The always informative and never ridiculous beacon of global journalistic excellence, the Korea Times, recently ran a piece entitled ‘Gay hating lawmakers; slut-shaming ‘Slutwalk’‘. The article (for want of a better word) treated this avid KT reader to levels of nuance and subtlety usually only reserved for stories with titles like ‘Gay hating lawmakers; slut-shaming ‘Slutwalk”, commencing with the photo caption directly beneath which reads, ‘Saenuri Party’s Hwang Woo-yea, left, and Democratic Party’s Kim Jin-pyo lead a list of anti-gay bigots at the National Assembly.’
Tone suitably set, the piece goes on to suggest that Korea’s “social backwardness” has “hit a new low, thanks to some lawmakers from left and right united in their passion to spread homophobic hatred”.
Apparently, ‘socially backward’ governing party lawmaker Hwang Woo-yea (you can’t go wrong with a name like Woo-yea(h)!) demanded at the recent news conference/National Assembly Morning Prayer Meeting (!?) that high school text books be immediately corrected because they are encouraging gay sex. Mr Hwang went on to insist that the textbooks be more “balanced”, and should argue that homosexuality is immoral, and that they should explain why gay people live “unhappy” lives.
“The current textbooks are teaching distorted ethical values to students and increasing the possibility that they become homosexuals”, Mr Hwang was quoted as saying.
“Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up (unless you work for the onion),” Korea Times Editor of Culture and Sports, Kim Tong-hyung was quoted as writing… trying his hand at an op-ed and sensibly running it in the ‘Culture’ section of the esteemed daily.
Regarding tolerance of minority groups, such as the increasingly existent LGBT community, the Koreans certainly have come a long way in the last decade or so (though today some citizens of the Land of Implausible Deniability continue to proudly declare that their country is uniquely ‘free of homosexuality’).
A recent poll suggests that South Koreans are indeed warming to homosexuality, as it were, declaring that the number of Koreans in agreement with the statement ‘homosexuality should be accepted by society’ has more than doubled in just the last six years! That number now stands at a whopping 39% (which perhaps speaks more about the nation’s rampantly overt homophobia pre-2007 than anything else).
Yep, The Times sure are a-changin’ (considering Korea’s strict and unusual libel laws which protect the rich and powerful from getting their important feelings hurt and apparently also from any moral or legal accountability whatsoever). I personally don’t remember seeing any newspaper articles like this a few years back.
After all, it was only four years ago that Michael Breen, respected English writer and journalist, and long time watcher of things Korean penned a satirical Christmas column for the Korea Times. In it, Mr Breen poked a bit of fun at then president Lee Myung Bak, the world’s most influential person Rain (???) and couple of South Korean business people, drawing the ire of a wholesome little family operated local business known as Samsung. On December 29, 2009, the same day Samsung CEO Lee Kun-hee received his second presidential pardon, for tax evasion (the earlier pardon had exonerated him of having bribed former sitting presidents), lawyers representing the Republic of Samsung sued both Mr Breen and the Korea Times, basically for mentioning anything about it.
Eventually apologies were made, and Samsung (whose revenues equal a mere 17% of South Korea’s entire GDP) benevolently spared Mr Breen his life, and also allowed a grateful Korea Times to continue pushing its barrow indefinitely.
Perhaps the moral to this story, if there is one, is that members of Korea’s increasingly free society are learning that they can express their voices and opinions in ways considered unimaginable in the past. Even elected officials are now considered fair game, and without reprisal… just don’t fuck with Samsung.