Michael He

March 1, 2022

Your Ignorance Is Not My Problem

Upon hearing about Lee Jung-jae 이정재 and Jung Ho-yeon 정호연 winning the 2022 Screen Actor Guild Award for their stellar performance in Squid Game, I knew one thing immediately.

Some journalists are going to ask some dumb questions.

And that happened. Kudos to the two actors and the wonderful interpreter not letting this get to them.

Here's the obvious reason why "Now that you're SAG winners what are you going to miss most about being anonymous?" is a stupid question.

Actually, this is not just about one question, but how non-Western media, culture, and entertainment are treated in a broader context (starting with the questions being asked).

Who said Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon are anonymous (implying not recognizable) in the first place? One is a well-accomplished actor in South Korea and beyond. The other is a top model who is now the brand ambassador of Louis Vuitton. The question's premise is absurd and erroneous.

But that's not what makes it problematic. The real problem is in the general ignorance that seems to sweep across Western media. For now, let's look at how media reports on culture. 

For as much as they claim to be an "inclusive" voice and a champion for "diversity", many journalists reporting on culture and entertainment live the exact opposite. Ask them about Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad (1965) or Stanislav Rostotsky's The Dawns Here Are Quiet (1972) and you will get blank stares as if you asked them to recite the quadratic formula. And these are prominent films! The former is one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made and the latter is one of the grandest films about World War Two whose reputation is less than other ones due to its USSR status.

I've first experienced this with Chinese cinema. Aside from Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and perhaps Jia Zhangke (Ang Lee is a special case due to his extensive experience in Hollywood), most prominent Chinese directors and Chinese films have no recognition in the west. You literally need to win a Golden Bear or Palme d'Or to be in the press, and even then the coverage is so limited most people won't care enough to give it a shot.

That is fine for many years, but times are changing. If you promise to be representative about world cinema, then you actually have to do it. Though I'm not surprised about hypocrisy. After all, it's show business we are talking about...

But at the end of the day, your ignorance is not my problem. If you don't do your research and respect the people you interview (you are literally taking their valuable time), then don't yourself a journalist. Call yourself a clown, a sensationalist, anything but journalist, for you bring shame to the profession that places its upmost honor on truth and integrity.

At the very least, learn about the people you cover and their works. Broaden your horizon and your repertoire. It's not that difficult. It just takes two hours every week to watch a new film to cultivate your taste. Are you saying 52 films not focusing on the US or Europe is impossible to watch in a year? Then I'd seriously question your time management capability and skills. Maybe don't do this for a living then...

And no, passively letting Netflix recommend you a few non-Western TV shows does not count. I love Crash Landing on You, but it's not representative of all Korean TV. Nothing ever is, just as Hayao Miyazaki's masterpieces do not represent all Japanese animations (though they represent humanity's greatest storytelling efforts).

It's not just in TV and films. It's also in music. Five years after BTS released their perennial Spring Day, four Years after they released Love Yourself: Tear, three years after they concluded a 42-show world tour that had 2 million attendants, two years after they made Map of The Soul: 7, and one year after becoming a household name, some media outlets still get the most basic questions wrong simply because they are not American. I'm talking about BTS here! This reflects continued ignorance and nothing else. How does someone writing about music have years to learn about k-pop and not bother to do that for a second, then proceed to write concert reviews and album reviews as if they know everything? Try doing that for The Beatles or Taylor Swift (two artists I greatly admire) and see if you will get roasted everywhere.

Many things are broken about today's media, starting with how they cover culture and entertainment. If gossip brings money but you sell your soul in the process, then be upfront and clear about what you're doing. Don't put a fig leaf over your unimpressive skin. If you want to do better, then be better and put your money and efforts where your mouth is.

I thank @modooborahae for sharing that clip.