Korea This Week: October 2nd – 8th

In Korea this week: the effects of anti-bribery laws, how Korea spent Chuseok, and pot calls kettle plagiarist

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Pop Still Eating Itself

A Korean lawmaker has recently charged Chinese content producers with plagiarizing Korean television programs. The Korea Times piece notes that the increasingly “brazen” plagiarism is occurring on the heels of the Korean government’s decision to install the THAAD missile defense system, which China opposes and which led to a series of boycotts that included Korean dramas and other pop culture content.

Korea watchers will feel their irony sensors tingling, as Korean pop culture producers and entertainers have often come under fire for improperly borrowing other people’s work, as was allegedly the case with three out of the seven new TV programs reviewed by Soompi.com just two days ago.

Various accusations of plagiarism against Korean artists, students, and academics are disappointingly easy to dig up. Korean rocker Jeon In-kwon was accused of ripping off a German song last April; 200 Korean professors were busted for copyright infringement in a major scandal in 2015, after passing off books by other authors as their own; and plagiarism was detected in 1,500 college admission essays in 2016, though the actual number is believed to be higher if one includes the practice of ghostwriting.

If the issue is not one of plagiarism per se but of the “brazen” way in which work is pilfered, Chinese content producers might do well to heed the example of K-Pop boy band Seventeen, whose Billboard-charted single “Don’t Wanna Cry” bore an uncomfortable similarity to “Something Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. Rather than merely plead innocence, they last week pleaded innocence and added Chris Martin et. al. as co-copyright holders to stave off a potential lawsuit. Progress of a kind.

Full disclosure: this photo is being used without permission.

The Kim Young-ran Law, One Year Later

In September of last year, The Improper Solicitation and Graft Act (commonly known as “The Kim Young-ran Act”, after the Supreme Court justice who proposed it), went into effect in Korea, aimed at reducing common and culturally-sanctioned forms of bribery like gifts and meals proffered to public servants, teachers, and journalists.

One year down the track, the law seems to be having an effect, according to recent polls cited by the Korea Herald. The one-year-old law, which places limits on the amount of money that can be spent on meals (30,000 won), gifts (50,000 won), and wedding/funeral cash gifts (100,000 won), has reportedly had an effect on restaurants, flower shops, and gift-set retailers, many of whom have scaled prices to comply with the law and/or have reported declines in sales.

Critics say that the spending limits are set too low, and place unreasonable restrictions on legitimate expressions of gratitude and goodwill. It has been frequently noted that the law has affected gift-giving culture, an important part of many holiday traditions, but which also often straddled – and crossed – the line into bribery.

On the plus side, some parents and teachers have reported feeling less stress as a result of the law, referring to the long-standing practice of showering teachers with gifts in order to secure extra attention for particular pupils, while many Korean companies have seen their entertainment expenses drop significantly, as the space for legally-compliant wining and dining has diminished.

Prior to the law taking effect, many restaurants, like this one in Seoul, highlighted items whose price fell under the 30,000 won limit.

Goodbye, Super Chuseok (Who Could Hang a Name on You?)

Super Chuseok has come and gone, and the nation goes back to work tomorrow after an unprecedented 10-day break. Though the holiday was hoped to spur domestic spending, record numbers of Koreans opted to take the opportunity to vacation overseas.

For foreigners in Korea, Chuseok can likewise be a mixed bag. One recent Korea Herald piece spoke to the loneliness experienced by many foreign wives, as well as the stress of preparing for the holiday in a culture that still often expects women to shoulder the main burden of shopping, cleaning, and cooking for large numbers of people on major holidays.

In a recent Korea Times editorial, Emmanual Yi Pastreich laments that Chuseok is losing is central character, as it shifts from a contemplative holiday centered around gratitude for one’s forebears, into one more focused on consumption. His characterization of the new Chuseok actually reminded me of a certain American holiday that involves turkey, sofas, and football games:

          “Now the holiday has become a celebration of consumption: eating food, and then eating more food. The children watch television and adults gossip about forgettable topics in a desultory manner. Not a word is spoken about the past and little attention paid to the details of the food itself or even to each other. The spirit of reverence and of thankfulness has been lost.

In our household, Chuseok is neither the best of times, nor the worst of times, but this year it was certainly relaxing, if slightly marred by US President Donald Trump vaguely hinting at war with North Korea. Some things, alas, will never change.

And if anyone missed the (admittedly reaching) reference in the title of this segment, here it is, in all its mournful glory.

And how was your week?

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