Episode 150 of SBS’ incredibly popular ‘urban’ variety show ‘Running Man’ was a Marvel Avengers special. Each of the members and guests assumed their own superhero characters, many of which were based on the original Avengers team. This episode was very much anticipated, probably in part due to the huge success of the recent Hollywood film Avengers Assemble (2012) and perhaps also because adventurous themes such as this give the programme producers the chance to go all out with the costumes and special effects.
Dong Wan FD, a staff member on the series, has gained a reoccurring role in front of the camera as someone who wears all manner of strange costumes and often introduces the missions to the cast. He has dressed as an Ahjumma, famous figure skater Kim Yuna and a disco DJ to name a few and this week was no different as he took on the character of the Avengers’ leader Nick Fury – known here as ‘Dong Fury’. In the Hollywood film version, this character was played by Samuel. L. Jackson. While I have found in my research that the original character was actually illustrated as a white person, ‘Running Man’ makers clearly wanted to keep the characters along the same vine as the Hollywood adaptation and ‘blacked’ Dong Wan FD up.
As soon as I saw this, I felt quite uncomfortable and began discussing with my family how problematic it was that Dong Wan was made up to look like a black person. This led me on to think about many things, one of which being the level of ethnic diversity in South Korea. Anyone with a basic knowledge of East Asia will know that, generally speaking, the ethnicities of these countries are a lot less mixed than that of the Western world.
Take here in the UK for example, in recent years, the notion of ‘Britishness’ has been increasingly difficult for UK citizens to define and Britain is often described as a multi-cultural society. The diversity is apparently so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that the Indian dish curry is often voted as the most popular meal in Great Britain. Personally, I have grown up in South-East England, perhaps one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the UK thanks to the close proximity of London. I have existed around individuals from varying backgrounds, with the majority of this generation born in this country after their parents’ or grandparents’ migration. I decided it was best to conduct a small amount of research into ethnic backgrounds of citizens currently living in South Korea in order to compare it to the UK and here is something I found:
“South Korea’s population is approximately 48,875,000 (2010 figure). The population is remarkably homogenous, in terms of ethnicity – 99% of the people are ethnically Korean. However, the number of foreign laborers and other migrants is gradually increasing.” – Source
Whilst things may have changed slightly since the above statement was written, I would postulate that the ethnic diversity in South Korea may have increased if anything. The reason for this assumption is that South Korea is becoming increasingly successful in the Capitalist market as a result of the successful production and global exportation of cultural artefacts such as dramas, films and music. This has undoubtedly increased the countries visibility on a global scale and, thus, encouraged immigration to the country for both business and personal means.
It is for this reason that I feel acts such as an entertainer being made up to look like a black person may become as problematic for South Korea as it would be for the UK as time passes. In the United Kingdom, racism is (for the most part) under a zero tolerance policy, we are encouraged to accept each other’s’ cultural backgrounds fully and live together despite some differences. Of course, racism still exists here and British people are not skipping around in meadows holding hands, but I believe it is our diversity that has led us to hold acceptance of differences so high on our national agenda.
Then I think, perhaps I am being over-sensitive about this situation?
The saying: “political correctness gone mad” is very popular in many conversations about our government. Some argue that we have become a country too afraid to say anything for fear of offending someone, even if that means withholding our own opinions. I can see a point here as, after seeing ‘Dong Fury’, I was immediately worried about the international backlash my favourite South Korean programme would suffer as a result. It was only after thinking things through for a while that I attempted to consider how I would feel if someone who is not white (like myself) attempted to make themselves up to be a white person. I then think of the film ‘White Chicks’ (2004) which featured a couple of the Wayans brothers doing just this and, although I have never actually seen it myself, I cannot say I have ever been offended by them doing so as I knew it was in the context of comedy.
Maybe that’s just it, as with many things, it depends on the context as to whether or not a racist intent is ascertained. For example, if I were to make a racist jibe at one of my friends while we laughed and joked in our daily conversations, it would probably not offend them in the slightest. However, if we were in the heat of an argument and I shouted a racist insult at them, perhaps they would be more hurt from the words in this situation. Maybe the intent behind the action should be taken into account here rather than the action itself.
What do YOU think of this issue? Offensive or not?
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[Images source: Google Images].