Sunday, October 12, 2003

Flawed Systems

Last January my friend over at Catharidae had a nuanced observation about Hines Ward, a wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ward was just selected to his first Pro Bowl. Because Ward is half Korean, the local newspapers trumpeted in their nationalistic way that he was the first Korean to be sent to the Pro Bowl.


Now this makes us who live her smile, because half Koreans are never really considered "True  Koreans" by the native population. Furthermore, if Ward lived in Korea being half black he would be considered amongst the lowest of the low. Cathartidae nuanced thought got him worked up, and I though it was rather perceptive. Ward’s abilities were not derived from the fact he was Korean, nor per se his Korean mother raised him. Wards success had much more to do with the American system than anything Korean.


A few months ago a similar thought occurred to me. I was on the number 2 bus in Seoul. This bus goes to one of the places I work, and in the area are a large girl's high school and two large girl's middle schools. I got on the bus and the inside was plastered with ads for a company. Nothing out of the ordinary with this, they were real Korean ads as well. You know the type, filled with so much writing and information in such small type it makes a 1"x1" crib sheet you used for a history test look like a minimalist work of art.


I looked closely at the ads, and found they were not for some miracle diet cure, or for some dentist, but the bus was plastered with ads for phone sex, yes that's right its not a typo, phone sex. At first I was shocked, and then a little dismayed as I wondered what kind of message this sent to a bus load of 12-18 year old girls. Then I was angry.


I was angry not because of the ads, nor the company, as some prudish people may be. I was angry at the system. It took more for this ad to be placed, than just the company existing, and choosing to advertise. The placement of this advertisement required approval from somebody at the bus company. Furthermore it took more than one person to approve it since I would assume that many people had to agree for an entire bus to be donate to such ads. Bottom line the system in place produced and placed these ads, not just some maverick company.


Today I was dismayed by the failure of two other systems in Korea. Both were advertising failures. In these cases it was the failure of the contracting company, the ad company, and possibly many others.


In case none of watch CNN, there is a new Korean tourism campaign. It is pretty much like the old one, the same montage of footages showing "Modern" versus "Ancient". If you have seen the old one, you have seen the new one (Yawn!). What struck me though was the tag line at the end of the ad. The big payoff for the clich? ad was:


Korea, Reach Out to You


For those of you who have been here too long, or otherwise, this is Konglish passing as English in its finest. In the ad Korea is actively promoting itself. The tag line is properly done, with much more impact, with the word reading "Reaching" Once again I was fuming with the failure of the system. The Korean Tourism Authority, and what ever Ad agency did this.


Today on the subway was a similar thing. This was an ad for the city of Seoul. The same brain trust that inadvertently gave us the 60's inspired slogan "Hi Seoul!". This as an ad for some video game competition with the English tag line:


Hi Seoul, IT's Dream City


Again my question is not who wrote this Konglish nightmare, but rather WHO SAT BACK AND SAID, "THAT SOUNDS GOOD! LET'S USE THAT!!!"


For all you defenders, yes I can get the intent. "IT's" supposed to be "I"nformation "T"echnology, and therefore "Seoul, Information Technology's Dream City" But you still cant sit there and say, "See you understood it, there is nothing wrong with it.", because the ultimate effect of the ad is not the intention. I do not think "What a bunch of clever people", but "What a bunch of asinine morons who think they're Oscar Wilde."


My pique is making me go off on tangents. I do not necessarily want to make an overly broad conclusion about all this. Getting this back to the Hines Ward opener though, makes me think this. This navel gazing by Koreans on why so many people want to leave Korea is usually argued in terms of numbers. The problems are rendered in costs, education, opportunity, etc. Perhaps some of this energy should go into considering the Korean system people want to leave, not just the statistics.


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