Media’s view of foreigners can improveThe words of Marshall McLuhan four decades ago that “the media works us over completely ”couldn’t be truer today. Indeed, media influences much of our choices: what we buy, what we eat, how we dress, and sometimes invokes our thinking on topical issues. Beyond the traditional functions of media to inform, educate, persuade, entertain and set agendas for deliberations, media also forms deep-seating cultural perspectives or world views.
McLuhan, considered the father of modern communications, asserted that all media exists to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values. His claim that forms of media are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected or unaltered is quite evident in modern life.
In recent days, there has been a series of publications focusing on the multicultural aspect of Korean society. Some discussions have dealt with multicultural families, immigrant workers and mixed-race children. Over the years, Korean TV dramas such as “Golden Bride,” “Wandeuki,” “Banga Banga,” “Ojakgyo Brothers,” among others, have involved foreigners and, significantly, though in varying intensities, depicted key multicultural issues.
These initiatives are fantastic, though I always anticipate that they transcend entertainment scenes. Importantly, some interpretations in media necessitate reformation for they often raise eyebrows due to distorted images and unnecessary stereotyping.
News about foreigners, particularly from the developing world, routinely covers stories involving legal tussles, domestic violence or minorities as victims of some sort. It is also common to see news about foreign minorities receiving goodwill from generous Korean individuals or companies.
While hospitality is by all means much appreciated, partial emphasis on these perspectives can potentially reinforce a misconception that foreigners are underprivileged or are deeply in need. Some TV documentaries have occasionally presented one-sided stories of poverty, conflicts or tribal communities, especially from developing countries. These too reinforce “reductionist” views.
Depictions of minority foreigners as ill-informed, severely needy or dirty fail to promote the cultural diversity that the very existence of foreigners conveys to Korean society. Through balanced coverage, media can meaningfully help society to understand that foreign minorities contribute to Korean socioeconomic framework and that many foreigners are indeed inspiring the welfare of the cities they live in. It can be useful if media content producers consider the opinion of those they intend to characterize. Two offending advertisements by Korean companies, which were recently pulled out of the market, could illustrate a distorted view about other cultures.
In some instances, foreigners have been frowned upon for their critique of certain aspects of Korean culture, even when the reproach is done constructively. C. S. Lewis, a profound thinker and prolific writer, once argued that every culture has its own blind spots and its own viewpoint, and from that bearing superficially perceives certain truths and is especially predisposed to make certain blunders.
Without bearing in mind the feelings of the minorities they typify, the media may end up inhabiting a tiny universe that will choke the otherwise prospective multicultural dream.
*Benson Kamary A professor at Kosin University, Busan, and the former secretary-general of
Kenya Community in Korea