Rating:
383

Strong Woman Do Bong-soon: Episode 12

It has now gotten to the point where I need a packet of throat lozenges next to me when I watch this show, as I’m about to lose my voice from either happy squeals or terrified shrieks. As usual, Strong Woman has us waffling from one end of the spectrum to the other, with no breaks for a little grey area downtime. Between our swoon-worthy main couple and the psychotic kidnapper, I never know what this show is going to throw at us. All I can say is: Hang on to your emotions, kids, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…

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Hi,

I am a Pakistani residing in Punjab, and I have a serious bone to pick with Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. The drama was amazing in the beginning with the basic premise of challenging gender stereotypes. I was so glad that a drama was going all out and challenging it...

BUT!
Episode 12 had serious racial insensitivity and cultural misrepresentation. Firstly the use of Punjabi bhangra music was a huge no-no. Bhangra music is not spiritual and hence I did not appreciate the use of Daler Mehdi to convey a kind of spiritual enlightenment for Baek Tak. Also, showing the Brahmin priest as a sort of effeminate character did not establish a good premise for South Asian spirituality... Reminded me of the 'sulky darky' label I read in The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. I absolutely hate it when people say 'all Asian look alike', but I would appreciate this scriptwriter to have at least put in the effort to know a little about our culture and the importance we lay in names. Our names often represent our religions in this part of the world and Nizamuddin, is well... a) a Muslim name b) the name of a sufi saint revered by many. The moment I googled Nizamuddin, the first result was Nizamuddin Aulia, who I am referring to over here. They made sure to use a name of spiritual value but I did not appreciate the feeling I got as if me and my fellow South Asians were being mocked... I wish I could communicate my frustration to the makers of a show that was supposed to challenge stereotypes and ended up reinforcing them so severely.

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Maybe rather than complaining on the internet about how South Koreans view you (which I think is rather ridiculous considering the inclusion of Christian baptism in the scene) your time would be better spent trying to eliminate the caste system and address the horrific violence against women in India. Worrying about stereotypes other people hold about you while gross social injustice is so widely accepted seems a bit like cursing at the neighborhood kids for walking through your garden while your house is burning down behind you.

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For all intents and purposes, your practical suggestion makes complete sense, which is why I referred to an Asian outlook. We do, as a people have an interest in creating mean labels and making fun of people, on their appearances and basic mannerisms. I have always found it offensive, and considering that South Korea has developed, I expect some element of sensitivity for them. Suggesting how they can improve their writing has not negative consequences for anyone. Just like we can't resolve all the social issues plaguing us in one day, I don't expect the Korean scriptwriters to magically stop reflecting what they see around them. I just want them to be aware of the negative repurcussions, since there's a huge fan base in South Asian. Pakistanis and Indians alike are unhappy with this episode

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Completely agree with @shalu here.

1. You'll notice people are expressing a variety of opinions. Dramaninja and Rie below found it quite funny, for instance.

2. Are you saying that we are not allowed to express our views unless our country is perfect? Why is that? Because your country/culture is perfect so you alone are allowed to express your views?

3. Nobody is spewing hate at Korean producers 'on the internet'. This is a recap page for the episode of the show that referred to a particular culture. I don't see how you can tell the people of that culture that they cannot comment on how it was handled. That's like telling gay people they cannot comment on how homosexuality has been handled by the show.

I don't mean to sound aggressive, but this is a strand of the 'if you don't like it, leave' - school of thought, that gets me very worked up. >_<

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Not to sound like a really typical jaded old lady, but life isn't fair. No religion is ever truly represented in any drama because people are not going to tune in for a weekly theology lecture. It happens to every religion. Imagine how ridiculous it would sound had Catholics started having fits over the inaccuracies of a character that was actually supposed to be a postulate in You're Beautiful. She didn't go to mass or have a confessor because it's a drama, not because Korea secretly has it out for Catholics.

As it stands this character is very obviously a joke. The writers and producers aren't asserting that all religious leaders are phonies, they're mocking the well established trope of "bad guy finds religion and suddenly becomes a decent human being." And I honestly don't know how they could have been any more equal opportunity about it, unless they had hyphenated the name to include Jesus and Moses and maybe a few minor Norse and Shinto gods, and then created an acronym. Which would have been hilarious.

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@crazycatlady
I understand what you are trying to say. Had they be making fun of poverty in the subcontinent, or maybe terrorism or something, I might have reacted differently. The issue I'm having with all of this has more to do with the fact that the spiritual leaders of this region have been misrepresented, when theis is not what they would behave like. This idea has nothing to do with the numerous social evils that may persist in our societies. It has nothing to do with domestic abuse, but it is simply the way spirituality is viewed in our region. Misrepresentation of thisis not fair...

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Adiya- I spend a lot of time with abused women and children so maybe I'm just jaded. But this is an honest question: Why should it matter? Why would anyone allow their identity to hinge on another country's media? Why would your identity not hinge on yourself and your community instead? Mine does, which is why I make a point to address those before I even consider trying to control what other people think about me. Instead of complaining about drunken native stereotypes I try to help with efforts to reduce the rate of alcoholism. Instead of looking for reasons to feel indignant and offended when someone misunderstands or misuses a cultural artifact I focus on improving the quality of life for the people around me. Speaking out on behalf of your people and making this your big issue seems insanely disrespectful to the people who are truly desperate. If anything should be considered a blight on your identity it should be unchecked violence in your community, not a minor character in a television show produced in a different country and targeted towards a completely different dynamic.

The producers of this show aren't trying to create a representation of India. They made a ridiculous character of questionable heritage and religion to create a caricature of the reformed criminal trope.

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None of these examples mean that a person should not try to reclaim their identity. Understood that a starving poor person might not care about this, but it does not mean that we do not try to make people writing about us know who we really are. Every society has a darker underbelly, but while we shouldn't ignore it, we shouldn't even focus on the darkness so much that we completely forget other aspects of the society. One thing I love about kdramas is how they communicate concepts like financial corruption in chabeol groups and show us the violent machinations that lie under the surface of some of the most hilarious scripts. But while they see themselves through various tinted glasses, the reason for all the anger is feeling that we were being viewed from a single tinted glass, which is not a true representation of a people...

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And no worries about the typo or the aggressiveness. I tend towards the aggressive style of communication, too.

It's been my experience that this whole culture of white knighting and perpetual victimhood has done nothing but hurt the people who actually need help the most. It redirects attention and resources towards petty, inane nonsense. And the privilege it shows in the face of real poverty and desperation, while presenting itself as a savior, is maddening. I can pretty much guarantee that an acid attack survivor or a Dalit who has been lynched and relegated to his terrible social position cares that a South Korean romcom poked fun at spiritualism about as much as a Native American boy who is beaten by his abusive father every night cares about the name of a sports team. Which is to say not one iota.

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I have. And I also have the good sense not to try to make an issue out of every stereotype I see, because I know we have bigger fish to fry. Not to mention it makes us, as a demographic, look like petulant children who would rather sit around calling other people mean for using red skins as a team name than address the problems in our community.

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Yikes. Sorry for the typo - 'crazycatlady'

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@crazycatlandy

I could tell you exactly what you've said to us: Instead of complaining on the internet about how South Asians feel about how their culture was portrayed on South Korean TV, your time would be better spent trying to resolve the problems of "widespread addiction, domestic abuse, corruption, and subpar education on native reservations" prevalent in your country.

Again, I am not trying to sound aggressive. Just making a point. Will not comment on this topic anymore.

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Nope. My country was far from perfect, which is why this irritates me so. It is so ridiculously common for people to throw around buzzwords like "cultural appropriation" to make themselves feel good while ignoring the very real, systematic abuse and corruption in their backyard.

Want an example from my own culture? I have seen people pitch fits over the popularization of dream catchers and headdresses. It's all a show to make them feel like they're a good person. These same people will willfully ignore widespread addiction, domestic abuse, corruption, and subpar education on native reservations. But hey, they made a big stink about some celebrity wearing a headdress! Clearly they are a upstanding, contributing member of the community.

Another good example would be a dysfunctional family dynamic. Focusing on perceived stereotypes outside of India is like a mother going after another kid for picking on her child after the child was beaten by his father, but not bothering to do anything about the abuse going on in the home.

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whoa first of all, everyone has the right express their anger and disappointment in the show? second of all, what you're referring to as a Christian baptism is actually a common Hindu practice where the priest blesses you with holy water after the prayer is over, while chanting. this is certainly not the type of response I would expect from anyone on DB.

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So what you're trying to say is that it is pretty much exactly the same as a Christian baptism from an outsider's perspective, complete with cleansing of some sort of sin. Or trash, as the case may be. Which is kind of the whole point of the scene. The specific religion doesn't matter, the only thing that matters is the gangsters are supposedly having some kind of spiritual epiphany. It's a spoof of the gangster conversion cliche. I Is he Hindu? Is he Muslim? Is he Christian? Who cares! Let's poke fun at all of them for good measure.

As a Native American there's nothing that irritates me, personally, more than people who live in glass houses trying to stone their neighbors. Just like how the reservations need to clean up their act before pointing fingers, the outrage here is laughable. By all means, keep throwing stones at Korean producers for not being properly reverent towards your specific culture. It's not going to hurt the broadcasters anyway. But meanwhile the lower castes and the female victims of abuse aren't getting the justice that they deserve.

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I understand that you are upset and you have every right to be but are you really surprised that this show has done another offensive being like this. This show has made a joke out of domestic abuse, sexuality, and has been sexist. I understand that people enjoy this drama but I feel that even if you enjoy something you can still call out it's problematic behavior instead of turning a blind eye.

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Asiya, Thank you so much for your explanation of what is wrong with those scenes. Although I did cringe because it felt off and this is dramaland so I knew they were getting it wrong, I'm just a white SoCal chick without the background to know what all was going on. That is one thing I appreciate about dramabeans...the coherent non-ranty explanations of how dramas misappropriate or wrongly stereotype. Your post and many others have helped teach me specific points of cultural awareness and sensitivity. Thank you!

It does seem like this show has picked one stereotype (female gender roles) to explore and talk about while completely ignoring or grossly over-exaggerating other stereotypes. While I would be tentatively willing to forgive ignoring because one show can't address all of society's ills, I cannot overlook the reinforcement of the other stereotypes that over-exaggerating creates.

But I wonder. Is this on purpose? To balance out the female gender role topic of Bong Soon's character? We can't talk about the wrongs of one ill without saying other stereotypes are ok (which is really what is happening)? That is just too much cultural change at one time for people to take? Or is it on accident? A somewhat subconscious, misguided attempt at lightening the serious mood of showing a girl with strength without realizing how damaging it is to those other stereotypes? I'm frustrated to the point of only recommending this show by scenes not whole episodes, but I still want to know why.

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JC,

I'm going to go ahead and make a broad generalization which may be hard for some Asians to digest... when people say 'it's an Asian thing', I like to believe it covers South Asia and East Asia... we have a lot in common than what meets the eye, though maybe some basic physical differences may say otherwise. Culturally, we are all made of the similar stuff. The idea of a female lead who is super powerful is hard to fathom in Asia. Being mocked, told not to pick a fight with a boy, and being told you are weak is something we experience 24/7. Had Bong Soon just had her strength just like that, the public would have had great qualms with it. But showing things that can make it kosher for her to have these superpowers is the reason why the scriptwriters probably did what they did.

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Same Nizamuddin I'm referring to as well. Like bluegrass, I try not to take it seriously, but it was certainly reflective of a complete and utter lack of knowledge. And, as you say, of laziness - 10 mins on Google will tell you all this, including the cultural emphasis on appropriate names. Punjabi bhangra might take a little longer.

But what made me sad was the realisation that it truly is a one sided love.

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A thousand times YES and agree to ALL. I found the Bhangra funny at first because there was no context of the monk, but then THAT happened and I found myself ick-ing out. :(

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Me too. I played the bus scene about five times before the monk happened.

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