All hail the idiot box


The medium is the message

“I want to watch a moooovie…” That’s become the near-daily mantra my son repeats as soon as he wakes up and right before going to bed. Power Rangers, Little Einsteins, Caillou… in truth it could probably be anything and he’d likely turn to stone in front of the glowing screen.

Which is great for me on a weekday at 7pm, dead tired and looking to tune out alongside him. But there’s no denying that he’s grown addicted to the TV, and while we’ve managed to curb his watching time to just a couple of hours per day the box’s presence, even when off, is magnetic.

Which is what drew me to this article from Foreign Policy. Living in one of the world’s most high-tech societies I naturally assumed that the revolution would indeed not be televised but rather Tweeted or Twittered or thumbed across the digital ether. Hard to believe the ol’ boob tube still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

According to the author, televsion programming could help to create

a world more equal for women, healthier, better governed, more united in response to global tragedy, and more likely to vote for local versions of American Idol than shoot at people.

Where’s that damn remote? In cities, towns and villages — even where there is no electricity — around the globe humans gather around their TVs like moths to a flame. One Indian lawmaker even encouraged residents to watch more so as to lower the country’s birthrate.

In olden days people had no other entertainment but sex, which is why they produced so many children…  it is important that there is electricity in every village so that people watch TV till late in the night. By the time the serials are over, they’ll be too tired to have sex and will fall asleep.

I guess it beats forced sterilisations, but with Baywatch the biggest television series ever with an estimated audience of 1 billion I have to wonder…

Television programming here in Korea is huge. I remember stepping into a local bunsikjeom (Korean style greasy spoon) for dinner once. Across from me sat these two leathery old men, chewing on raw chilie peppers, downing soju by the bottle and arguing with the waitress about who would marry who on the local soap opera playing on the screen above. Weird.

But then again, former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun reportedly gave his North Korean counterpart a box set of the drama Jewel in the Palace during his 2007 summit in Pyongyang.

Russian-born Korea scholar Andrei Lanov has long been trumpeting the use of DVDs and similar means to bring news of the outside world to North Koreans starved by their government’s self-imposed isolation.

Rumors of South Korean prosperity have begun to spread, assisted by popular smuggled DVDs of South Korean movies. The world’s most perfect Stalinist regime is starting to disintegrate from below.

According to Lankov, DVD technology is perfectly suited to the North Korean case given the relative affordabilty of players and discs. And while radios have their place in delivering subversive information, images showing the propserity of Seoul and surrounding areas  make it hard to swallow the line that the South is a bastion of poverty and misery.


Language of the gun

With regard to the shooting in LA, as well as an earlier rampage in New York, the following I think really goes beyond the ususal suspects of the media or simple insanity in exploring how a person – an immigrant in both these cases – becomes a cold-blooded killer.

Read the full article here:

Whenever a minority commits a heinous crime, it seems to beckon us in the media to search beyond an individual motive for a cultural one. We saw it in the case of Cho Sung-hui of Virginia tech, and now, in the latest case involving Jiverly Linh Phat Wong — (or Voong). He blocked the back exit of a civic community center in Binghamton, N.Y., where immigrants had gathered to learn English and shot 13 people to death before killing himself.

It is a habit of “finding the ethnic angle” that is endemic in the work of American journalists in an age of cultural diversity, and in order to sound credible, we often ask so-called experts to give their insights.

Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University and an expert on mass murderers, offered his take. “He was going to take his life, but first he was going to get even,” Levin said the day after the Binghamton incident. “He was going to get sweet revenge against the other immigrants who had looked down upon him, among whom he had lost face. To him, that was an extremely important thing.”

The keywords here are “revenge” and “lose face.” Those are the popular terms we in the media like to throw around when we think of the inscrutable Asians. To use them well is to impress the Early Show, whose anchors were easily impressed.

Today in Korean history

The Independent

The Independent

Some intersting media related historical tid-bits.

1896 — Korea’s first Korean-language newspaper, the Dongnip Shinmun, publishes its first edition in Seoul. The four-page newspaper, funded by the government and produced by Seo Jae-pil, an official educated in Japan and the United States, was aimed at reaching the general public by publishing in the vernacular as opposed to the more tradional Chinese script.

Seo promoted the introduction of modern culture from Japan and Western countries, but soon faced criticism from conservatives who opposed the influx of foreign culture through the newspaper. He returned to the U.S. in 1898 and the newspaper was closed a year later.

1957 — The Korea News Editors’ Association is established in Seoul, setting a code of ethics for journalists.

S. Korea beats China to the punch in limiting Internet free-speech

The Washington Post cites an article in the Hankyoreh about Google’s plans to accept South Korea’s real name system for Internet users.

If Google complies, it would mark the first time that the company has required visitors to its sites to enter such information, and it could set a precedent for how Google reacts in other countries when its services clash with local laws.

Gusts of Popular Feeling provides a detailed and  insigtful look at the evolution of the real name system and how it gained traction after someone’s dog took a crap on the subway.

Taking Kim Yu-na’s name in vain

The Korea Herald reports that fans of Kim Yu-na are in an uproar over certain political and academic institutions trying to cash in on the Kim Yu-na name, or face in this case.

Here’s an image of a member of the ruling GNP, with the caption that reads something like:  following Kim Yu-na’s lead to “conquer the world.”

Skating to conquer the world

Skating to conquer the world

One fan writes: “Kim Yu-na is our national treasure. For these GNP politicians to paste their images next to Yu-na for political gain is visually improper.”

Right, and there’s nothing wrong with the ENTIRE NATION cashing in on her success. Seems a little twisted to me, the way she’s become this exemplar for the country. Corporations, universities, political parties, they’re all cashing in on her achievements.

She seems to be taking it all in stride, but to carry the weight of an entire nation on your shoulders. That’s got to be a lot of pressure, and I wonder whether it’s fair to put that on her. She’s not even a person anymore, she’s a brand to be marketed, whether by companies looking to make a profit or a country looking to polish its image.

On the border

Descriptive article in the LA Times about conditions around the North Korea-China border where the two American journalists were taken some weeks back. A couple of sections that I found particulalry interesting for their graphic descritpitions of the border area:

On their side of the border, North Korean soldiers stand watch, sheltered in concrete pillboxes spaced about half a mile apart. On the Chinese side, a military jeep runs every 20 minutes or so along the road parallel to the river. At some shallower stretches, there is a wire fence that was erected last year before the Beijing Olympics.

It looks like it would take little more than a pair of cheap wire cutters to get through. […]

Smugglers bring counterfeit currency and drugs out of North Korea, returning with foreign DVDs and radios. Missionaries flock here to console and convert newly arrived North Korean defectors. Human traffickers bring out young women to match up with lonely Chinese bachelors.

The final section on the author’s encounter with a North Korean border guard makes these boogeymen seem more like slightly naive bumpkins instead of the menacing shadows one imagines them to be. I suppose for defectors that is exactly what they are though.

VOA finds voice with 2MB

An Associated Press story notes that Voice of America has been granted permission by the Lee Myung-bak administration to broadcast into North Korea from transmitters in the South for the first time in three decades.

That makes the signal much clearer than VOA’s long-running shortwave broadcasts from far-flung stations in the Philippines, Thailand and the South Pacific island of Saipan. Moreover, it’s an AM signal, so listening in doesn’t require a shortwave radio.

“Radio can play a big role in changing people,” said Kim Dae-sung, who fled the North in 2000 and is now a reporter at Free North Korea Radio, a shortwave radio broadcaster in Seoul. “Even if it’s simply news, it’s something that North Koreans have never heard of.”

Analysts say the North will see this as further proof the Lee is in bed with foreign powers and bent on its destruction. I’ve also heard a lot of criticism of VOA – very right of center – and I’m not keen on the whole religious aspect what with them sharing an agreement with a Christian organization to transmit the signal. I’ve always been skeptical of pushing religion on North Koreans as it seems the last thing they need is more dogma. I know church groups have done a lot of good, and I’m not ragging on that. But if you want to help these folks – ie defectors and those still in the North – then help then find their own way without cramming another belief system down their throat. Lord knows they’ve had enough of that.

Other choice tidbits from the article:

The broadcast is mainly news, with a focus on North Korea, such as its ongoing nuclear standoff with the United States and other nations.

South Korea prohibited VOA from broadcasting from its soil for carrying a 1973 report on the kidnapping of Kim Dae-jung, then a leading South Korean dissident. The authoritarian Seoul government at the time is widely believed to have been behind the abduction.

Read the rest here.