Friday, July 20, 2007

"Naked on a mountain top, tootin on a flizoot
Ridin on a horse, drinkin whisky out a bizoot
With the wings and the teeth of an african bat
Her middle name is Mudbone and on top of all that
Ya mama's got an afro, with a chin strap"

- The Pharcyde

The poetic words above, a modified clerihew of sorts, have long inspired, yet perplexed us. Other fans of the Pharcyde may similarly wonder, "How exactly might one affix an afro with a chinstrap?" Archimedes exclaimed, "Eureka!" Seoulitary Confinement exclaims, "Holla!" Behold The Black Crunch Bar:

And its spokespeople: Black Boy and Black girl.

The slogan is pretty catchy:

"Now there's a crunch bar for every craving. Check it out everywhere!"

I guess once you go Black Crunch, you never go back.

Despite what you may wish to believe, this confection's "Oreo Cookie" flavor is NOT a subtle nod to racial harmony.

In Korean, this ice cream bar is named 까마쿤 (~ka-ma-kun). While unable to decipher a direct translation, Seoulitary Confinement entreated a trusty source to speculate as to the meaning. Two of many possible explanations surfaced and are worth noting:

1) A play on the similar sounding phrase "까맣군", which approximately means, "Oh, it's too dark."
2) 까마귀 (~ka-ma-qui) is the Korean word for raven/crow.

While we here at SC want to make clear these translations are by no means authoritative, this sort of product branding underscores Korea's struggle with cultural globalization. In many instances, Korean society lacks the reflexive introspection that multicultural societies are forced to adopt. Nobody in the Lotte Group's marketing department stopped to ask, "Is this caricature appropriate for a multi-ethnic populace?" Then again, Korea is NOT multi-ethnic. In fact, Korea has in the last century emerged from 1000 years of cultural, linguistic, and economic seclusion. Of course, there are going to be some growing pains. Robert Koehler wrote:

According to a survey by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, some 536,627 foreigners were residing legally and illegally for a period of 90 days or more in the Republic of Korea as of April. This accounted for 1.1 percent of the population, the first time ever the recorded number of foreign residents has surpassed 1 percent...Immigration authorities believe the real number of foreigners, including illegal aliens, to be closer to 1 million.

Conveniently hosted by a Korean government website, in his article Mr. Koehler uses these statistics to argue that "demographic changes spell the end of Korea's ethnic homogeneity." Not quite. Regardless of how the local authorities wish white-wash the situation (pun intended), a 98% ethnically homogeneous populace is hardly a bastion of diversity. Awkward (sometimes inappropriate) regard to foreign residents is inevitable.

For a much more deft and nuanced analysis of these issues, PLEASE read Dr. Gi-Wook Shin's August 2006 Korea Herald Article on Korea's "ethnic nationalism." In Korea, blood ancestry continues to define national identity.

Recently, NPR carried an excellent report (Ethnic Bias Seen in South Korea Teacher Hiring), highlighting another manifestation of Korea's ethnic bias. Seoulitary Confinement commends the excellent reporting by Jason Strother. As a citizen journalist, in the truest sense, Mr. Strother sources facts and elicits relevant opinions in interviews. Then, he assembles the information and presents it with objectivity and balance. This stands in stark contrast to South Korea's renown and highly regaled journalistic innovation,, which is, basically, a bunch of people making shit up.

This piece also includes an interview with Mr. Michael Hurt, Seoul's resident Metropolician and an expert in Korea's multicultural affairs. His point about skin-color prejudices inherent in agrarian societies is well taken and worthy of further examination...


Anonymous said...

까마쿤 keeps on translating to "it will peel" when you put it into the translator sites...But "Oh, it's too dark" is definitely much funnier. Crow is just plain racist! Do they sell them at Uncle Tom's Cabin? Man that place rocks!

mike. said...

Just an unfortunate coincidence that the last character, 쿤, is pronounced "coon"?