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Matt from Gusts of Popular Feeling posts this hypothetical this conversation on the bus between two Koreans:

Hey, you know that girl I told you about in my class, the one who was crying after she saw her test scores?
Yeah.
Well after school my friends saw her eat a burger at Burger King.
So?
Guess what happened?
What?
They found her in the parking lot of her apartment building that night. She was lying on the ground covered in blood, and people could see her brains. They looked like…
What??
A sponge.
Wow.
She totally died of mad cow disease.

He also points out that the government is trying to put an end to the crazy rumormongering on the Internet, spread by high school students, according to the Chosun Ilbo. The rumors look to be originating from some organized source that cloaks its number, something I doubt high schoolers sending messages to friends would do. This was taken from the Hankyoreh:

The national prosecution and police say they are going to criminally prosecute people involved in spreading so-called “mad cow horror stories” (gwangubyeong goedam) on the Internet, in addition to prosecuting the organizers of candlelight protests against imports of American beef.

Top ranking officials at the Supreme Prosecutor General’s Office held an unscheduled meeting on May 6 to discuss ways to prosecute “horror stories (goedam) on the Internet.”

“The number of horror stories on the Internet is reaching serious proportions and we can’t just sit around and do nothing,” said one prosecutor. “We’re going to look at what’s going on and see if there are any issues.”

A high-ranking police official, said the police see it as a “serious problem” that there is “inaccurate information about American beef and criticism of government policy that is not factual overflowing” on the Internet.

GI Korea at ROK Drop believes it’s a lack of critical thinking skills in the general Korean populace which makes them believe urban myths more readily than proven facts.

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Look no further then the Yongsan Water Dumping Issue, the 2002 Armored Vehicle Accident, the GI Crime issue, or the US-ROK SOFA issues. All these issues have been demagogued by the Korean media as well as politicians and activists linked to North Korean spies.

To compound the problem is the fact that many Koreans lack critical thinking skills. That is why statements like this fail to register with Koreans:

Some Korean-Americans were aggrieved at a tendency in Korea to view American beef as the carrier of mad cow disease. A Korean customer at a restaurant in Annandale, Virginia frequented by many Korean Americans said, “Does it make sense that the same beef we eat here is regarded by Koreans as the carrier of mad cow disease?” An employee of the restaurant said, “We’ve cooked here with beef certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 15 years, but we’ve never worried about mad cow disease.”

He concludes that the reason for this lack of critical thinking skills lie within the teachers. The government is telling the teachers to not allow students to go to the candlelight vigils. My personal feeling is that even though the protests are based on urban myths, taking steps to discourage or actual outlaw free speech and assembly would have more of a backfiring effect on what the pro-U.S. beef people intend. When the government or any large organization steps in and tells people what they can and can’t think, immediately the organization loses credibility in the minds of those people. They may be gullible, but they’re not stupid.

Rather than that, I believe one of many ways to battle this misinformation is to encourage discussion of these issues in the classroom freely without teachers or bullying groups dominating the conversation. Encourage critical thinking where students must back their claims with facts, a skill that seems sorely looked over in the Korean school system that infects the rest of Korean society from the media to the universities to the average housewife, especially when the society can be influenced by high schoolers’ text messages.

Some of the rumors include the following

  • The first human death of mad cow disease was reported on May 2nd this year
  • Consuming 0.01 grams of U.S. beef is guaranteed to kill you
  • After allowing the beef imports, the Korean president will relinquish Dokdo Island (an issue that fires up the nationalists)

Among the rumor mill is talk of a protest on May 17th by high schoolers. Now, I’m all for youthful civil disobedience. I think a healthy democratic society needs it. It just makes me sad to think that it’s wasted on an urban myth. Imagine if high schoolers in the U.S. all did sit-ins to protest Pop Rocks and Coke.

That’s the level of surreal silliness we’re living with.

UPDATE: The Marmot has brought to our attention that the professor whose findings about Koreans being more susceptible to mad cow disease has been used as the basis for the media scare about U.S. beef has come out and said he was embarrassed that his findings have been manipulated for political purposes. He said that his thesis was such that even other scholars would have trouble interpreting it.

He said the real fear, if anything came from European beef. Only three American cows have been found to have mad cow disease, and all three of them were infected outside the U.S.

Nonetheless, he was speaking through someone else because of fears that the populace would turn against him. He has already had animal feces thrown at his house.

Repeat, he has already had animal feces thrown at his house.

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