Extra! Korea

May 6, 2009

Jon Huer comments published in Los Angeles Times article?!

Filed under: culture — extrakorea @ 2:26 pm

The Los Angeles Times has published an article about Korea’s obsession with improving its “national brand.” (One of these days, I’m going to write an entry describing why I think Simon Anholt is a snake oil salesman.)
In case you don’t know who Jon Huer is, he’s a professor with the University of Maryland, and lives and works on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. In other words, he lives on a transplanted, preserved, and protected piece of America that just happens to be within the Republic of Korea’s borders. In other words, he lives the life of an American in America, as opposed to an American expatriate in Korea. To be fair, his comments were sensible.

“It’s just mind-boggling. A country isn’t like some product you can just promote overnight,” said Jon Huer, a sociologist and Seoul newspaper columnist. “Korea’s image has always been a bit harsh. It’s not a Nepal or a Thailand — both tourist-friendly places. It takes time and patience to get to know the place and its people.”

However, in his writing, Huer typically writes from educated guesses that he makes from his ivory tower, since he doesn’t live in the same Korea that Koreans, or even expatriates, live in. Here is an example, to which an expat teacher wrote a scathing rebuttal:

Once again Jon Huer has approached an issue of interest ―“Why Is English So Difficult for Koreans to Master?” (April 25) ― but, rather than grounding his thesis in real-world research (i.e. talking to students or teachers of English), he has wandered off into thickets of abstruse philosophizing leading to risible and unsupportable conclusions.

For example, Huer makes much of the social stratification embedded in Korean versus English egalitarianism. I have yet to meet a Korean, however young, who took longer than 30 seconds to grasp that English has only one second-person pronoun, you, which is used to address everyone from the president to a janitor.

Similarly, Huer contrasts “efficient, calm and factual” English with the han-ridden emotionalism of Koreans. One wonders if Huer has read Shakespeare, Faulkner or Albee (to name a few), who have plumbed the depths of pathos and psychic torment in English.

One can see why Huer’s biggest fans are fake nine-year-olds. I wonder why the LA Times writer couldn’t have looked around for someone with more credibility. Michael Breen, Robert J. Fouser, Gary Rector, and Andrei Lankov were unavailable? Even Scott Burgeson would have been preferable. Speaking of whom, his nemesis, Michael Hurt, took time out from his fetish site to give some comments of his own.

“Korea is stuck in this way of thinking that it has to outdance, outspend and out-palace other countries,” said Michael Hurt, a local blogger, photographer and branding committee member.

“It’s never been about that. Korea is a quirky taste.”

Incidentally, I recommend reading the article in its entirety. Some highlights:

Citizens flinch on hearing their country ridiculed as a place where politicians throw punches.

Maybe they’re referring to this.

“Korea’s problem is that it doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower. Paris doesn’t need a slogan — it’s Paris,” said public relations executive Phillip Raskin, a branding committee advisor.

“Paris would be attractive even if its slogan was ‘Go to hell.’ In fact, it might actually be that.”

Really? You don’t say.

The centerpiece of [Lee Myung-bak’s] agenda is food. The government has announced a plan to globalize Korean cuisine, vowing to put it among the world’s top five by 2017.

Like their plan to make ddeokbokki (떡볶기) much more appealing by changing its name to topoki (토포키). Good luck with that.


Thanks to commenter Kushibo, I now have ddeokbokki spelled correctly.


  1. Just for the record, “go to hell” is New York’s slogan.

    Comment by Korea Beat — May 6, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  2. […] extrakorea placed an observative post today on Jon Huer comments published in Los Angeles Times article?! « Extra …Here’s a quick excerptThe Los Angeles Times has published an article about Korea’s obsession with improving its “national brand.” (One of these days, I’m going to write an entry describing why I think Simon Anholt is a snake oil salesman.) … […]

    Pingback by Topics about Los-angeles » Blog Archive » Jon Huer comments published in Los Angeles Times article?! « Extra … — May 6, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  3. 똑보끼 –> 떡볶기

    Anyway, the problem here is that the Western media reporting on places like Korea (and a lot of other places) is lazy. They don’t send qualified people and those whom they do send are often quite lazy, relying on an incestuous network of connections with each other to get their ideas.

    NPR and BBC tend to at least try a bit.

    Comment by kushibo — May 7, 2009 @ 3:38 am

  4. […] don’t think Korea needs a national slogan. I don’t understand this obsession with “national brands.” I think it’s just a jargon term for being well-known in the world, one invented by, and […]

    Pingback by Seoul to introduce new national slogan? Boooooo! « Extra! Korea — July 22, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

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