How should we feel about Misuda?

This question had occupied my mind a lot these days.  I wrote a post about Misuda (or Minyeodeului Suda, or 미수다, or 미녀들의 수다) that is still up on my first blog.  In the post I sarcastically referred to Bronwyn Mullen as ‘Goodwill Ambassador of the week’ for a story that she had told about the bar area around Hongdae.  Then I decried the general slide in Korean ability of panelists that I saw occurring as the first batch of girls gave way to a newer, generally younger and less experienced crowd.

Somehow it escaped me that Bronwyn Mullen actually commented on the post about a month ago.  Here is her gracious comment in its entirety.

hi, its bronwyn mullen;)
im sorry to read you feel i have done little to bring different cultures together…
there was no malicious intent when discussing hongdae^^ i try to take a balanced and realistic approach when chatting about things but i am sorry if i have offended you.
leslie and co. are my friends and i would love to be working with them but unfortunately the show has changed with time and they are with kbs no longer.
let us just hope for the best and remember i do not for a second think of myself as a star so at least we agree on something;)
keep well xxx

I failed to find this comment when it was first made, at the end of January.  Then on February fifth I got two more comments from someone named Kkachi who wrote:

Two things, first it’s Leslie Benfield, not Benson. Second, the picture of Jane Turner in pseudo-Indian dress is from an episode in which each woman dressed up in a sort of “national costume”. Jane, being American, chose or was given an “Indian” costume. That was her debut week, so they took her picture on that day. Simple explanation, really.

and then

By the way, who do you think will be more liked, someone who is expressing an honest opinion about Korea on television or some putz who spends his time guttersniping on a blog?
Your call.

This is the comment that got me thinking.  The commenter couldn’t see anything wrong with the historical foreshortening required to dress an American up like Hiawatha.  As for being liked, well, everyone knows nobody likes a blogger, especially a cantankerous one like me.  So I thought and I thought about this issue.

I must confess that above all I have felt bad about singling out Bronwyn in the post.  I thought she was amazingly confident and funny, and God knows I would have said much worse than Bronwyn when I was her age (and still regularly do), not to mention the fact that she hadn’t at that point been in the country that long.  My real problem with the show lies not with her but with its Korean producers.  The real reason for my angry reaction was personal.  I was sitting in my mother-in-law’s house with my wife’s family watching the show when Bronwyn told her story about Hongdae being blanketed with foreigner vomit.  I met my wife in Hongdae, and my wife’s family all know it, so all eyes fell on me, who had presumably once contributed to the groundcover.  The questions flew at me, mostly tongue-in-cheek but with an undertone of sincerity.  I ran off to my blog to electronically lick my wounds.

I am, in fact, very sensitive to the way that foreigners are treated and portrayed in the Korean media.  That’s one of the reasons for my semi-obsession with Misuda (see here, here, and here) and the fact that cultural transmission is one of my most used categories.  In a country like Korea where most people really don’t have the opportunity to talk to any foreigners, a show like Misuda is important.  People believe uncritically the things that they hear on the show, because they really have no reason not to.  I believe and agree with much of the stuff I hear on the show as well.

Still part of me feels that, in the presence of a Korean media that regularly characterizes foreigners in a negative light, a show like Misuda should lean hard in the opposite direction as an off-set.  As much as I love the truth, the whole truth and nothing  but the truth, I still think that Misuda should be showing foreigners in a positive light.  Do foreigners go to Hongdae and drink?  Most certainly.  Do they throw up that much?  Not in my experience (and I have plenty of experience getting drunk in Hongdae and never once did I throw up). Unfortunately there was a TV news story last February describing Hongdae as a lawless area where foreigners (US military in particular) roam drunk in bands of three and four and ‘the police just watch’, so the discussion of Hongdae last August took place within that context.  A US soldier did rape an elderly woman in Hongdae, and I don’t think it’s too much to assume that many people may have linked the Misuda story with that fact to come up with the impression that the acts of one disturbed man was a product of the binge drinking discussed as taking place in Hongdae. The article doesn’t mention that the police were just watching foreigners drinking at legal bars in much the same manner as their Korean counterparts.

Is this an unrealistic desire?  It’s not that I want to whitewash the truth.  I would rather that a show like Misuda were an opportunity for Koreans to see foreigners as people worthy of their respect.  On the whole, despite the occasional exception, I would say that the show does this.  In fact, I watched the week after I saw Bronwyn tell her Hongdae story and I noticed that she seemed much more careful about what she said, and has remained a legitimate goodwill ambassador since.  Not only that, but she has hopefully been a role model of what a language student should be: outgoing, unafraid to make mistakes, and talkative.  Mirja has been another particularly strong representative, as has Luvada, who seems to approach the whole concept of the show with the perfect mix of amusement, bemusement, sincerity and gentle condescension.  Dominique has been one of the breakout star of the show.  Watching her Korean improve has become a highlight of the show for me and I suspect that Korean audience members most directly identify with her, as she started the show as one of the most recent arrivals in Korea and has basically learned about the country on the air.  Finally I have always enjoyed Sayuri Fujita, who always seems to be toying with the audience (on the Misuda website under ‘Why did you come to Korea?’ she wrote ‘Because I really like sundae’).

I started this post wondering how I should feel about Misuda.  For sure when I get together with other Korean-speaking foreigners it’s a big topic of conversation.  The general consensus is that the panelists are on balance doing a good job of representing the world to Korea.  Any quibbles, about having the girls do fashion shows, about overt sexuality or perceived objectification, about the girls being told incorrect information about Korea by the non-expert Korean hosts, about individual things that individual panelists say, about racism on behalf of the Koreans on the show, are all totally predictable outgrowths of the show being the brainchild of a Korean at the Korean Broadcasting System.  In the end these issues are bumps in the road, but I definitely think that road leads to better understanding.

And again, I’m sorry for singling you out for abuse, Bronwyn.  Maybe some time we can patch things up over a couple of ice cold bottles of Hite Max.

~ by Joshing on February 26, 2008.

8 Responses to “How should we feel about Misuda?”

  1. Nice post once again.
    I gotta say I really enjoy reading your posts, keep up the good work!

  2. =) , . =)

  3. hehe, it’s okay…no need to apologise^^ everyone is entitled to have an opinion and to vent at others’ opinions. i don’t spend much time at all on the internet so i was surprised to come across your blog but i guess it was meant to be! i get what you’re saying, no hard feelings… enjoy spring^^

  4. leave the misuda girls alone! there are 1000s of men willing to give you a piece of their mind in there defense! go bronwyn! (i actually met you and your BF – the chef – at the COEX last year and offered to buy you guys dinner and gave you my business card… you said you would call… but you never did… sigh… oh well, I guess I’ll just enjoy your comments online)…

  5. keep up the good work both of you! 😉

  6. Подписался на Ваш блог, а в rss какие-то крокозяблики. Проверьтке плиз кодировку.

    здесь видел ет

  7. i’m a big fan of bronwyn. i simply love her personality and accent

  8. I am sure this post has touched all the internet visitors, its really really nice paragraph on building up
    new blog.

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