Tuesday, May 31, 2011

dagNotes: On The Perverted Foreigner in Capitalist Culture (Korean Edition)

Gusts of Popular Feelings blogger, Matt, recently posted about a story in the Gyeongin Ilbo newspaper. I quickly commented on his blog. My notes here are a slightly different version of those comments.

Matt keeps a good blog. It's worth visiting. To understand some of my points in this post, you should read his post first.

Matt often posts about the grotesquely anti-foreigner popular press on Gusts. This form of journalism directed towards immigrants and immigrant labor/laborers is similar to much of what you find in Europe and the United States--the article's headline addresses the laborers rather than the institutions and business owners. Considering Matt's analysis of the Gyeongin Ilbo article, it's clear that foreigner teachers are used as a warrant for the claim that reform from business owners is necessary.

I'd like to see a study of journalism that examines the use of foreign labor corrupting local culture as a warrant for calls to increase national security. In addition, the research could illustrate how national security in capitalist culture is equivalent to the well-being of consumers.

As Matt notes, the Korean government is exploring means to improve the standards and practices of hagwon owners. Why does the popular media focus on the employees of hagwons? To some extent, it would make no difference if foreigners were prohibited from teaching at hagwons altogether. The media, I'd predict, would shift its focus from perverted foreign teachers to unqualified and inexperienced Korean teachers. My claim is that the popular media shelters business owners from criticism in spite of the government's acknowledgement that the business owners' practices are, in fact, the problem.

I'm confident the global study of popular journalism I have proposed would find similarities in the culture(s) of readership in spite of different ideological attitudes/directions of nations, governments and markets. The critique of foreign employees, like the critique of Native Speaking English Teachers, is not distinctly Korean, rather a global capitalist construct that elite culture permits and cultivates in bargain with popular discourse to shield its unethical and illegal behavior. The wild stories about perverted foreigners is market derived and nurtured and directly related to what capitalist politicians and theoreticians like to call the liberal social order of the market. It's part of the mess that prevents market action from being transparent. (See Hayek and Mises on market transparency for classical capitalist discussion regarding the opaque nature of the market.)

There's something to profit from the exploitation of immigrants and their labor. Such exploitation permits regulation of the market in useless ways that can satiate the desire for reform from the public discourse, from voters, from consumers, while sheltering the capitalist from the effects of reform. We might want to consider, once again, we're being presented with a strong critique of the usefulness of capitalism itself because this demonization and perversion of the foreigner directly contradicts a keystone claim about the catallactic economic activity in a free capitalist market--that business between strangers creates friends rather than enemies. The business in capitalist markets clearly has trouble creating friends, in spite of trade agreements and opening borders. I'd argue it's best at creating arguments for enforced homogeneous nations that, as they grow more prosperous, grow more authoritarian and xenophobic.

It's not too difficult to understand that the claim all foreigners will become perverts suits a narrative that supports the consumer economy as well as the government that regulates it. What does this mean in Korea? Nobody wants education reform because education reform would require fundamentally altering hagwon culture, which would represent a national cultural transformation, likely a radical alteration.

We see this daily in North America where the right wing resurgence in recent elections in the US and Canada, the movement to the right of liberal politics, as well as the wholesale acceptance without much struggle of neoliberal and American libertarian principles, can be understood as an attempt to maintain a concrete idea of what it means to be American or Canadian. The regression for North America involves the fantasy of white, Christian, masculine identity. In Korea, it's an identification with fantastic Korean identity that, like the American identity, has never actually existed. Consumers want to buy their identification. Studying at hagwons is compulsory for most Koreans. Well, so now is the presence of perverted foreign teachers who want to corrupt the national purity.

As I argued above, this is not a Korean characteristic. It is the result of capitalism.

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