Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SNL Korea fail in their attempt to satirize Korean adoptees

This news story has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought I'd share if you weren't aware.

Saturday Night Live Korea has a history of performing skits that poke fun at various members of Korean society in a way that outrages Western audiences. In the past, they (along with many other TV shows) have used blackface to satirize Africans and African-Americans, and this drew ire from the international community. Perhaps you could point to cultural ignorance in defense of their choice of comedy, but what they've done now is pretty much inexcusable.

A recent sketch parodies the reunion of a Korean adoptee arriving in Korea for the first time to meet his birth mother. What starts off as an emotional meeting quickly descends into idiocy as the adoptee butchers his Korean, uses improper honorifics, and asks his mother extremely rude questions. The humor is supposed to come from the adoptee's complete unfamiliarity with the Korean language and culture, but the international Korean adoptee community is not laughing at all.

One of my best friends in Korea is an adoptee, and she has never met her birth mother. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to watch this video and think about how this video reflects what Korean society thinks of her. Was the audience laughing because it's funny that a person separated from their family and raised on the other side of the world has difficulty communicating their thoughts and feelings? Do they find it funny that what could be the most emotional moment of their life is reduced to an overwrought demonstration of kicking and flailing that is meant to be taekwondo? Are they aware the adoption is in many ways an industry in South Korea that began with the orphans from the Korean War and continues today with babies of underage or unwed mothers being exported all around the world?

SNL Korea's skit is insensitive at best and utterly heartless at worst. In choosing to satirize this very painful reminder that the Korean diaspora is irreversably split and scattered, they show disrespect not just to adoptees, their birth families, and their adoptive families, but to all of Korea, all around the world.

Some links:
KoreAm Magazine coverage, a summary of the issue as well as a link to the original video.
Open letter from Jane Jeong Trenka, a very heartfelt and beautifully-written plea for #AdopteeDignity.
Reddit discussion of the skit.

But the most convicting thing I've read by far was the dozens of comments left by the international adoptee community on SNL Korea's Facebook page, blasting them for their poor taste and cruel sense of humor and relating some very personal stories about their experiences as adoptees. These comments are real. I hope the folks over at SNL Korea get them translated and actually read them. We'll see what happens...

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