Does MBC Deserve the Pulitzer?
Over the past few days, a great deal of vitriol from foreigners and Koreans alike has been directed at the journalistic integrity of Korean broadcaster MBC. Bobby McGill ponders whether MBC and the show’s producer should be lauded for journalistic excellence.
BUSAN, South Korea -- In response to the outpouring of negative statements concerning The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners, I wanted to examine the possibility that it could actually be a fine piece of news production, editing and thoughtful commentary that...
No, no, no. That intro simply won't fly; what follows is pure self-indulgence. Rarely for a writer does such an irresistible topic come along so worthy of satiric appraisal.
Below I will analyze the segments encompassing MBC’s five-minute feature for its Jerry Springer-esque brilliance—with all its sensationalized xenophobic dribble in tow.
After examining each segment, I will rate them on an ascending four-point system. For reference, the video has been posted at the bottom.
The Attention Grabbing Segment (:00 ~ :14)
A TV features producer competing with several other feature stories running over the course of 30 minutes or an hour must be mindful that much of the audience will wander off to the kitchen in search of a snack, or head to the bathroom for a leak while maintaining their connection with the program by way of their ears.
With that in mind the as yet unidentified and reportedly outsourced producer of The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners comes out strong from the opening bell.
Just look at the audio lineup laid out to get viewers to zip up early and run back to be in front of the tube:
Allow me to paraphrase for brevity.
1. Foreign Male Voice: “As an American I can meet Korean girls with ease.”
2. Sullen Korean Women: “I got knocked up.”
3. Troubled Brotherly Figure: “She tested positive for HIV.”
The teaser trifecta, all in a little over 10 seconds! The viewer, in another part of the house, immediately realizes that back in the living room some great viewing has been cued up and it's worth rushing back to the sofa for. The Jerry Springer school of journalistic ethics lives on. And this time... it's personal.
Judgment: 4 Points
The Title Clincher Segment (:15 ~ :24)
While the MBC video has been labeled by thousands of foreigners and Koreans as “racist” and “xenophobic”, by far the most damning evidence in their arsenal would have to be the line at the end of the opening segment when the narrator speaks of the “inconvenient truth” that Korean women will “hang out” with foreigners in Korea.
Al Gore references aside, for many Westerners these few words summon images of a couple of southern white American men standing on the corner in the 1950s looking at their feet shaking their heads muttering, “Damn, Ah guess it wuz jes’ a matta o’ time. We best get ta' lynching fo’ it gets outta control.”
And while the use of the word “inconvenient” could easily be misconstrued as negative or implying that “it’s a damn shame we have to accept these foreigners victimizing our women,” it is possible that the producer was instead subtly referring to traditional Korean hospitality and instead saying, “nothing is an inconvenience for our foreign guests, even if it means giving up the women.”
The narrative is then followed by the announcement of the well-constructed title, “The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners.”
Judgment: 3 Points
Scoring Note: I really wanted to give this a four, but I felt the producer was negligent with the word “inconvenient”. For all the potential brilliance which could possibly follow in the subsequent segments, I believe it crucial to consider the artistic level of the audience and what they can digest in such a short segment. A little less David Lynch and a little more Disney would have easily garnered a rating of four.
The Chris Golighty Segment (:24 ~ :36)
Our intrepid MBC producer opens up with the biggest named foreign “star” to have lived here an extended period of time. Since Korea is pretty much a flyover country for international talent headed to Japan and China, the producer had to go with the mighty Chris Golighty.
Try as the MBC editing staff may to pixelate and 'protect' his identity per strict Korean libel laws, it’s hard not to recognize that mop of blonde frizz coupled with the fact that there are few foreign stars residing on the peninsula
Golighty (who can never seem to go-lightly) earned his first claim to fame after being disqualified from American Idol over contract issues. He then, like other hometown wash-ups, came to Korea to exploit his bottle-blonde doo. Rather than teaching, he competed on the televised singing contest Superstar Korea after which he was accused of sleeping with fans. His star had completely faded until a week ago when his girlfriend published text messages from Golighty threatening her life.
This was brilliant casting by the producer in a very sparse field of international players to choose from.
Judgment: 4 Points
The “Morals of Foreigners” Segment (:37 ~ 1:08)
The male narrator in the typical staccato-style favored by Korean radio and television media says (in the English subtitles) that “the morals of foreigners living in Korea has become a social issue,” before leading cameras to a place where, he says, “we can meet foreigners easily.”
My knowledge of Korean is far too limited to question the accuracy of the translation, but I wonder if there was a mistranslation and that the producer, through Mr. Staccato, was actually leading us to a place where “we can meet easy foreigners," rather than "meet foreigners easily."
Viewers are then showed footage of a couple walking arm-in-arm with the voice over stating “Here, we can find mixed couples walking all over the streets with daring intimacy.”
Admittedly to the naysayers, from the producer’s chosen camera angle, the couple’s behavior does not at all look risque or “intimate”, but either he or she could possibly have had his or her hand down the front of the other’s pants and the MBC crew simply chose not to expose viewers to such unnecessary sexual content.
I understand this sort of editing. Just as I understand why Whoopi Goldberg refuses to do nude scenes in her movies – it simply adds nothing to the story and only incenses the audience.
The producer then points his cameras towards a slice of local culture to remind the viewer that this is not Sodom and Gomorrah America we are looking at, but that we are indeed still in Korea. He does this with the classic camera walking up the stairs with the potential for an up-skirt shot.
Though it only lasts a few fleeting seconds and we witness only a hint of leg, it resets our compass to that cherished pastime of up-skirt camera wizardry. I actually had to pause the clip for a moment to gather myself in the face of this wonderful display of culture which is, actually, shared the world over.
At the top of the stairs, we enter a bar where the narrator tells us “we can see many couples who are physically affectionate” and who are unthinkingly “making onlookers uncomfortable.” The narrator then likens it to the “compromising physical intimacy seen in films.”
Here I have to score the producer very highly for dramatic irony and a keen sense of cinematic nuance.
Alas, we the viewers and the MBC crew are the only ones actually watching!
And then there is the seemingly amateurish filming (or so the producer would have us believe), with the jostling of the camera along with the blurred-out faces. That is actually what is making us uncomfortable! Brilliant.
The narrator continues, as the blurred, jostling camera effects bewitch and bewilder the nausea center in our cerebral cortex.
The narrator first states, in reference to the foreigners: “It seems natural for them to have physical contact.” Then, in a questionable scripting error (which I will address in the scoring note), Mr. Staccato challenges viewers to answer a hard-hitting philosophical query: “Do you think that their relationship is based upon trust or curiosity?”
Judgment: 2 Points
Scoring Note: As a viewer, I don’t like being put on the spot like that. I am there to be told what I think, not to be asked what I think. That aside, I’m giving the producer a few extra 'multicultural' points for the five-second segment going up the stairs with the potential up-skirt shot. Weaving aspects of internationally-shared culture into the cinematic narrative lent realism to the piece, it gives viewers a chance to peer into the producer’s soul. For a moment, I really identified with all those young men out there on the streets waiting hour upon hour for the planets to align and grant them that one great up-skirt shot to upload on the Internet once they get home. Very touching, but nonetheless, the segment score remains a solid "two".
The Stupid American Segment (1:08 ~ 1:13)
We once again hear the voice of the American from the Attention Grabbing Segment. The voice manipulation they use to disguise his identity makes the guy sound like he is 12 years old. I like the producer’s efforts to soften the subject so as to dampen any rage that might be building in the minds of his primary audience.
Videography 101 teaches us that you don’t want the viewer smashing the TV with the nearest throwable object before your overall message is complete. Ease them in slowly, there are still nearly four minutes to go.
From a cinematographic standpoint, I was most impressed with the subliminal effect of lowering the camera to the interviewees crotches. That is, after all, what the entire piece is about, right? I applaud this effect.
And, to be quite frank, I am not sure if the person on the left has a little pants tent going there or if he is possibly half-erect. Wait, that might actually be the interviewer wearing urban gear to blend in. More brilliant subtle intrigue from the outsourced producer.
Judgment: 4 Points
The Stupid Girls/Brilliant Korean Psychologist/
On the Street Sexual Strangers Segment (1:14~2:16)
Following this, the overall tenor of the five-minute clip takes a remarkable turn. Just when the primary viewer is ready to tell his daughter she can no longer attend class at the English academy, the producer literally lifts the noose from around the American’s neck and places it around Korean women nationwide. It is almost Kruschev-esque in many ways.
The now noose-less and clueless American tells of how a Korean girl called him “27 times in 30 minutes.” Mr. Staccato comes back with the penetrating question: “What makes Korean women open their mind so easily to foreign men?”
The clip segues to an astute psychologist to answer the question rather than making us answer it ourselves. With the mathematical mind of Newton, the psychologist states that, “In comparison to dating Korean men, there are fewer opportunities to date foreign men.”
In short, perhaps 27 phone calls might better be attempted in 15 minutes, rather than 30 minutes, if the goal is to become the eventual foreigner love toy. In laymen’s terms, get it while the gettin’ is good.
Next we are privy to investigative journalistic patience worthy of the boy with the camera in his bag waiting at the foot of the stairs for an up-skirt shot: An actual on-film capture of a foreigner approaching a Korean woman he has never met before this encounter.
Within mere seconds they are embracing “in a romantic mood like an old couple” while waiting for a taxi to go God knows where.
Judgment: Likely a Four, but undecided until we see where the producer is taking us.
The Re-emphasis that Foreigners are Sexual Deviants Segment (2:17 ~ 2:33)
The definitive answer is given by what appears to be a German foreigner. (Frankly, it’s difficult to discern because they all sound alike and his voice has as well been manipulated to sound like a 12 year old). He replies, “Korean women are beautiful,” adding, “I’ve never slept with a Korean before,” and “I’ll just go to the clubs and I’m going to get one later.”
This may at first appear to be selective editing, or 'cherry picking' quotes as we call it in the business. But judging from the journalistic integrity of the producer thus far, I believe it plausible that the camera was continuously rolling and this accurately portrays the sexual stream of conscious of a typical foreign sojourner in Korea.
From a cinematographic standpoint, the brief insert allows the producer to remind us that while Korean women might at times be open to differing social mores, it is only due to the devious tricks men play on them when they drink too much in a nightclub.
Judgment: 3 Points
The Insightful Student/Concerned Reporter/
Impregnated and Abandoned Mystery Woman Segment (2:34 ~ 3:47)
The producer, in another act of artistic subtlety, uses the same voice anonymity manipulation to cleverly illustrate student's ability to reproduce the same tones as native speakers. (Forgive me my digression, the producer just continues to amaze).
The content of what the student is saying is provocative: Korean women want only to better themselves and foreigners want only to boink them.
Even more intriguing is the implication of what she is actually saying. For that we must examine the full quote:
“Some Korean women are trying to meet foreign men to learn English. But foreign men meet Korean women for a different purpose.”
She doesn’t define the “purpose”, but the informed viewer already knows that, so there is no need to elaborate. Yet, notice how she says that “some” Korean women want to learn English, but neglects to use the word “some” when speaking of the ill-purposed foreign men. The producer has once again chosen his interview subject brilliantly.
After a mildly confusing segue about foreign men badmouthing Korean women, we learn that Korean women, once victimized by foreigners, often drift into a state of denial.
One must marvel at the producer's discreet plug of Korea as the "world’s most wired nation"—a place where anyone quickly surf the net, then pick up the phone and contact a victim of a sexual crime with relative ease.
The “foreigner victim” answers the phone, to which the reporter, with the utmost professionalism, identifies herself as being with MBC and states: “We called because we heard you were the victim of a foreigner.”
Elmore Leonard, sit your skinny ass down! That, my friends, is great dialogue.
The victim, still no doubt reeling from her foreign-inflicted ordeal, plays dumb, acting aloof. The caring and thoughtful reporter does not press further, the scene fades.
Quickly, we segue (the producer is heading for his climax) to a woman in a black dress sitting in a chair pressed against a wall in a dark room. We can’t see her face. She says a foreigner got her pregnant and then took off.
While the scripting is solid, the visual work here is simply gripping. The dark room and the black dress symbolizing the dreary ordeal. The faceless figure without even a head, illustrating how the guy that knocked her up and skipped town cared little for her mind and the fact that she was only seeking to better herself through English.
While there is a lot packed into this segment, I respect the producer’s drive to get as much in as possible as he approaches the five minute mark. My judgment here is a given.
Judgment: 4 Points
The HIV Deserter/Brilliant Psychologist Returns/Denouement Segment (3:47 ~ The End)
We then learn that most foreign men victimizing Korean women miraculously disappear without a trace; much like those stealth technology fighters the Americans refuse to share with the Korean military. Likewise, the women have nowhere else to turn for help in a world with few alternative allies.
The brilliant psychologist returns with more Newtonian brilliance: “The foreign population in Korea will be increasing now and forever. We need to think critically about this problem.” Can I get an Amen?
Mr. Staccato returns for the denouement:
Yes, “there are only a few uncomfortable cultures” causing problems in Korea. Not us, it’s them. And it's damn well “time that we formed proper and wholesome relationships with the opposite sex.”
Fade to a busy freeway and the troubling road ahead.
Judgment: 4 Points
Final Tally: 32 out of a possible 36 points!
While writing this was all in good fun, it is perplexing to think that there are those who consider such bias to be "journalism"—much less actually producing it for mass consumption.
Whereas the media is generally a device to expose social injustice, it would seem that the makers of The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners sought to perpetuate it.
As to why, I can't be sure. Ratings? Money? Or, perish the thought, do they actually believe it's all true? Do they not have any friends or loved ones involved with someone from another culture? Have not they themselves ever associated with someone from another land and felt the better because of it?
The more one asks these questions, the less it all makes sense. And the less it all makes sense, the more we can only question.
Anyway. For those of you who read this and felt that the video really was a well-constructed piece of journalistic enlightenment set forth in the span of four minutes and 47 seconds, you can click on the Pulitzer link below and offer it up for their consideration.
www.pulitzer.org (Go ahead, click it. You know you want to.)
Bobby McGill is co-founder and Editor in Chief of Haps Magazine. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher. You can also read his occasional blogging at www.idlewordship.com.
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