly approved it on his Instagram.

— In the meantime, educators on the ground see this as a confirmation of their long-held suspicion that the country’s curriculum is failing to prepare the next generation of global citizens. [An e-petition calling for an improved curriculum can be found here.]

— On 10 August, students of another high school in Chungnam province reportedly wore the same blackface make-up and coffin dance costume and posted pictures on social media, with Sam Okyere’s name as a hashtag.

—ย Deeper, more reflective articles on racism have started emerging, such as this.

— His own interview with BBC here.

— Okyere’s professional life has been affected adversely.

The message is loud and clear.

I started this post, under the title above, on Monday (6th), but couldn’t bring myself through it. Then the week has taken more unbelievable turns since, and the post was going to end up in the forever-draft folder. That’s when I spotted that someone had just done the job for me.

RT @oldtype 1. South Korean liberals have a problem with normalizing sexual violence. A thread. (11 June 2020)

2. Actually, disclaimer before the thread. I am in no way implying that South Korean conservatives do not have a problem with normalizing sexual violence. But they’re also irrelevant. So I don’t write about them.

3. In 2018, poet/activist Ko Eun was accused of gross sexual misconduct spanning decades That July, he filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit against his accuser with Duksu, a prestigious public interest law firm known for its constitutional litigation championing liberal causes.

4. Duksu representing a credibly-accused sexual predator in a retaliatory civil suit against his accuser was odd, to say the least. While the lawsuit was being argued, Lee Suk-Tae, Deoksoo’s managing partner, was nominated by President Moon to sit on the Constitutional Court.

5. Also in 2018, former presidential hopeful Ahn Hee-Jeong was found to have sexually assaulted a staff member at least 4 times. In 2019 Ahn was convicted and sentenced to 42 months in prison. Recently, he was released on furlough to attend his mother’s funeral.

6. The funeral was attended by prominent ruling-party politicians, including likely 2022 nominee Lee Nak-yeon. But most notable were the flowers sent by President Moon, showing beyond a doubt that the liberal establishment still stood with Ahn.

7. This April, Pusan mayor Oh Keo-Don resigned after admitting to sexually abusing an employee days before the April 15 general election. Later, it emerged that Oh had signed a contact with the victim agreeing to resign in exchange for her keeping quiet until after the election.

8. After Oh’s resignation, it emerged that his problematic behavior had been an open secret. But for nearly 2 years, nobody intervened. Here’s a photo of him at an office dinner in 2018. Notice how he’s seated himself next to what appears to be the only three women in the photo.

9. 2 days ago, Seoul mayor Park Won-Soon was found dead. He was reportedly facing a criminal complaint for sexual harassment. While Park hasn’t been found guilty (and never will be now), you’d imagine the political reaction would be cautious given the allegations. It isn’t.

10. Park is being feted with a lavish five-day funeral held by the City of Seoul. All the same people who attended Ahn’s mother’s funeral (and more) are at Park’s. And they are waxing lyrical about his accomplishments as if the allegations never happened.

11. Minjoo Party chair Lee Hae Chan lashed out at a journalist when asked about the allegations, using profanity and saying the questioner had “no manners”. The President’s flowers, already in the public eye due to Ahn, are prominently placed here as well.

12. The Minjoo Party has not expressed any intention of conducting an independent investigation of the allegations against Park — which will remain forever unsubstantiated due to his death. They haven’t made any effort to stop internet trolls from doxing and harassing his accuser.

13. As a Korean man myself, I understand this, to a degree. Korean liberal politics is a tight fraternity. A lot of these people literally went through hell together in the 80s. I understand that it’s difficult to abandon your friends, even when they’ve done horrible things.

14. But these aren’t would-be revolutionaries hammering soju shots in a basement anymore. They are the most powerful men in Korea. Their refusal to speak out firmly against those in their ranks who commit sexual crimes perpetuates social attitudes that see those crimes as trivial.

15. Liberal politicos in Korea don’t have a monopoly on retrograde attitudes about sexual crimes, but they do have a monopoly on power. With that power comes a responsibility to set a better example. But if anything, they’re lagging behind their constituents.

16. Once or twice is an unfortunate mistake. This is a pattern. Between Ahn, Park, and the non-extradition of Son Jung-Woo, I can’t imagine how difficult of a week this has been for Korean women. /end

Metaphors we live by [3]

Came across, via @natasha_pulley, a remarkably thought-provoking interview with @Glamrou — especially 15:55 into the video where they were discussing “heteronormative Newtonian physics” versus quantum physics.

Unsurprisingly, the analogy has unleashed heated debates, mostly among people who are ‘doing’ quantum physics, below the line. Needless to say, my understanding of quantum physics is limited, but I am surprised that some seem more upset thinking that the interviewee has ‘defiled’ science with metaphorical language. And here I always thought mathematics and physics were born out of philosophy…

Anyway, seeing the Twitter debates reminds me of the following books.

In the meantime, I am also putting one more article up here in order for myself not to get carried away whenever anyone says a metaphor.

Blast from the past [3]

Came across this thread and memories flooded back.

RT @AskAKorean I’ve been pushing the “S Korean politics is a five year preview of the US politics,” but even I could have never imagined that US politics will follow S Korea’s “Kpop-ization of politics” trend. (21 June 2020)

Some pointers for the K Street types who are just waking up to this phenomenon:

The right way of thinking about “K-pop fandom” as applied to politics is “a mode of organization.” At least in this context, don’t get distracted by music, but focus on how K-pop fans organize.

K-pop fans gather online, around a shared interest over an idol star. Their organization is decentralized – there is no clear leadership or hierarchy, but they nonetheless coordinate smoothly to create high impact events both online and offline.

In Korea, this organizational behavior seeped into political organization. A politician plays the role of an “idol star”, and a “fandom” coalesces around him/her. This fandom has no discernible leadership, but will organize massive actions in favor of their “star.”

This may seem like a cult of personality, but it is not. The fans are not supporting the star just because they like the star. It’s more precise to say the fans are attracted to the star’s “narrative”, within which they play an active role. This is a crucial point to understand.

Consider BTS and ARMY, the most successful K-pop act and its fandom. ARMY doesn’t support BTS simply because they think BTS members are handsome or they like BTS’s music, although those are often necessary conditions for a fandom.

Ultimately, ARMY supports BTS because ARMY consider themselves to be a part of the “story of BTS”. To push the group from obscurity to superstardom, ARMY collectively worked to call radio stations, buy albums, reward positive coverage etc. They share the struggle with their star.

In Korean politics, Moon Jae-in has been a direct beneficiary of this type of fandom. Moon’s life story resonates: child of a refugee, former paratrooper, democracy activist, closest friend of a former president who tragically committed suicide. It’s a good narrative to join.

A politician gaining fandom based on a good life story is nothing new. What is new, however, is how that fandom behaves – this is what I mean by “Kpop-ization of politics.” Again, you have to think of K-pop fandom as a mode of organization.

Moon Jae-in’s fandom behaves very similarly to a K-pop fandom. They have nicknames for themselves – alternately Moonpa, Honey Badgers, etc. They have no discernible leadership and their activities are highly decentralized. Yet they organize effortlessly for rallies, GOTV, etc.

Just as much as DC lobbyists are confused now, Moon’s fandom confused the hell out of Korea’s old politicos. They were convinced that Moon must be secretly spending enormous amount of money to bribe them, for example, or an underground communist network was coordinating action.

Moon didn’t exactly plan for this; it’s more correct to say he stumbled upon it, but managed it well enough to carry him to presidency. But having seen the power of this, S Korea’s politicians now all try to recapture this magic somehow.

This, too, is an aspect of the Kpop-ization of politics – lots of idol groups (aspiring politicians) show up and they all try to drum up some kind of fandom. A lot of it feels awkward and forced. In the end, only a few emerge with a genuine group of fans.

I wrote my PhD thesis on Nosamo, the grandfather of digitally mediated political fandom we are seeing in Korea today. I would add some nuances to the remarks about the decentralised, self-organising character of Korean fandom, but otherwise I think the author is spot-on, especially about how and to what extent it differs from a cult of personality.

Has the game changed? [4]

How to safely and ethically film police misconduct (Palika Makam, Teen Vogue, 1 June 2020)

The title, the topic, the source, … everything about this article is telling us that the game has indeed changed. Pics or it didn’t happen, but can we trust the pics?

See also:

—ย Filming and photographing the police (ACLU)

—ย Fact check: Ordinance makes it illegal to record Tucson police in Arizona within a “restricted area” (Reuters, 12 June 2020)

—ย The Whistle (led by Ella McPherson)

—ย Witnessing the rawness of a tragedy [2] (@yawningtree, 7 July 2016)

—ย Activists are using traffic cameras to track police brutality (Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice, 15 June 2020)

—ย If I go to a protest, what kinds of personal information might police collect about me? (Lauren Kirchner, The Markup, 16 June 2020)