I have found outrage is especially apparent when anyone criticises any non-Western culture (the weak ones that can't handle what we think), but sometimes criticism of Korean culture (I think many Westerners living in Korea think of Korean culture as inferior to theirs so they think it is wrong to criticise aspects of it) by expats is justified if it looks like Koreans are picking on a vulnerable group or people that are less strong than they are. Many of these criticisms are completely valid, but some are not.
So, with this in mind, I am going to defend those at Saturday Night Live Korea for their little comedy sketch. (Translation here). Not so much because I think it is really funny or a valid representation of adoptees, but because I am pretty sure I don't know enough and don't care enough to be outraged about it, and I get a little tired of misdirected and phony outrage. I'm guessing that I might be in the minority with this viewpoint though and what I say here might offend people.
I Don't Know Enough
My wife and I have overcome many cultural differences to be the happily married couple we are today. We understand a great deal more about each other and our cultures than we used to. However, one of those things we just have to accept is that she just doesn't get British humour and I don't get Korean humour. This doesn't mean I can't make her laugh, but it does mean that when I watch Korean comedy - in film or on TV - it is simply not funny to me most of the time, even when I get the jokes, and the same goes, vice-versa, for her with British comedy.
This is because comedy is often (not always of course) very subtle and the elements that come together to produce a sketch, a program, or a movie are derived from a close cultural understanding of language (which even a fairly fluent speaker might not be able to pick up on), the history of the subject being made fun of (either as a country, in society, or even in previous TV programs or in films), and the cultural context.
For instance, I have heard that the skit in question on SNL is actually making fun of a specific TV program that used to run in Korea and Korean dramas where they used the subject of adoption (quite possibly many times) and airport meetings of adoptees and their real parents as a subject for melodramatic shows of emotion (cue the tears and piano music). Most foreigners living in Korea would not have known this and probably most adoptees - who had not spent much time in Korea - wouldn't have known this either.
I find it ironic that many of the same people I see criticising foreigners who complain about Korean culture for 'Not knowing enough' (on some pretty black and white cultural issues), are slamming SNL in exactly the same way. They don't get it, they don't know enough. All they see is an attack on adoptees, but if you watch the video again with the above explanation in mind, it paints an entirely different picture.
I don't blame adoptees for getting upset, but I do believe those that became outraged misunderstood the sketch and overreacted.
In a similar case, but not involving comedy, an England cricketer (Graeme Swann) remarked to his brother on Facebook - a few months ago - that England got 'arse raped' by Australia in their test series after losing the 3rd match. The PC brigade managed to find this remark and spread it around social media and rape charities in the UK were angered about it and demanded an apology. It was simply an off the cuff remark of a disappointed man in a message to his brother (in a very common British colloquialism), but he had to apologise nonetheless. It feels wrong to condemn rape charities for overreacting doesn't it? After all, unless you have been raped how can you really know what they are going through, so surely it was irresponsible of Graeme Swann to say what he did. Perhaps he shouldn't be quite so profane in his everyday language, but was it deserving of such outrage?
Rape is a disgusting crime and we should have the greatest sympathy for people who have gone through it, but that doesn't mean these people didn't overreact, it was a ridiculous reaction given the circumstances.
Although this is not comedy, I think a similar situation has occurred with the SNL sketch; outrage gets magnified as it's spread around social media and it becomes very difficult to take a step back and see that it isn't really that outrageous. Much graver misfortunes are made light of in comedy all the time.
Examples of 'Insensitive' Comedy Shows/Movies and Characters
Family Guy - Joe Swanson is wheelchair bound and jokes are regularly made of his situation. Most of us cannot possibly know what it is like for people who can't use their legs, so it is not a fit subject for comedy.
Only Fools and Horses (UK) - Delboy and Rodney are brothers live together with their Grandad in low-level poverty in central London. Their mother died when they were young and their father left them. They live from day to day by making dodgy deals and selling tat at the local market and to their friends. Many of us cannot possibly know what it is like to lose a mother when young or have their father abandon them or live in such poor circumstances, so it is not a fit subject for humour. How can we laugh at their troubles?
The Life of Brian - A man called Brian is worshipped like Jesus and is eventually crucified. Since we all have never been crucified (I hope) how can we find this a fit subject for humour? And singing a jaunty song while on the cross!! Disgusting.
Hot Fuzz - a London based cop gets more than he bargained for when he is transferred to a sleepy village when murders, disgusied as accidents, occur on a frequent basis. Since I and none of my family or friends have ever been murdered, this is not a fit subject for humour, I cannot possibly understand what murder victim's families must feel when they watch this film, it trivialises death and murder. Ban it.
Seasame Street - Oscar the Grouch is clearly homeless and the Cookie Monster is clearly coping with a powerful food addiction. How on earth we can all make light of such situations is crazy. And it is a show for children! Most of us have no idea what it is like to be homeless or have a strong addiction, again, this is not a fit subject for humour!! Pull the show from TV before more young minds get corrupted!
The disabled, parentless families, people in poverty, people being tortured and crucified to death, murder victims and their families, homelessness, and addiction, all being used as subjects for comedy in very very popular TV shows and movies. Should we all be disgusted with ourselves? Or would that be an overreaction?
I could have given a number of other examples. The point is that there are many unfortunate situations we will never truly understand, many that are much worse than the subject of adoption. Intelligent people can see comedy is comedy and making light of hardships is sometimes a necessary part of life and this in no way detracts from our ability to empathise with real people embroiled in really heart-achingly sad and difficult situations.
Personally, I can see how the SNL Korea sketch could be funny, it made me giggle at some points, but has it changed my perception of adoptees in any negative way whatsoever? Absolutely not. Might it change or accentuate bad vibes in Korean people towards adoptees? I don't know, but I doubt it. Now let's say the government made a policy change that stopped the reunification of adoptees and their Korean parents or discriminated against them in some way; then I might be moved to some level of outrage.
Comedy is comedy, and upsetting some people is its business sometimes, it tends to be funnier that way. Sometimes comedians step over the line, but the SNL sketch is nowhere near an example of that.
I remember when some of us Brits got all upset by a Ricky Gervais comedy, 'Life's Too Short', because people weren't sure if Gervais just using Warwick Davis to make fun of dwarves and midgets. But that's the thing with comedy, it is at its best when it is close to stepping across lines.
The day that comedians have to go the politically correct police (or Joe Blogger) for advice on how best to write a comedy sketch, we really will live in a dull, humourless world.
Making Fun of Language Ability
Another aspect of this sketch that I have found many people didn't like is the part that makes fun of the guy's Korean. Some of the foreign community are crying, 'Oh my god, they are probably making fun of me when I speak Korean!'
So what if they are? My students make fun of the way I say Korean words sometimes, I just laugh and jokingly say, 'Shut-up' or 'You wanna punch in the face?', which they find quite funny. A sure way of getting them to continue making fun of me would be to act all hurt and angry about it. Making fun of your pronunciation; it's nothing, get over it and it's a guarantee people will continue to do it if they see it bothers you anyway. If it doesn't bother you, they just look silly when they do it.
I remember a while ago my wife and I were watching a Korean film about a mentally handicapped man with a young daughter who got mistakenly accused of murdering a little girl. The way he spoke Korean bore a resemblance to the way I speak it and my wife noticed this and said so to her family and they made fun of me for it. My reaction was not to cry like a little sissy girl (or point out how mental illness is not a fit subject for a joke), I just had to take it on the chin and laugh along with it. It was quite funny, I did sound remarkably like him.
Making fun of pronunciation or language ability can be annoying sometimes and frustrating if you are trying hard to learn a language, but come on everyone, mummy stopped holding your hand when you step out the house a long time ago, time to grow up, have a thicker skin, and get a sense of humour about yourself. Obviously no one likes to be heckled on the street about their language ability or generally bullied, but we are talking about a comedy show here. Are people really that fragile or so easily led?
In summary then, some might say I am getting outraged over people getting outraged, but no, not really. I am just tired of them making life less fun for us all and sitting on top of their throne of moral superiority and not admitting that a huge reason people get upset about stupid things like this is to help inflate their already sizable egos and make themselves feel important or special.
I am not innocent in this regard either, to write a blog in the style of this one, you have to have a bit of an ego, and I am sure my ego does leak into my blogs from time to time, but at least I don't require a sense of humour transplant.
As for the adoptees themselves who were offended by it, of course they can take offense to it and they can voice their feelings, but I think they need not, and in my opinion I think it is pretty lame. There are a million hardships we will never fully understand that people suffer from and to erase every one of these situations from comedy is not only impossible, but would make the world a very boring place indeed. Somethings are truly damaging or irresponsible - like using a blackface gag in a Sunday afternoon family comedy show - but do we really think any harm will come, any rights trampled upon, or any prejudices enhanced by SNL Korea's mildly controversial sketch involving the issue of adoption? Surely not.
This has nothing to do with people demanding censorship, by the way, this is simply me reacting to the outrage produced. People are totally within their rights to voice their outrage, as I am within my rights to say it's stupid.
Anyway, SNL Korea have apologised, so let's hope this makes people happy (I won't hold my breath).
Note: A commenter very fairly asked where I looked for reaction to the SNL sketch. Roboseyo's blog first got my attention and I followed many of his sources as well as doing my own searches. I'm afraid some reactions on social media are now lost, but here are some other links that I read from: