A review of "Abnormal Summit": Gender, Sexuality, and Race in Kpop
Some Background on Korean Media:
The premise of the show is cute. It is like the male version of “Misuda,” which was a show where beauties from different parts of the world living in Korea talked about their experiences. Race, and gender came up often in that show, not often enough in my opinion, but definitely more so when compared to the other shows. In general, we often see that gender roles are always assumed and never challenged. Women are always weak, and in need of saving, and both men and women accept that narrative. There are broadcasting restrictions which makes non-hetero sexualities taboo topics. However, just because I consume Korean media, doesn’t mean that I am an expert in Korean culture. There are definite ways in which art imitates life, and vice versa, but life is also more complicated than tv dramas, and humans are always more complex than they are on tv, no matter how multi-faceted and well-developed the human on tv is. Therefore, we can expect to find many strong and independent women in Korea, and we shouldn’t be surprised when find such women. Gay characters are rare in Korean dramas. In “Secret Garden”, Lee Jong Suk played a gay character, which is very brave of him, but is an overall a rare occasion. Too rare. However, in reality, there are gay Koreans. Lots of them, and that too shouldn’t surprise us.
There is a definite correlation in visibility and acceptance. As in, visibility of minority gender/sexuality/race in media correlates to their acceptance in civil society. In America, for the past couple of years there have been more LBTQ actors and characters in media. There have also been songs representing them and their cause, and such representations correlates directly to the strength of the LGBTQ movement in civil society. The fact that there are so many problematic gender roles, so few queer characters and celebrities, and semi-racist comments thrown around all the time in Korean media is because race, gender, and alternative sexualities are still new discussion topics in Korea. It hasn’t been long since people of other races have come into Korea, and although, homosexuality as a human condition is not new to Korea, homosexuality as a discussion topic is very new. Before people start accepting differences, those differences have to first come into their consciousness. The idea of homosexuality has to come into a person’s mind before an individual even begins accepting the idea. Gender equality as a term has to be understood, before it is understood as a concept. Therefore, we have to be critical of the media we consume, but also understanding of the people who create these media. Kpop is amazing, but problematic. Korean songwriters purposely write songs with English lyrics. They want to interact with us, and we have certain agency in what we choose to watch. Kpop is global, and social networking is a useful tool. We can let them know when the media they are selling us is messed up while being understanding and respectful.
Do I agree with everything that is said on the show? No.
Is everything that is said on the show “politically correct”? hell no.
This show is anything but politically correct. One of the panelist is a super Chinese nationalist. In fact all of them are super nationalist, and being politically correct entails that you keep your nationalism under control. These men are horrible at keeping their nationalism under control. That is wonderful. Being “politically correct” is another term for “remaining silent.” Silence achieves nothing. If the rules of civility are established, and everyone knows that they are safe, then everyone should say what they think and that is exactly what happens on the show. These are bunch of male chauvinist,nationalists.
That is not to say that these men are going to go around murdering people for their countries, or beat their wives. They are very nice men, with good ethical values. The point is, Hitler isn’t the only kind of nationalist, and there are other manifestations of male chauvinism beside wife beating. These topics just need visibility so that people can question, deconstruct, and then reconstruct their ideas, instead of just blindly assuming. Yeaahhhh~
So, the basic format of the show is that each week a guest comes in, and they bring in a topic, and then they ask the panelists if they are abnormal or not. The panelists are all foreigners and the guests are almost always Koreans. The hosts are Yoo Se Yoon, Jun Hyun Moo, and Sung Si Kyung.
Some of the More Interesting Guests and their Topics:
On one of the episodes, the panelists discussed marriage. Everyone expressed their views openly and comfortably. Everyone criticized each other’s views openly and comfortably. All of them still remain very good friends with each other. Hong Seok Cheon was one of the guests that came on the show. He did not ask the panelists to decide if he was abnormal or not. The show is honest, but not cruel. However, since he was there, and since he is the only openly gay celebrity in Korea right now, the panelists did discuss homosexuality.
Having allowed everyone to express their views on homosexuality, Hong Seok Cheon revealed his own relationship with a concept of “marriage” and the episode ended their. A few tears were shed. However, no one really changed their minds. Episodes rarely end with a conclusion. Most Korean variety shows feel the need to have a conclusion. If a disagreement occurs, they try really hard to resolve the issue within that episode. The conclusion is usually contrived, and makes for an overall uncomfortable watch. This show does none of that. It only strives to plant seeds. There are new discussion topics every episode, and every episode it plants a new seed in the panelists’ and viewers’ minds.
In another episode, Announcer Park Ji Yoon came. She wanted to know if she was abnormal for wanting to have both children and career. I really liked her. She came in knowing what she wanted, and knowing that she wasn’t going to change her mind, but I think she just wanted men to think about the idea. She just wanted men to think about their privilege. It left some of the men confused. Especially since there were men on the panel who insisted that both men and women are equally capable of taking care of children. All of them pretty much agreed that both men and women care capable of doing the same job equally well. So, ideologically, they were not sexist, however, the fact that they restricted women from having the same privileges as them based on other ideologies that society use to uphold patriarchy became visible to them. By theory, not sexist, by practice, sexist. Interesting interesting.
My love Gookju came, and they discussed cohabitation. The men are very open about their sexuality, and their needs, but female libido is never discussed, which is why I feel like none of these men are going to be particularly good in bed. This episode was kind of disappointing as a bi-sexual woman. It was a fun episode, but just sad hearing about sex being discussed indirectly, but being directly discussed as a man thing. urgh. Female libido is real, y'all.
My Favorite Panelists (Where I Sexually Objectify Men):
Not necessarily the most visible, but definitely brings up the sexy quotient. Behind the tattoos, there is a lost-boy naivete which only adds to his sex appeal, in my opinion. He has interesting things to say, and has a gentle presence. He is not on the show in the later episodes, and yes, I do miss him, even though he never had the most screen time.
He is the token Black person. There is literally one Japanese, one Chinese, one Black person, and the rest are all White people. Uhmmm…Problematic. Whatever! He is one the panelists who gets the most screen time, and he also happens to be one of the more popular ones. He looks like a sex god, and acts like an idiot. Very charming. Think Jackson of Got7. Sexy at first sight, and just wild the rest of the time. He never participates when the discussions get heated. He went to college on a State scholarship, as in he has been chosen by his country to go abroad and study, as in he has a brilliant mind, yet chooses to act the idiot. I can’t help but think his silence is voluntary, and obviously the world has a part to play in his silence. We don’t give Black men the same platform we give White men. I like him, I feel sorry for him, and I am really frustrated by him too. Regardless of my conflicting feelings towards Sam, I am happy he is there, I always remember he is there, and I always want him there. Stay~
Enes Kaya. He speaks Korean like a dream, but he is very conservative. The Korean name the netizens have given him is Kwak Mak Yo, which is the phrase often used to express constipation, and uptight people. He is vocal, and says everything he wants to say without any inhibition, which makes him very interesting to me, and I really appreciate his presence on the show. Even though I disagree with him, I like him a lot as a person. I appreciate his courage and honesty. I also think conversations are very boring if people have pretenses up. “Politically Correct” is one pretense that I don’t like. If you have a thing in your mind that is potentially racist, hence you are choosing not to say it, then you should definitely say it. Not in a place where you could get hurt for saying it, but in a place where people will listen to you, and then disagree with you. You have the right to express what you think, and if what you know is incorrect, then you deserve to hear a better-informed opinion. This guy is smart. He is conservative, but he is not a stupid, old fart, which lets me know that I have to always educate my opinions. Enes, I like you.
He is really cute but he spits when he talks, and that makes hims even cuter. He is liberal by theory, but conservative by practice. I am not calling him a hypocrite, I am just saying there is a gap in his believes and his practices. Most people are like that, but since he is on television, he is exposed to other people’s judgement. Regardless, he is one of my favorites, because he is cute, he is vocal, and he is confused. They call of him the duck, because he spits when he talks. So cute. So endearing. So young.
He is very cute but that is not the reason why I put him up. I swear to god there was gay moment between him and Sung Si Kyung. He sort of had tears in his eyes, and he said “I love you” to Sung Si Kyung, and before he said that everyone told him to be brave and to speak his mind and that everything would be edited accordingly. Sung Si Kyung blushed super hard afterwards, and looked really happy, but then completely brushed away the topic immediately. I can’t help but think they must have talked because Si Kyung became kind and attentive towards him in later episodes, and Guillaume went back to being super duper straight.
OH! So much. There is just so much. So many interesting personalities. The hosts are brilliant, and I just want each and everyone of you to go and watch it. I don’t feel like writing a review on things that I didn’t really enjoy at the moment. I might change my mind later when I am running out of material, but right now, I just want to rave. Hooray for cable. Cable killing it.
Abnormal Summit is a new talk show format on Korean TV. Similar to the well known MiSuDa a group of foreigners is invited to talk and discuss a variety of topics with the Korean hosts. Though while the group in MiSuDa was made up of women only, the cast members now are all male and the Show is set up to resemble a United Nations. Every episode 2 Korean celebrities are invited to present an “agenda” that the members will have to talk about. This has included topics such as ‘which is the right age to stop living with their parents’, ‘following your dreams’ or talking about men and sex education . They do not mince their words so it’s refreshing to see the men discuss with the Korean hosts and guests in a very honest and open manner. Some of the foreign cast members have appeared in other Korean variety shows before and are well known and admired for their Korean speaking skills. One of them is Sam Okyere from Ghana and we had the chance to ask him a few questions about his live in Korea and Abnormal Summit.
K:You’re fairly well known in Korea but our readers might not know you so could you shortly introduce yourself? Sam: I am Sam Okyere and I come from Ghana. I have been in Korea for a little over five years now and still counting. I came here initially as a student and ended up in the broadcasting field. I am currently an entertainer in Korea.
K:How long did it take for you to learn Korean as fluent as you speak it now? Any tips for learners on how to improve? Sam: My Korean didn’t pick up after a good three years in Korea. Compared to my fellow friends who I came to Korea with, I was the last to pick up on my speaking. However after I started university and lived in the all Korean dormitory a lot of things changed for me. My Korean went from beginner to intermediate in a very short period of time. I still consider myself as a learner as there are more dimensions of the Korean language that I want to explore. My advice to any learner is for them to not to only learn that language but understand the culture as well. This will take their Korean to a whole different level. There is always a huge difference between a foreigner who speaks just Korean and one who understand the meaning of the Korean language culture. Practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the better you become. It’s that simple.
K:Compared to other countries like the U.S, or in Europe foreigners still stick out much more in Korea and get treated differently. You’ve been in Korea for a long time and in the recent years more Korean learning and speaking foreigners have come into the country. Have you noticed a change in attitude towards them? And do you think it will become “normal” to see foreigners speaking Korean in everyday life? Sam: Korea has changed drastically over the last couple of years I’ve been here. Five years ago, there weren’t so many foreigners who spoke Korean. But the number has grown rapidly over very little amount of time. Koreans are now very open to Foreigners and they are more aware of the fact that a good number of foreigners speak Korean now than before. Foreigners speaking Korean in everyday life is gradually becoming common as the years go by.
K:People who have been to Korea often hear about which celebrity they look alike. Do you get bothered being compared to Will Smith or how have you learned to cope with compliments like those? Sam: To be honest, I never heard anybody back home (Ghana) tell me I looked like Will smith. However after coming to Korea, it’s what I hear more than anything else. It was very interesting in the beginning but it has become the first thing I hear from almost every Korean I meet. I take it as a compliment as Will Smith is my favourite actor. It does feel good from time to time especially being likened to someone you look up to.
K:Do people recognize you or are you still seen as just another foreigner in Korea? Sam: Sometimes people do recognize me and sometimes they don’t. It’s a little unclear as to whether I’m just another foreigner in Korea. To most foreigners, that might be the case but to Koreans they do recognize who I am occasionally and when they do it is a very pleasant feeling.
K: You’ve appeared in other shows before, but how did the idea for Abnormal Summit come about and how did you get involved? Do you and the other cast members have any influence on the creation of the program? Sam: I heard about Abnormal Summit through my company and I went for an interview which was successful and made a part of that show. Each individual member brings something unique to the table. Initially we had no influence on the creation of the show but working together has made us a part of the development and decision making process.
K:What language do you speak with each other outside the show, since most will probably know english quite good as well. Or has Korean become the common language between you guys? Did you know some of the others before joining the show and do you hang out a lot? Sam: Outside the show we speak both English and Korean. Both languages have become very natural and for the members who don’t speak fluent English Korean is the way to go. I knew Enes from Turkey and had worked with Julian from Belgium once. We have great chemistry on and off the show and we do hang out as often as possible. We speak on a daily basis to keep each other updated and share our thoughts on how to make our program better week after week.
K: Can you tell us about the show a little bit more?What kind of topics would you like to discuss in the future and what guests would you want to meet? Sam: The show is of one a kind in Korea and we plan to keep it as such. We focus on topics that face the Korean society as a whole from the older generation to the younger. We touch on very sensitive issues and discuss it from a foreign point of view. We also cover issues like gender issues, cultural differences, and race. I would like to discuss issues that involve the future of the younger Koreans and population issues. I would also like to touch on the importance of language and how it shapes a country. I would like to have female rights activists as guests on the show in the near future
K: In the show it’s sometimes (more jokingly) said, that you’ll change the world with Abnormal Summit. But do you actually believe that you’ll have an influence on Korean society? Sam: I do believe we change the world with this show. We have planted the seed of change and its effects are already visible. Most Koreans are getting more involved and approaching issues from a wider/international perspective. The idea of different people from diverse cultural backgrounds is being embraced in Korea and things are changing little by little. As representatives of our country we show the rest of the world that despite cultural differences and language barriers, we are still one people and can co-exist peacefully by respecting each others’ cultures and ideals
K:What has the feedback for the show from your Korean friends been? And how do Family and friends in Ghana react to you being on Korean TV? Sam: The feedback has been amazing and none of us expected this. The ratings for the show go up after every broadcast and that’s a step in the right direction. Some foreign friends also watch the show outside of Korea and their responses have been overwhelming as well.
K:What’s the thing you miss most from back home and think Korea should definitely try? Sam: I miss going to the beach every weekend with my family and I think most Koreans should try that. It’s fun and a great way to enjoy the weekend.
Thank you to Sam Okyere who answered this interview via E-Mail. Interview: Katy Maurer, Photo: Sam Okyere
“한국 남자들은 막 샤워하면서 껴안고 뭐 그래도 안그러잖아요. (다 아니라하니까, 숙스러운 웃음) 어- 아니- 숙소에서- 멤버들하고- 장난 안치나요?”
“Korean guys, like, even if you hug in the shower and stuff, they don’t really care. (Since everyone else seems to disagree, embarrassed laugh) Uh- I mean- At the dorms- with the members- Don’t you joke around?”
*He’s referring to an incident in 5th grade when he hugged a male classmate in America during a game, and the classmate freaked out and tried to beat him up.