The Log Jammed in your Democracy

Rat King

Matthew 7:3, And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The US has always prided itself as a champion of democracy. Americans are not shy with hyperbole. “The US is the greatest country in the world.” President Ronald Reagan called the country “the shining city on a hill.” Just last week, I kept hearing that the US Senate was “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” There are several reasons for Americans to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries outside of their own global interests, with the most noble being to spread democracy and uphold the rights of the locals being abused by a tyrannical rule. Sure, the Bush administration lied about the existence of WMDs, but the invasion of Iraq was also sold as liberating its people. This is why the toppling of the Saddam’s statue was such a monumental image at the time. The Americans were being “greeted as liberators.”

This same promotion of democracy was the reason for getting involved in Iran, the Philippines, South Korea, El Salvador, Vietnam, Libya, etc. Of course there are different geopolitical self-interests in each theater, but the most prevalent way of selling intervention is the promotion of democracy and that the Americans are doing it for the good of the locals in the long run.

Spread democracy, sure. Ironically, the same senate that calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has stalled hundreds of bills passed by the House and simply gave Donald Trump a free pass after an absolute sham trial with no witnesses. It has given Donald Trump, a failed casino owner and an admitted sexual predator, freedom to commit crimes and be an unchecked dictator. When Robert Mueller decided not to definitive state whether Donald Trump committed a crime, Donald Trump immediately started to extort Ukraine to cheat on the 2020 elections. And now when the US Senate decided no to indict Trump for extorting Ukraine and trying to cheat on the 2020 elections, Trump immediately begins exacting revenge on witnesses who decided not to participate in his cover-up. He also orders the Attorney General to pressure the justice department to be lenient to his conspirators.

The US president holds full control over the Senate, a body made conservative due to a heavily gerrymandered process. He control the justice system with an Attorney General who will nakedly do his bidding for him and a stacked Supreme Court with two conservative judges brought in under very questionable circumstances. And right now, the Democrats on the House are too slow to act and to weak to boldly counter the President’s criminal actions. They’re also too busy attacking their own and propping up Pete Buttigieg, an ex-mayor with very little experience but comes with heavy corporate backing. It’s almost like they want Trump to win in 2020.

Donald Trump attacking witnesses and nakedly trying to help his lackeys a few days after not being indicted is a sign of unaccountable abuse of power. And who could blame him? He has never once shown any sign of restraint, ethics, or grace. He has never shown any sign of learning any lesson or demonstrated contrition. His behavior will only get worse until he finally makes true on his previous boast of being able to shoot someone on broad daylight in the middle on Fifth Avenue. Cowardly and corrupt Republicans as well as the weak and feckless Democrats allowed this to happen. This past week, we witnessed the full realization of a dictator ruling over the shining city on a hill. Even Jesse Watters, a conservative talking head, could plainly see it, “It’s fun living in a banana republic, isn’t it guys?”

A political commentator asked, “We saw what happened when South Korea’s Democratic Republic was threatened. We saw what happened when Hong Kong’s Democracy was threatened. What will we do?

The Americans will do nothing. Americans don’t have the patience or the attention span to do what the Koreans did or what the courageous students in Hong Kong are continuing to do. Koreans were able to oust their corrupt leader in less than a year. It took a long time to get through the Ukraine scandal and even longer for the Mueller investigation… and yet Trump is unscathed and currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The march towards November is long and sad, and if things continue the way they do, we will see four more years or more of Trump being the first American dictator. I love the law. I love the study of law. It hurts to see the rule of law being ignored completely and have a country which models itself a champion of democracy devolve into a cheap criminal enterprise.

Maybe before the US gets more involved in conflicts overseas in order to spread democracy, it should try to fix its own democracy first.

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White Male Bubble in Asia

Multitask

A friend of mine in Canada was telling me about her co-worker who was being rather stubborn and insensitive regarding race relations in the office. When he was confronted about this, his defense was he lived in Asia for a couple of years and is therefore sensitive to the plight of minorities since he was fully immersed living in Korea. This is bullshit, folks.

I’ve been living in Seoul for many years now. Pardon the generalization, but I can definitely say that white people, and white men in particular, live in a privileged bubble in Asia. It is not uncommon to hear white, male expats complain about racism and xenophobia after experiencing the most minor slights or inconvenience. You would think that you’re listening to Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They ignore the fact that besides the occasional racism and xenophobia when living in another country, doors are opened to them solely by being white in Asia. The most mediocre white man from Scottsbluff, Nebraska has an edge over the populace and even other expats of color simply by the color of his skin. He is seen as more knowledgeable, more experienced/adventurous, and even more attractive. Just walk around tourist-heavy cities in Asia, be it Hanoi or something more metropolitan like Tokyo or Hong Kong, you’ll always spot the most mediocre white guy walking with someone who is far too young or attractive to be with him. (I know this is very judgmental…. But really…)

Of course, some people in Asia target foreigners thinking that they’re rich or they’re the key to moving to another country. White men just happen to be the most visibly western-looking compared to people of color. However, even if they’re not particularly wealthy, white men could produce mixed-race kids, and by having children who are perhaps a little lighter-skinned or western-looking, the children gain an advantage over other children. They would look like worldly children who must have some connection with the west, or children whose parents don’t have to spend to much time working under the sun. To put simply, they would look richer, a sentiment that is the result of white colonialist history.

This is not to say that this privilege is solely the domain of the white man. White women as well as other foreigners enjoy perks by living in Asia as well, but they are often burdened by other problems and stereotypes. White women and foreign women in general can be subjected to more unwanted attention (“Riding the white horse” anyone?). Women of color can be subject to negative stereotypes. I myself, being a person of color, sometimes have to unnecessarily prove my qualifications even my Canadian-ness to people, even to other Canadians! I remember one time, a friend of mine visited me from Switzerland and introduced me to another Canadian who’s only been living in the country for a year. After being gracious with dinner, as soon as I leave, the other Canadian asks my friend, “Joe’s Canadian? But really, where is he from?”

I doubt if my Canadian-ness would raise suspicions if I were white. Perhaps I sound bitter, but it doesn’t make my observations any less true. I know I live in a privileged foreign expat bubble. I enjoy it and I take full advantage if it. But white men, they live in a far different bubble, and to claim that one is fully-immersed in the culture and fully understand the feelings of minorities is pure white arrogance.

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Achoo!

Tongue

Before the long Chinese New Year weekend, I asked a coworker if he was going somewhere. He said he had plans to visit Japan. He just hoped that he won’t be encountering too many Chinese tourists because of the coronavirus which is all over the news at the moment. I shrug and nod at the thought.

After living in Korea for so many years, I could differentiate Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese by the way they look, dress, and behave, especially as tourists. Listening to that comment, it’s a bit odd to hear such casual xenophobia from coworkers, when from a western point of view, he might as well be Chinese himself. Right now, I’m seeing Chinese Canadians are reporting being stigmatized due to fear of being infected by the virus. The same goes in other parts of the world. News about French newspapers being particularly insensitive towards their Chinese populace has been going viral, no pun intended. Asians aren’t usually very loud when they suffer racism. In fact, many racist Asian tropes have been so normalized due to people suffering in silence that it takes a fair amount of time to convince them that such tropes are racist.

In any case, I think situations like these are just catalysts for internal racist attitudes to be openly vented. I was inclined to believe that racism against Chinese people overseas due to the virus was just media hype, but then again, I’ve seen people in Korea actually fearing the Chinese. Chinese students and instructors who visited China during the break are asked not to attend school for at least two weeks. Places where Chinese tourists usually crowd in the city look quite empty. I haven’t really seen this strong a reaction in people and in the media since the avian flu hit the country, not with SARS or MERS. And even with the avian flu, the only time it affected me was not being able to visit the aviary in the zoo.

Anyway, I’m not really too concerned about it at the moment. I still believe that the rate of infection and casualty is still pretty low compared to other diseases that were previously hyped up. Though the youngest casualty is 36 years young, the majority of the casualties are over 60 years old. Videos of tents and Chinese medical professionals yelling instructions in Chinese might sound scary, but I don’t think it’s too much to get into a panic over. Tents with sick people, hazmat suits, loud foreign language… these are all intimidating at a very basic level. Then you add in some communism and a distrust of the Chinese government and you have a potent mixture of irrational fear that allows you to be dumb, or at its worst, be unkind to your neighbors.

Gotta keep calm.

Just stay healthy, eat right, wash your damned hands, and be nice to Asians.

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Impeachments and Shamelessness

Circle Game

This is the second impeachment of a US president I’ve seen in my lifetime. Looking back, this is the fourth impeachment of a president I’ve witnessed or closely followed. It is interesting to see how these things result into precedents and social attitudes that will be felt for many years to come.

At the risk of aging myself, I remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton. It was an embarrassing exercise which started as a fishing expedition and concluded with hypocrites impeaching a man for essentially protecting his marriage by lying. Commentators at the time would have people believe that the Clinton saga opened a Pandora’s box in society. It brought sex… oral sex, out in the open… right into public discourse. It was blamed for young people being more promiscuous and being more open-minded regarding sexual activities outside of coitus. And of course, conservatives successfully impeaching the president and surviving their rank hypocrisy, it made hypocrisy their brand. It’s amazing that Newt Gingrich, the man who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for having an affair, was also having an affair at the time, and the woman he is having an affair with is currently the US ambassador to the Vatican… the fucking Vatican. No one bats an eye. Of course Newt Gingrich is a hypocrite… he’s a conservative politician. Now ask him questions on CNN.

A couple of years ago, they impeached and removed from office the President Park Gun Hye of South Korea. I was there for a couple of the protests. I remember being amazed at how fast the whole process was, from outrage to removal of the president. It taught Koreans that when a move becomes popular and people, especially young people get outraged enough, they could shift politics. This power of youthful outrage is similar to the umbrella movement which happened a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the conservatives in Korea are trying to copy this movement and are now regularly attracting older Koreans to come gather in the public squares formerly occupied by the protesters who ousted the former president. They have seen how outrage and continued public protests could change the country. However, what they are getting mostly senior citizens riled about are mostly empty rhetoric and fake news. The weekly weekend gatherings are now turning more and more into just weekend strolls for angry old people to aimlessly listen to slogans.

Back in 1986, there was the People Power Revolution in EDSA. The people of the Philippines were protesting the violent regime of President Marcos and electoral fraud. I remember there was martial law in the Philippines and during the protests there were talks of violence in the street or people being detained by the police for no reason. I also remember my father being pro Marcos at the time. After the ousting of Marcos, the Filipinos seemed to see EDSA, or large public protests, as an exercise or even a ceremony of public grievance after a period of putting up with traditional political corruption. I say that because after EDSA, corruption still continued in the country, a second “revolution” happened entitled “EDSA 2” which overthrew President Joseph Estrada, but again, the country still continued to have its usual problems. It’s almost like nothing was fixed. The status quo remains and only the players have changed. Look at what they have now, Duterte, a populist who encourages violence on the streets. The country is getting better economically for rich investors (especially foreign investors), but not so much for the people who elected the president, the downtrodden masses who fell in love with his macho crime-fighting lies.

Now in 2020 in the US, we’re seeing the trial of Donald Trump after his impeachment. It would seem that the only lesson we’re learning is that there is no bottom that conservatives would sink to in order to maintain their power. I’m afraid the precedent we seem to be taking away from this is that with shamelessness and a bold disregard to the truth, one could weather any evidence of wrongdoing. Believe in your “truth” and yell it out until people give up and say yes, you’re right. It’s the lessson learned from The Secret. It’s the Kim Kardashian guide to being a celebrity. It’s the Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s disgusting. It truly is disgusting what is happening right now. I really hope I’m wrong, but by looking at what happened during the first day of the impeachment trial, even with Lev Parnas speaking out and new documents being released by Mick Mulvaney, I think the winners have already been decided.

And yes, I know, I know, the Republican majority senate would not vote to convict and therefore remove Donald Trump. The only thing the Democrats could do is force the Republicans to be more brazen in their defense of criminality that it hurts them in their local elections. That, and by embracing Trump and the ridiculous arguments of the White House lawyers, it makes Trump’s eventual acquittal by the Senate a sham and invalid in the eyes of the public.

But that right there is the rub. The people in power, they don’t really care much about how they look in the eyes of the public. They don’t seem t o care how history would judge them. Let me enjoy my wealth and my power now. Forget history and my legacy. I will be long dead and gone by then.

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The Cheating is Now a Feature

Larva

It’s strange but this is the second week in a row that I’m writing about sports. Even weirder is that I’m writing about a sport I’m not particularly fond of.

My wife has been following the Dodgers for years now, ever since Ryu Hyu-jin started pitching for them and Korean networks started playing MLB, particularly Dodgers games on a regular basis. These days, as long as there is a Korean player in the team, you’re sure to find their games in Korea. Anyway, due to my wife’s fandom, I’ve watched and casually observed the Dodgers play, to which I have absorbed quite a bit of baseball knowledge by osmosis.

In 2017, the Dodgers were set to win the World Series. After missing the chance to finally win a ring for several years, I thought I was time for Kershaw to get one. I remember them looking to be the favorite to win despite the odd move of suddenly bringing outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Yu Darvish into the roster.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t win that year. Houston Astros beat them and won the World Series. There was a bit of drama during the game as well. Yuli Guriel was seen making a racist gesture in reference to Yu Darvish. He was penalized with a five-game suspension for 2018, but that racist gesture and the rather light punishment is still fresh in the memory of most Korean baseball fans. I remember feeling quite upset at Yuli Guriel. It didn’t help that he had that cocky Michael Madsen look and he peddled a BS excuse that he used to play in Japan, giving him the racist immunity idol. I felt bad for Yu Darvish, but I can’t help but blame him for the Dodgers losing the World Series that year. He seemed to be giving away the easiest throws. And despite him not delivering for the team, head coach Dave Roberts kept him on.

For over a year, I thought it was stupid to have brought Yu Darvish on. They could’ve let anyone pitch in his place and the Dodgers would’ve won the World Series.

Fast forward to 2019 and we learn that the Houston Astros were in fact cheating. They had cameras set to catch the signals of the other team. Then they would warn the batter if a fastball was coming by banging on trash cans. It was a set-up that they had in Minute Maid Park. Yu Darvish pitched for the Dodgers in 2017 in Minute Maid Park. They knew what Darvish was going to throw. The Astros were cheating. And in the process of cheating, Yuli Guriel had the grace to be racist as well.

So what happened next? After months of deliberation, the Astros’s manager and general manager were suspended for a year. The club was fined $5 million and will be deprived of their first and second round draft picks for two years. The Astros later announced that they fired their manager and general manager. No players were punished. They get to keep their championship.

This is shit.

MLB’s reason for not taking away their title was that sign stealing or predicting the pitcher’s throw was always a part of the game. The Astros used technology to give them an edge during the game but the tradition was the same. If the league was to take away their title, then it would start a cascade to other past scandals. Remember the 90s when players started to look like wrestlers and were batting home runs regularly? Also, there have been many instances of alleged sign stealing, but not as systematic as the one employed by the Astros.

This reason is also shit.

While it’s justice to fire the manager and general manager for orchestrating the cheating system, the players themselves carried out the sign stealing system. Whatever happened to sportsmanship? The players knew that they were playing with an unfair advantage. Winning and losing in baseball has consequences. It affects a player’s stats and their standings. For over a year, Yu Darvish had to suffer the blame of losing the championship for the Dodgers. He even had to change the way he pitched. Players were traded due to their performance and their bottom lines were probably affected due to losing to the Astros. The Dodgers might not even have the same line up now if they won that year. That was probably Kershaw’s closest opportunity to win that gold ring. He got robbed. People got robbed. The manager and general manager weren’t the only culprit. The whole team participated in the robbery.

That is not to say that the Astros are bad athletes. They’re world class athletes. But the fact that they needed to cheat in order to win the championship casts a dark shadow on their talent and their achievements. If I were an Astros fan, I’d probably feel pretty bad at this moment. It’s like being a Milli Vanilli fan. Yeah, maybe those guys can actually sing their songs, but it’s too late. They were caught using voice doubles. But unlike MLB, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences actually took away Milli Vanilli’s Grammy.

This sours the whole sport for me. Unfortunately, MLB is hoping that by force of habit, people will still continue to watch baseball and that this scandal will soon be forgotten. But for me, it shows an organization that is willing to allow athletes to cheat in order to become stars, and once they become stars, they can no longer be taken down. I can’t help but think of the phrases, “too big to fail” and “we don’t look backwards, we look forward.” I’m trying to think of any other sport outside of WWE that allows the game to continue despite cheating, that allows cheaters to keep their medals. But unlike WWE, MLB will still pretend to be a “real” sport and not sports entertainment. It’s disappointing. And for what? Because it’s too much of an inconvenience to look back? Too many injustices have to be corrected? If this is “America’s favorite pastime,” then it sends an awful message about what America is and its tolerance for unfair advantages.

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The Hockey Transporter

Circle Game

I haven’t been following the World Juniors much due to its awkward time in relation to Seoul, but I’ve been able to catch bits of it, especially key moments like when the Canadians first lost to the Russians with an embarrassing 6:0 right before the New Year. It was much to my sleepy delight two days ago at around 5:00 am in Seoul when the Canadians faced off against the Russians for the gold and managed to beat even after an early lead. The manner at which the Russians were beaten at the end was something else as well. At the very last minutes of the third period, the Russians were desperate to catch up to Canada that they were making crucial errors, leading to them being two men down at the end. It was our 18th gold at the World Juniors and the fifth time we bested Russia at the finals.

Overseas, when I see the Canadian hockey team beating the Russians or the Americans, it always brings me home. It’s like a magical moment that transports me back to some unknown time and place in Canada, because God knows I didn’t watch hockey with my family. The sport was just something I absorbed via osmosis and I was made aware of just like other Canadiana like ice skating, the Guess Who, and ketchup chips. They were all there. I didn’t sought them out, but living in Canada, I just happen to absorb them. Of course I watched important games back then, but I don’t particularly have any memories of family with it… just hazy memories of old furniture, cold outdoors, and Canada.

Seeing Canadian hockey is like a rush of nostalgia and patriotism all at once. There is a Canadian love affair with the sport. So much so that the Tragically Hip, one of the most important unknown Canadian musicians of all time, had two popular songs about it. And speaking of music, watching it is much like listening to a familiar tune. It’s like listening to Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ or ‘OK Computer’ and being immediately transported back to younger days along with the old angst and insecurities I used to feel.

There is glee at the prospect of victory while watching the players battle it out on the ice. It’s like being in an unfamiliar airport outside of the United States and feeling a rush of possibilities. “This could be good. This could be good.” The air smells and feels a little bit different. Things (ALL THINGS) could be better if I, or in this case, the players, play their cards right.

And sometimes the emotions turn to misplaced emotions, hate against the other team, great disappointment against the goalie who keeps letting the other team score. “C’mon! We must win, dammit!” And I get caught up in all of it. But for what? To brag against who? To win against who? No one in particular. I’m not here and I’m not now. I’m somewhere in an odd undefined Canadian space along with most people in a country I happen to not be in at the moment.

After all of that. After all of the players got their medals and skated around the ice with the tiny silver cup hoisted above their heads. After all of the commentators finish their final analyses and my online stream is cut off, it takes a few minutes to get over the rush of victory and get ready for work. Congratulations, boys!

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2019 Just Died

Cherubs

New Year morning, we were watching ‘New Year’s Rockin Eve’ over breakfast in Seoul and it dawned on me how truly mediocre popular music is. Well, maybe that’s a tad bit unfair. After all, ‘mediocre’ is kinda expected when ‘New Year’s Rockin Eve’ is preceded by “Ryan Seacrest.” Seriously, Post Malone? Ugh… It was so unbearable that I had to distract myself doing chores afterwards while my wife waited for BTS.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Let’s make more art in 2020. Be less depressed. Learn more. Work more. Draw more.

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Merry Christmas, All.

Fire Bug

Last year, I wrote that Christmases can be a barometer to how you’re doing in life. If you’re having a particularly crappy Christmas, if you can’t make the supposedly happiest day of the year more joyful than average, then perhaps it’s saying something about the state of how you’re doing. Maybe it’s an inelegant thing to say, but the way a person’s life is can be totally independent to the person. No matter what any self-help guru might tell you, a person’s state of affairs is often outside of their control. But sometimes, if you’re an especially shitty person who really should be in some sort of medication and you feel particularly shitty during the holiday, maybe it’s all your fault to begin with. After all, how hard is it to be happy for just one day?

My opinion still hasn’t changed. If anything, I think I’ve grown to not be fond of Christmas. I’m not saying that my life if miserable or that I’m more depressed this year than I was last year, but I’ve truly given up on trying to make a good day out of the holiday. I think the best Christmases I’ve had all belong in the past, Christmases when I’ve gotten laid or Christmases which I spent with my proper family. Heck, the last “real” Christmas I spent was about five years ago in Halloween in Winnipeg when we decided to have an early Christmas with my sisters and their kids. But now everyone’s gotten older and life has just gotten in the way too often. Even if I managed to get everyone back together in one room to spend the holiday, I’m sure my nephews and nieces would be too busy rolling their eyes or burying their faces on their phones.

Christmas to me has now become like a Sunday. The best part of Christmas is the day after, when it’s another full year before you get to be subjected to it again. Merry Christmas, everyone! Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.

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Self Care

Conspiracy

I’m not a fan of NPR’s Fresh Air. I think I only heard the show’s host Terry Gross once. As a recap of what was a trending story, Adam Driver was being interviewed on the show. The show’s host and producers knew that Adam Driver didn’t like watching his own performances. He stated this on an earlier interview back in 2015 and expressed it in several instances, suggesting it left him unsatisfied, overly critical, or anxious. But despite all of this, Fresh Air decided to play his most recent performance in “Marriage Story” singing, and Driver walked out of the Interview. The story is now making the rounds with a rather displeased picture of Driver accompanying most articles. Come are spinning it as Driver being a demanding method actor type and that he was wrong to walk out of the interview so abruptly.

Psychiatrists are applauding Driver for standing up for his own boundaries and walking out of a situation that he knew was going to give him trouble later on. Normally, I’m not a fan of interviewees walking out of interviews when faced with hard questions but Terry Gross wasn’t really pressing him about anything controversial. They were simply ignoring his request not to be subjected to something which will trigger future anxiety. It benefits no one and they could’ve easily played the clip in question through future edits. He drew a line and they crossed it. He had every right to walk away.

This reminds me of an interview with Billy Bob Thornton as a member of his band, the Boxmasters. The host of the show, the disgraced Jian Ghomeshi, referenced his work as a screenwriter and an actor. Thornton wasn’t pleased with this since they agreed beforehand that his work as an actor wouldn’t be mentioned in the interview since it diminishes what he’s trying to do as a musician. I believe it also sidelines everyone else in the band. This led to Thornton answering nonsensically to Ghomeshi’s questions before scolding him. Now it might seem silly not to mention Billy Bob Thornton’s career in the silver screen, but that just happened to be the line he preferred not to be crossed, and not crossing it wouldn’t do much harm. It’s not like journalistic ethics were being violated if Thornton wasn’t introduced as an actor, much less if Adam Driver wasn’t subjected to watching his own performances.

Now compare both instances to R. Kelly being interviewed and asked about the cases against him. He might have started the interview asking that questions about the case not be asked, but the only reason one would have R. Kelly on an interview would be about those allegations. One would be interested hearing his spin on the allegations or his newest album. Not asking about the allegations would be journalistic malpractice. Just look at any softball interview with Ivanka Trump. She’s often being sold a proponent of business and feminism, but she’s never confronted about the almost blatant hypocrisy of her and her family’s actual actions (and inaction). I believe in most of her adult life, she has never been interviewed by a real journalist.

But back to Driver and him walking away from a situation. The man is an adult. He is an adult who knows what pushes his buttons and what is good for him. If it’s going to give him anxiety or make him lose sleep to subject himself to his own performances, let him walk away. It hurts nobody not to make him watch it. What the host and the producers of Fresh Air did is totally ignore Driver’s boundaries either due to carelessness or worse, to manufacture controversy for clicks. There are better shows on NPR. Go listen to them instead. And be more like Driver, if you can, walk away from stuff that would bother you later on. It’s not so much as being a snowflake. It’s taking care of yourself. Walk away from a bad situation or just avoid it completely. For instance with me, I now avoid drinking heavily. It’s not because I have a problem with alcohol, I just have a problem dealing with drunk people. So I either just stop drinking early or just avoid the situation completely. This can often be difficult in a country like South Korea where people are often helpless against intense societal pressure to drink, but for me, it’s better than stressing over and repeatedly replaying memories in my head the awkward interactions I have with drunk people.

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Striking Viral Gold

Calendar

Lately, there’s this new mascot in Korea has skyrocketed in popularity. Pengsu is a headphones-wearing penguin that does 10-minute man-on-the-street skits produced by EBS, the Korea Educational Broadcasting System. Unlike a lot of Korean comedy, the character is able to attract both young children and adults with his witty ad-lib free of sexual overtones, cursing, or slapstick.

I must admit, I too find him amusing. The whole set-up is reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen skits. Talk to someone for a few minutes, move one, rinse and repeat. He also has recurring things he comes back to, basically building his own world simply by virtue of the story he spins.

Much like PBS, EBS survives through sponsorship and advertisement. Because they’re mainly focused on education, they’re not as attractive to companies compared to other bigger broadcasting companies in the country. The character Peng-su’s surge in popularity not only because of the character itself but also due to the story of an educational character crossing over to the viral mainstream. And that is one of the things that interest me most about the character. A lot of the character’s fans are quite keen on speculating on what products the character would or should endorse in the future. Already, I’ve seen news stories of companies courting the creators of the character to ink a deal to start hawking their merchandise.

Now I know that some characters or some shows are always in danger of not having enough funding to continue. It’s always difficult finding funding for the arts. But to me, the Peng-su phenomenon is akin to having a viral tweet or Instagram post. When an unknown account suddenly goes viral with one tweet, it is often followed by either the original poster advertising something in response to the sudden popularity or just shrugging it all off and linking to something innocuous. That attitude of “BAM! You’ve hit the big time, not milk this for all it’s worth” is so pervasive that it’s a tad off-putting. Now, I know that this has been going on since the very beginning of mass media, but now it’s almost the very first thing one thinks of the minute they get a hint of fame (or infamy even). And now it’s even come to cartoon mascots. It’s a bit weird. I mean, I enjoyed cartoons and different characters and media when I was younger, but not once did I think they should trade their fame for more advertising revenue. G.I. Joe was already selling me action figures. I didn’t think they should advertise McDonalds just so they could eke out more episodes. Sesame Street could easily survive if Big Bird started selling life insurance.

I’ve seen this kind of talk with athletes before in the country. And this I understand. The champion figure skater Kim Yoona was super popular (and still is) in the country and her fame coupled with her good looks made her a magnet for advertisers. And good for her, too. Athletes only have a few years to capitalize on their fame, so she did well with her advertising and she didn’t overdo it either.

I remember Howard Stern once saying, “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” Which is him saying just because you can be part of any sort of project just to make a few dollars, doesn’t mean you should say yes to everything. You can afford to not be part of everything. You can afford to say no. Which is more than I can say with some celebrities in Korea. There are times when the media just keeps on pumping the same set of people again, and again, and again. Sure, they might think their current popularity has a very short lifespan, but during that lifespan, I’m already sick of their face on television (Yes, I’m sick of Park Na-rae). This is one reason why I get easily put off by Korean television. It’s the same people again and again until you get sick of them.

Now, I do hope this Peng-su character lasts for a while. If anything, his popularity shows that there is more to Korean television than singing, people eating, or fake reality show BS. It’s also good to see a character be successful fueled mostly by wit. It’s a good departure from the standard brand of stand-up comedy you would see in Korean gag comedy.

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