Dear kfangurl: Can you talk about the ‘Snowdrop’ controversy?

KS writes:

Dear Fangurl,

Could you please talk about the controversy surrounding the new drama ‘Snowdrop’? As a non-Korean drama fan, I am rather clueless as to the huge backlash this show is receiving from fans. But to my surprise, the internet community is clearly divided whether the show should be taken off-air or not.

So it will really help drama fans like me to know what and how do you feel about this controversy.

Thank you in advance.

Dear KS,

Thanks for your question!

I’m sorry that it’s taken me a while to answer your question. In actual fact, my opinion of this controversy has continued to evolve, over the few weeks since news of the controversy broke.

Additionally, I wanted to see for myself, exactly what Show was serving up, since jTBC has insisted that watching the show up to episode 5, would help to clear any misunderstandings that people might have, about the show distorting history.

This is my attempt at laying it all out, while keeping it as simple as possible.

I’ve tried to give as broad and balanced a view as possible, but it’s also very possible that I might have missed something important. Therefore, everyone, as always, feel free to share your own insights in the comments below!

PS: Just in case anyone’s wondering, I will not be commenting on the actual quality of the drama, in this post. I feel that that’s more relevant for the review or dropped post – whichever it turns out to be.

What’s the controversy about?

Here are a number of facts that I think are important to know, about this situation.

1. There was general unrest about Snowdrop even before the show began its run.

When Joseon Exorcist was pulled off the air for historical and cultural inaccuracies and insensitivity in March 2021, Snowdrop was also pulled into the fray, with detractors demanding that the show be prevented from airing as well. At the time, jTBC had assured everyone that the show did not distort history, and requested that everyone wait until the show aired, to see that there was, indeed, no distortion of history.

2. Snowdrop began its run on 18 December 2021, and on 19 December 2021, a petition was submitted to the Blue House, with more than 200,000 signatures collected, requesting that the show be taken off the air. At this point, 3 CF sponsors had also pulled out.

The petitioner wrote:

“At that time, the production team had no intention of doing so and they claimed, ‘The setting of the democratization movement which is led or participated by the male and female leads does not appear anywhere in the script’. However, in episode 1, which was aired recently, the female lead misunderstood the male lead as a spy and saved him.”

“During the pro-democracy movement, there were clearly victims, such as activists, who were tortured and killed for being spies. Despite these historical facts, creating a drama with such content clearly undermines the value of the democratization movement.”

Article here.

This petition gained momentum, collecting more than 300,000 signatures by 21 December. By 22 December, there were 30 active petitions to the Blue House demanding the drama’s cancelation. Sponsors and advertisers have continued to drop out.

3. On 21 December, jTBC responded with a statement, basically saying that the show isn’t distorting history, but that this would only become clear in later episodes. They asked people to be patient and wait for the later episodes to air, which would purportedly put everything in perspective.

They also opened a real-time chat service, so that viewers could express their opinions, as the episodes aired.

4. On 23 December, jTBC announced that they would air an extra episode on its second weekend on the air, because they said that this would help to clear up any misunderstandings about the plot.

5. On 29 December, the Seoul Western District Court dismissed the Declaration of Global Citizens in Korea’s request for an injunction to stop airing the drama. In short, the court has ruled that the show can continue to air (article here).

6. To date, there hasn’t yet been an official response from the Blue House regarding the petitions.

Other points of interest

1. The naming of the female lead

One of the things that detractors have taken issue with, is the naming of the female lead character.

In March 2021, the character’s name was changed from Young Cho to Yeong Ro, because the name Young Cho, had come under scrutiny for being an uncommon name, that was distinctly similar to the name of real-life pro-democracy activist Chun Young Cho, who had survived torture and questioning (article here).

jTBC denied that the character had been named in reference to Chun Young Cho, but stated that the character’s name would be changed.

2. The portrayal of the ANSP

Another key point which detractors of the show have been emphasizing, is that the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), which had served as South Korea’s intelligence agency during that period, is highly inaccurate.

By all accounts, the ANSP used very cruel methods against the activists in the democracy movement, and the ANSP agents in the show are shown to be much tamer and unreasonably civil in comparison.

Historically, the ANSP had tortured and even killed student activists, claiming them to be North Korean spies.

This has touched a very raw nerve with the Korean public, as many people suffered terribly at the hands of the ANSP, and the general sentiment, is that the show is whitewashing government misconduct during the era, and glorifying the ANSP.

True or False?

In order to have an informed opinion about this, I’ve watched all the available episodes of Snowdrop (which is 7, at the time of this posting), just to see for myself what the show is serving up.

Here are the various accusations against the show, and my take, after having seen the first 7 episodes.

[SOME BROAD HIGH LEVEL SPOILERS, GOING FORWARD]

1. The ANSP is being whitewashed: TRUE – to some extent

If accounts of the cruelty practiced by the ANSP are true (and there isn’t any reason to believe that they are not true), then yes, the ANSP in this drama world is a far cry from the vicious, cruel, ruthless ANSP from people’s actual experiences and memories.

As some netizens have put it, it’s like saying that the Nazis weren’t actually that bad.

At the same time, there are references to the torture in the show, like characters mentioning that the ANSP can turn you into a North Korean spy if they want to, and also, characters casually mentioning that other characters have been through various forms of torture. So they aren’t painted as innocent of these deeds, even though we are not shown the torture on-screen.

2. The North Korean regime is portrayed as being behind the Gwangju Uprising: FALSE 

At least up to the point that I have watched, the democracy movement exists in this drama world, but only tangentially. It’s adjacent to the main plot, but so far, not part of the main plot.

The closest we see Jung Hae In’s character (or any other North Korean spy) come close to a pro-democracy protest, is when he runs past one.

Therefore, it’s completely untrue that the show is putting forth the idea that some of the pro-democracy activists were indeed North Korean spies.

3. North Korean spies are glamorized: NOT REALLY

Male lead Jung Hae In is a North Korean spy, and while we do see him doing secret spy stuff and shooting people and giving off dark looks, he is also humanized.

When we first meet him and get to know him, we do not know yet, that he is a North Korean spy. By the time we are clear that he’s a North Korea spy, we’ve already grown connected to him as a character, to some extent.

During the shoot-out scenes between the North Korean spies and the ANSP, I found myself rooting more for Jung Hae In’s character than the ANSP, even though his character is North Korean – because I’d already grown connected to him as a character, like I mentioned earlier.

However, I don’t necessarily see this as Show trying to glorify the North Korean spies, as much as Show trying to humanize the various people caught in the various factions – and the North Korean spies happen to be some of those people.

What is Show trying to do, really?

Honestly, I think the show wants to be an epic “Romeo and Juliet” type of story, where two young people meet outside of their personal contexts, and are drawn to each other. And then, when reality bites, and their identities of being offspring of people who are on opposite sides comes into play, that’s where the emotional struggle comes in.

Jung Hae In’s character is from the North, and he’s the son of a political leader in the North, while Jisoo’s character is from the South, and she’s the daughter of a political leader in the South.

The show doesn’t appear to be all that interested in the pro-democracy protests (so far), and the main focus seems to be on the idea that the party in power is colluding with the North Korean government in order to stay in power.

One other thing that I think Show wants to do, is humanize the people behind the labels, of North Korean spy, privileged daughter of a political leader, ANSP agent, etc.

While it doesn’t seem like Show’s makers had set out to distort history, I do think that it was.. unwise, as well as insensitive, to use certain names (like the original Young Cho) and circumstances (like a professor trying to get to North Korea to be with his son) that dance too close to history.

Another thing that doesn’t really help, is Show pitching itself as a black comedy. It might be argued that the black comedy angle is to help people not take the story too seriously, BUT.. it can also be taken as Show making light of other people’s pain.

Why are people upset?

So, on paper, it doesn’t really appear that the show is distorting history too badly, except for the whitewashing of the ANSP. If that’s the case, why are people as upset as they are?

Unfortunately, this show has touched a very raw nerve with the Korean public. It may not technically be distorting the history of the Gwangju Uprising as many had initially assumed, but it sits soclose to this very painful event, that it’s caused barely closed, very deep, very painful wounds to open up again.

It’s kinda like you have this deep, terrible gash in your abdomen, which has gotten stitched up, and someone’s poking, not at the wound itself, but half an inch away from the stitches, which are barely healing. You could say they’re technically not poking at your wound, but man, doesn’t it still cause your wound to hurt like crazy, and the stitches to threaten to open up?

The original use of the name Young Cho didn’t help matters, as you can imagine.

Even though we’ve seen stories from South Korea feature North Korean spies as protagonists (like Kim Soo Hyun‘s 2013 film Secretly, Greatly), this is one instance where the mere existence of North Korean spies in a drama world, leads to instant connections to painful memories. That’s because innocent people had literally died during this period of history, after being accused of being North Korean spies.

While some might argue that this is history, and people should be allowed creative license when portraying a particular time period, it’s also important to remember that 1987 was only 35 years ago, and many of the people are still haunted by the cruelties that they &/or their loved ones had suffered, at the time.

On that note, you might like to read LT’s post on the matter, and you might also like to peruse this Twitter thread, which was written by someone whose mother was close to the events of the time.

Right now, it’s just too much, too soon, I think. Maybe 50 years from now, people will have healed enough to tolerate this kind of story in the media. Maybe they won’t.

The truth is, people all heal at different rates, and to different degrees. Some people heal faster than others; some never heal, ever. Some countries might be able to move on faster from a horrific historical event; other countries might not move on as quickly. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. As Dramaland put forth to us not so long ago, it’s okay to not be okay.

In a true democracy, creative license should be given, and shows like this should be allowed to exist. AND, in a true democracy, if people are not okay with this, they should be allowed to express that they are not okay, and protest against the airing of the show.

..Which, essentially, is what appears to be happening.

Additionally, it occurs to me that because there is so much controversy around this show, there is very little chance of anyone watching it, without knowing the furore it has caused. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the show itself would propagate historical distortion as fact.

In terms of where I think is a good place to stand in all of this, as third party observers, I’m reminded of this quote that I came across some time ago, and which I’d shared to Twitter, because I’d found it such good food for thought.

In closing

The truth is, for most of us, this isn’t our history, and this isn’t our culture. And that’s a large part of the reason we are able to view the situation with emotional distance. That emotional distance is our privilege, and I think it’s important to remember that the Korean public’s upset reaction to this show, is not because they have a smaller capacity to be objective.

It’s because this is their emotional pain.

In my opinion, whether or not to watch Snowdrop, is a personal choice. I did start watching the show myself, in order to have an informed opinion for this post. Therefore, whether people choose to watch this show or not, I don’t think they should be vilified, one way or the other.

Regardless of our personal choices, I hope that we can choose compassion, kindness and empathy, particularly for those who are directly affected by this controversy.

I hope this post has helped to provide at least a measure of perspective, regarding the entire controversy.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you guys have insights, perspectives or other thoughts to add, please share them in the comments!

Thanks, everyone. ❤️

~kfangurl

POST-SCRIPT:

1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!

2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!

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Luna
Luna
17 days ago

I thought a lot whether I should post this. But here are a few snippets, about how righteous the protestors really are…

The petition to cancel Snowdrop was not the only one.
There was another petition that gained close to 50000 signatures, to abolish jtbc itself for “airing unconstitutional content”.

There was a series of more and more desperate lies to keep the controversy going. Including claims that the drama used a historically important cathedral to denigrate it (they didn’t; the church shown in one scene was nothing like the cathedral); that the drama’s Korean title 설강화 is the Chinese name for the flower (it isn’t); that China financed it to push their propaganda (they didn’t); etc.

After the court injunction was dismissed, protestors claimed that they never thought it would work, they just wanted to demonstrate their point… abusing the justice system to intimidate their opponent.

They called everyone who dared to contradict them a traitor, a Nazi, paid by China/Japan, or told them to move to North Korea.

They spread information about the personal life of the writer, including details about her husband, to “prove” that she is a supporter of the ANSP’s atrocities.

They sent harassment, threats, and death wishes to the cast and crew.

A cast member, a young actress who would have turned 30 this year, is now dead. Some still post malicious comments on posts commemorating her…

eda harris
eda harris
17 days ago
Reply to  Luna

wow!!! wow, wow, wow! that sure reminds me of ussr, the fake protests, the lies and all. but i am so lacking in information about politics in korea, i am just reacting to what you all write. so want to see it myself!

eda harris
eda harris
17 days ago
Reply to  eda harris

and even now in putin’s russia, alexei navalnyi comes to mind.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
16 days ago
Reply to  Luna

Thank you for posting this, Luna. They may come here and flame you, but we have your back!

reaper
reaper
16 days ago
Reply to  Luna

Totally with you on that! Spot on.

beez
17 days ago

I’m just “like”-ing y’alls comments all over the place. That’s a good point. LIKE. But then the opposing pov is equally valid. LIKE.

That’s why I’m not commenting myself because it would be long and I’d be sure to get a headache midway through.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
17 days ago

I wonder if a contributing factor to the outrage is that show is co-produced by Disney, stoking fears of foreign contamination of SK culture?

beez
17 days ago
Reply to  merij1

– my cynical side says “I doubt it. If that’s the case, Netflix’ “originals” would have been shut out a while ago but, of course, green (or are S.K dollars orange?) rules”.

GatitaD
Gatita(@disqus_kgbc5y7uxv)
18 days ago

JTBC was the only TV channel which did not air President Moon’s New Year greetings to re-run Snowdrop instead. At best this is deeply insensitive, at worst it’s a deliberate provocation. It says a lot about the lack of care and regard the network has had in how they have dealt with this controversy.

https://twitter.com/pannchoa/status/1478533056231268352

BE
BE
20 days ago

In the series Youth of May, it appeared in the final episode that show implied that there was a public movement to deny the Gwangju Martial Law riots with their tortures and false imprisonments had even occurred. At the time it did occur, it appears that if it were not revealed by the work of a German reporter, the riots and their causes would have been kept covered up from the rest of South Korea and the entire world by the military government in charge at the time. From what I have gleaned many of the military were unwitting accomplices to the killings and tortures, which made the national experience even more horrific. And from what I can gather many of the university and college students from that period became a kind of lost generation in the wake. While government censorship seems an alien way to deal with such matters, one kind of approves of a government that does not tolerate the kind of lie that the treatment of ordinary citizens, let alone student protestors, was anything other than what it was, an historical moment of national shame does seem significant, in a world wherein so much distorted history in other democracies is tolerated and even promoted by both government officials and major media.
One thing should be noted, however, the Gwangju uprising has been presented or referred to in so many serious K Dramas beginning with the Sandglass series, in which one of the protagonists served in the military during the uprising and continuing on through this past years’ Youth of May, in which the main character’s best friend also was in the military during the uprising, it strikes me that something must have touched a nerve about Snowdrop that raised the hackles of the larger population, beyond a sympathetic characterization.

Yllejord
Yllejord
20 days ago

I too would be furious, if some modern piece of storytelling portrayed the torturers of my own country’s military Junta as polite, leaving their atrocities off-screen.
If SK is the same as other countries with a recent dictatorship, the police and the rest of the institutions remained more or less as they were after democracy was reinstalled. It’s not only something traumatic in their past, but also something that still affects people’s lives.
What I wonder is how much influence and power do the dictatorship nostalgic have in modern day SK. (I’ve no doubt they exist and they do have influence and power.)

beez
20 days ago

I wanted to “like” this post so much! But the “like” bottom wasn’t there for me this time. (It randomly comes and goes.) I just hit “like” on one of Kay Drama Kisses’ articles so fully expected the option to be here, but – nope. Oh well, the point is I’m grateful for your insight and I downloaded that awesome quote.

Nati S
20 days ago

Very well explained KFG.

For me, the show is unwatchable, because the writers seem to be playing with some very painful points in history for the Korean people, from what I’ve read. I think a TV show is meant to illustrate, educate, make you think, relax you, entertain you, not to generate pain and indelicately treat painful moments of the past and make people suffer. Even as KFG says many of the accusations against the show are false, it has created a lot of discomfort on a delicate subject.

It reminds of my country, Colombia (South America), which unfortunately has a long and sad history of drug dealing, which has given rise to victims of violence, forced displacement, poverty, death, modern slavery, deforestation, among others. It has created enormous pain on us as a nation for over 40 years. And there was a time in the 2010s when a show called “El cartel de los sapos” (The frog cartel) was shown on prime time. In this show the drug dealers were portrait as bad ass, millionaires on yachts with a gun on one hand and a supermodel on the other, stuff like that. And I remembered there was tremendous backlash and calls for it to being cancelled. Because it was a painful subject portrayed in a light-hearted manner.

Perhaps because of the situation in my country that I agree with the protestors of the show, and I agree with how KFG describes the show at one point on the blogpost: unwise, insensitive and that “it can also be taken as Show making light of other people’s pain”.

ngobee
ngobee
20 days ago

Thank you for the analysis of a really thorny issue. I haven’t watched the series yet but two things come to mind: First, the high degree of morally acceptable, “correct” representation the Korean public demands from their media and the power it wields. (But seems strangely OK with broadcasting the image of pervasive, deadly corruption to the world at large.)
Second, that some actors, agencies and production companies are starting to fight back: Park Yoo Chun doing his own thing from outside Korea, Kim Seon Ho actually being supported by his agency, now JTBC not prepared to give in easily. I think it’s going to be interesting how it will all turn out.

ngobee
ngobee
20 days ago
Reply to  ngobee

And it should have said “SOUTH Korea”, sorry!

Natalia
Natalia
20 days ago

Thank you for your insight, K. I haven’t watched the show not did I ever plan to, Youth of May has been so traumatic for me that I think that I won’t be watching any tragic love stories in the SK 80’s. Still, I was intrigued by this whole controversy and the free speech against history’s distortion arguments. I respectfully argue that as someone who knows nothing about Korean history, I googled “North Korean spies” and it turns out there are quite a few eponymous defectors who claim they were spies in SK, including in the 80s. Check here, for instance: https://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/21/asia/north-korea-spies/index.html
Now they might be lying to get special treatment in SK, but it is also quite possible that there were indeed NK spies running about in SK during the democratization movement. Nevertheless, this fact (if we consider it one) does not in any way justify what this ANSP did to those poor, innocent people (or to not innocent people either, because personally I firmly oppose using torture even against proven criminals, terrorists, radical religious extremists and yes, even spies). And they (the ANSP torturers) should not get away with it, even if they were good family men or culturally refined or good Christians or whatever – I do wonder if any got punished, or did they just move on with their lifes and careers when the regime changed? (For instance, in my country, when the dictatorship fell, many of its minions just went on without any punishment, even known torturers).

To conclude (I have started losing track of my thoughts here!), I totally get the whitewashing argument. However, I also know that sometimes, nations create their own, “approved” history and are extremely hostile in accepting anything else. But that should not stop (or prohibit) people for not agreeing with this “approved” history . In my own career I have seen this happening so many times that I am pretty adamant about it: free speech for all, and if you don’t agree just prove your opponent is wrong.

KS
KS
20 days ago

Dear Kfangurl
Thank you so very much for the post. Was eagerly waiting for it.
Your distinct perspective surrounding the controversy is thorough and well balanced as was expected and that is why I dared to ask your viewpoint , in the first place, on this sensitive and tricky topic. I knew your treatment will be fair, unbiased and open minded.
Kiddos for talking about creative license , the coexistence of different opinions in a mature democracy and censorship.
The thought provoking quote at the end of the post sumps everything up quite nicely.
A warm handshake from my side 🤝

Carulhein
Carulhein
20 days ago

Dear K fangirl, thank you for your input. I do respect your bravery in trying to tackle this subject, because it seems that people aren’t very democratic about differing ‘opinions’. It seems as though this bit of Korean history has now been set in stone and the thought police are controlling the area. No one is allowed to think anything other than what is allowed or you will be cancelled. All I can say, as I’m not Korean, is that history is not a black and white affair and I’m sure that the pro democracy protesters were not the only people who suffered under the dictatorial regime. Yes, they might have been the most visible, but not the only ones. No one is just evil or good. I’m pretty sure some Germans didn’t want to be Nazis either,All German people didn’t turn evil over night. So the act of petitioning anything to be cancelled is extremely undemocratic in my eyes and a form of new age victim infused/ enraged bullying.

Yllejord
Yllejord
20 days ago
Reply to  Carulhein

The right to petition for cancelling goes under freedom of speech too.
Also, it’s not relevant to the victims how many of the Nazis wanted to be Nazis, is it now.

Carulhein
Carulhein
19 days ago
Reply to  Yllejord

So your right to take away someone else’s right is freedom of speech??

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
19 days ago
Reply to  Carulhein

@Yllejord. To begin with, let’s be clear that their petition was asking the government to force the broadcaster to cancel the show. Which would have been a clear infringement on free-speech.

The petition failed so now we’re in different territory.

In a democracy, it’s definitely your right to advise others to boycott a product or service. Or to stop listening to an individual.

Ditto for citizens advocating that the company that produces that product or service remove it from the market.

My problem is that it feels like that right is being abused, at least here in the US. And it’s for that reason that I worry about it being abused in SK as well.

People enjoy outrage. We get high on the thrill of that outrage producing consequences for others. At the very least, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Last edited 19 days ago by merij1
Carulhein
Carulhein
19 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Exactly, outrage is like a new drug.

Yllejord
Yllejord
19 days ago
Reply to  merij1

In a democracy, people should have the right to petition, yes. Obviously. Also, in a democracy, people should feel safe that petitions demanding violations of human and civil rights will be thrown into the rubbish bin by the elected authorities.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
19 days ago
Reply to  Yllejord

Yes, that is the hope. In the past I had more confidence that government would do the right thing. But they seem a bit beleaguered by the public will these days.

So my sense is that it’s up to all of us to key an eye on the health of our democracies.

eda harris
eda harris
17 days ago
Reply to  merij1

merij, hi, this discussion sure picked my interest to the highest, having lived in different political systems. and although i do not like violence, blood (i faint by the simple sight of it) or pain, especially pain that can not be helped by a pain killer since it is visual (in a movie or drama). in spite of it i think that the biggest danger in this world is human ignorance and of course complacency, i make it my goal to educate myself on everything and anything, as much as i can. if we do not learn from history and past mistakes, our fate will repeat itself, therefore no matter how painful it can be, i would like to see it, learn from it and make my own decision, regardless in which part of the world it happens. unfortunately, i can not find where to watch it? do you know, does anybody know?

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
17 days ago
Reply to  eda harris

I think it’s a co-production with Disney, so I’m afraid you might need Disney+ to watch it. I tend to wait until a show is done before I start, so I haven’t tried, even though I’m a big fan of Jung Hae-in, as you already know, from One Spring Night and Something in the Rain/Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food.

beez
17 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Are you kidding me???!!!! Are you talking about Snowdrop is on Disney????! While I do have Disney, it’s only because I share it with family. As much as I love Disney, I wouldn’t pay for it myself. But I guess my Kdrama obsession has waned at the right time because I’m not going to feel upset about not being able to watch shows because they’re spread far and wide. I was a little upset that Pachinko will be on Apple but I’ve made peace with that a while ago.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
17 days ago
Reply to  beez

Am I wrong about that? I thought this was a co-production between JTBC and Disney.

beez
17 days ago
Reply to  merij1

– I wasn’t insinuating that you were wrong, just my shock that Disney is butting their nose into Kdrama. Similar to my reaction when Netflix & Apple did too.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
17 days ago
Reply to  beez

Yeah. I’m thinking that might be part of the explanation for why this show is getting so much grief in SK.

Luna
Luna
17 days ago
Reply to  beez

Snowdrop is on Disney+, but only available in a few Asian countries at the moment. The rest of the world will presumably get it after it finishes airing.

On the other hand, if you have D+, a VPN set to Japan or Singapore might allow access to the drama already.

Trent
17 days ago
Reply to  Luna

When it first started airing, I tried using my VPN with the Disney+ app (I’m in the US), but no good…I think maybe Disney+ is less likely to be fooled than say Netflix (I can get geo-restricted shows on Netflix, Viki, Viu using VPN). So I guess just have to wait until whenever it becomes available in US regularly…or else go to the dark side.

eda harris
eda harris
17 days ago
Reply to  Trent

what is the “dark side” and how do you get it? i am so dumb in this department.

Carulhein
Carulhein
19 days ago
Reply to  Carulhein

🤔 Freedom of speech all over the place😅Anyway, I think legally Snowdrop hasn’t done anything wrong. And to be honest If I were JTBC or whomever is in charge of this production, I would sue the pants off everyone who slandered them, because they have suffered substantial losses. And that’s my opinion and my freedom to speak. . I probably sound a bit crass and insensitive, but that’s just how I feel.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
19 days ago
Reply to  Carulhein

JTBC has threatened to do exactly that.

ngobee
ngobee
19 days ago
Reply to  Carulhein

I’m really with you on this one and must also admit some bias. Having read so much about a culture that classifies actor relationships as “scandals” and reacts to a Japanese vase in a historic kdrama with an outcry makes me extremely wary of trusting such public judgement. But I’ll make sure to watch Snowdrop and come back with a more informed opinion. Otherwise freedom of speech for all, of course.

beez
17 days ago
Reply to  ngobee

– while I agree with you from an outside perspective, we must remember that it’s a different culture and, as I’m sure you’re aware, sometimes outsiders “just don’t get it”. The Korean people have gone thru so much oppression from the Japanese, for centuries, not just the annexing of the 1920’s. So I can’t blame them if the very sight of a Japanese vase sets them off. 🤷

ngobee
ngobee
17 days ago
Reply to  beez

Point taken, but I did say I’m biased and I know it since I work with different countries and mentalities on a daily basis. I’m not always sure about the criteria of the historical consciousness displayed either: Japanese members of Korean boybands seem to be OK, for example.

beez
15 days ago
Reply to  ngobee

– You’re right about the boy bands. I think younger people are a lot more at ease, although every now and then they, too, find something unacceptable but it’s not as sensitive as it is to a person over 50.
My son and I were just discussing something and he said “Mom, I can see people of your age [I’m Africa-American and over 60] feeling that way based on your experiences.”

Trent
20 days ago

A typically lucid and even-handed treatment. Thank you for putting forth the effort.

I said my piece before, but to briefly recapitulate: I always incline towards wanting to be able to see, judge, and evaluate something for myself, and allow others to do the same as broadly as possible. Which implies allowing controversial works to be broadcast, or made available.

That said, I do take to heart that it is not my history and not my culture, and your quote that you shared is very on point: it’s easy to be “objective” and above the fray when emotional detachment is your default starting point. So I will try to keep that in mind and balance that awareness of where people might be coming from in their approach, even as I would like to see and judge for myself.

Lee Tennant
Lee Tennant(@leetennant1)
20 days ago

Thanks, KFG. It’s nice to hear the perspective from somebody who has watched the drama to this point. I, of course, made the decision not to watch it so I have been keeping an eye on the unfolding controversy as the episodes air. I am also somewhat bemused at the network’s insistence that if detractors watched till episode 5 they’d changed their mind about the drama. As far as I can tell, this has not happened.

I do think there is one subtle point that needs to be made here about the accusation of historical distortion and it’s a difficult one to enunciate and, I realise, one that I did not tease out enough in my own post on the subject.

The way the drama frames the Romeo and Juliet conflict implies heavily that the NSA really was after North Korean spies (and were justified in that particular mission). I believe in the first episode, Hae-in’s character was actually being pursued by the NSA?

By saying that a) there were North Korean spies in the universities (whether they were in the pro-democracy movement or not and b) that the NSA was pursuing real spies at the time is enough to bring charges of historical revisionism because it reinforces the narratives of the regime.

If there really were North Korean spies and the NSA was pursuing those spies then their treatment of pro-democracy activists was by implication merely an unfortunate byproduct of over-zealous policing against a very real threat. In reality, the NSA knew there were no North Korean spies but made the accusation (and tortured people to force confessions to support this story) because the democracy activists were their real targets. In a witchhunt, there are no witches. The witches are simply the excuse the witchfinders use to go after their real targets – usually people who threaten an authoritarian government’s power.

By making Hae-in’s character a North Korean, the show is saying there were witches. That’s actually enough IMO to support the accusation of revisionism that’s before we take into account the attempts to humanise men that were basically state torturers.

As you can tell, I’m still very much Team Activist in terms of my perspective towards the show. As you astutely point out, there are very real people and their descendants who are severely traumatised by what happened in the 80s. For them, the characterisation of the female lead’s father as someone who would rather be teaching literature than torturing all these students is somewhat akin to portraying Hitler as someone who would much rather be painting than conducting genocide.

Still, since it seems unlikely that the network is going to resile from the show (for whatever reason that I will not speculate on), it will be interesting to see how the whole thing unfolds.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
20 days ago
Reply to  Lee Tennant

Thank you, LT. I also read your blog post and @gatamchun’s Twitter storm.

I dunno. As you and KFG say, we are not South Korean so our perspective is not necessarily relevant.

Even so I’m not comfortable with citizens in a modern democracy censoring a work of fiction on the basis that it upsets them or is historically incorrect.

I get the Nazi comparison, but I don’t believe a show anywhere should be shut down by the government because it portrays the head of the SS (or its intelligence service) as also a human being with cultural interests.

That’s the whole point of understanding the Nazis. They were people like us … and it could happen again.

As to whether North Korea ever sent spies to South Korea back in the 1980s, I am a total ignoramus. However, I have no doubt the South Korean government was merely using that fear as a pretext to suppress dissent. That’s what governments do.

But do I think it’s unacceptable to imagine a Romeo and Juliet story in which there is a North Korean spy that far back in history? No I do not.

It does sound like the producers of the show wildly underestimated the risks they were taking and demonstrated great insensitivity on certain choices they made.

Even so, censorship is an incredibly slippery slope.

Here in the US, libraries in many communities may no longer carry any novel in which the impression is given that a White person has behaved badly towards an African-American. Because that hurts the feelings of the White people in those communities.

Is that really where South Korea wants to go from here?

This feels like it might be an extension of the “scandals” phenomenon that so easily destroys actors’ careers in SK. People like to be outraged. They like to feel the power of that outrage having consequences for someone else.

To me that’s the very definition of a mob.

Last edited 20 days ago by merij1
Nati S
20 days ago
Reply to  Lee Tennant

“In a witchhunt, there are no witches. The witches are simply the excuse the witchfinders use to go after their real targets – usually people who threaten an authoritarian government’s power.”

So well put!

Sharon Skidmore
Sharon Skidmore
20 days ago
Reply to  Lee Tennant

Admitting the existence of North Korean spies in South Korea in the 1980s does not equate defending the excuses of the totalitarian regime, nor is it revisionist history. To say there were NO spies at all would be absurd. See for instance this article regarding former spies interviewed by CNN: “Kang Myong-Do was a North Korean elite serving in the Unification Development Division in 1984. One of his duties was to send North Korean spies to the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.” https://www.inquisitr.com/2112208/north-korean-spies-in-the-u-s-defectors-reveal-startling-secrets/

You seem to suggest that if there had been spies, the government would have been justified in its actions. The government had no right to torture and kill people, with no due process or proof of wrongdoing. That there may have been spies or agitators lurking makes no difference and does not justify what they did.

Luna
Luna
17 days ago

Exactly. The presence of North Korean spies does not justify the regime’s atrocities against innocent South Korean citizens, any more than the existence of ISIS terrorists justifies the persecution of innocent Muslims.