Category Archives: Media

Cognitive dissonance as comedy

I saw this haunting advertisement in the subway today (July 18, 2018). It was, of course, meant to be humorous, lighthearted and topical. But there was something deeply disturbing about the image.  The advertisement for a waterpark suggests that geopolitical catastrophe and the complete loss of institutional control we see in the United States, and in South Korea, can be an amusing theme for an advertisement for summer fun on the water slide. We see Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un racing down the flume at the water park towards complete chaos.

I think this advertisement suggests a pathological level of cognitive dissonance.


임마누엘 페스트라이쉬 특강 “한국인이 몰랐던 더큰 대한민국” @ 부산

임마누엘 페스트라이쉬


“한국인이 몰랐던 더큰 대한민국”

10월  29일 (일요일)

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The Proletariat of Facebook (hammer and paintbrush)

I must confess that when I saw this “hammer and paintbrush” logo on the Facebook page today, I wondered to myself whether Facebook has developed an organized proletariat. After all, the Bolsheviks became famous for their “hammer and sickle” mark. The hammer represented the workers and the sickle, the farmers who had been drawn into the struggle in that case.

hammer and paintbrush

In the case of Facebook, the symbol features the hammer and the paintbrush. Perhaps the hammer refers to programmers and the paintbrush to designers and the creators of content. As a creator of content myself, I would certainly be a paintbrush in the Facebook community. See my talk about Facebook.


How about yourself?


“Turn Korean media upside down” (JoongAng Daily December 5, 2016)


JoongAng Daily

“Turn Korean media upside down”

December 5, 2016


Emanuel Pastreich


One thing is clear: The inability of the Korean media to anticipate even the possibility of a Trump victory will be remembered as a tremendous intelligence failure that has left the great halls of journalistic pomp looking distinctly shabby.

Don’t tell me that the United States media also got it wrong. Major newspapers in the United States continuously wrote about a Clinton victory, even trying to make that scenario seem more likely by using the terminology “probability of a Clinton victory” (92%) instead of percent of people who intend to vote for Clinton. But sloppy journalism is America’s problem, it does not have to be Korea’s problem

Many informed Americans were aware of the bias in the mainstream media during the election, and knew about the unprofessional decision of reporters to coordinate with the Clinton camp concerning their reporting, and about the donations to the Clinton campaign by media companies.

Months of unfavorable news about Clinton had done tremendous damage to her credibility with voters.

But the Korean media repeated the headlines of the mainstream U.S. media and readers assumed the election was already decided.

Although Korea has one of the most educated populations in the world, and numerous reporters who are extremely fluent in English, the rules of Korean media meant that almost none of those reporters consulted the large number of journals, blogs and other thoughtful reporting in the United States that suggested that the election might be close.

For that matter, if Korean foreign correspondents had talked with working class people in America they would have discovered that minorities were unenthusiastic about Clinton and that many whites were enthusiastic about Trump. But foreign correspondents will never meet ordinary Americans at the pompous events held at Washington think tanks.

Korean reporters, unlike Korean manufacturers of smartphones or of container ships, do not have as their goal being the best in the world; they work hard, but their newspapers are dedicated to digesting quickly and summarizing the news available from foreign news agencies, not in developing the domestic capacity to create entirely original and distinctly Korean perspectives on news and global affairs for both domestic and global consumption.

That is a terrible shame because Korea clearly has all the assets needed to be a leader in journalism. Korea has an educated population with many near-native speakers of English, Chinese and Japanese and there are an incredible number of PhDs in diverse fields. As a nation not encumbered with the tradition of imperialism that warps media reporting so often, Korea is well positioned to build a new journalistic tradition of its own, with roots in Korea’s own culture, rather than copying content from abroad.

Part of the process requires giving up all politesse. Foreign correspondents are not there just to make friends with the powerful and to play golf, American politicians, officials, and lawyers must be subject to tough unrelenting questions to get to the bottom of things. So also reporters must avoid being seduced by carefully crafted articles written in an authoritative tone that are meant to be misleading.

Journalists must read broadly from different sources and then use their imagination. To be a good journalist, one must first imagine five or six scenarios that could explain what is happening in politics. One then inspects the facts carefully and slowly eliminates those scenarios that do not hold up — as did Sherlock Homes. That process will get you close to the truth. But if one does not use one’s imagination to postulate what might be, one will quickly fall into the trap of limiting oneself to the scenarios which are offered up by interested parties.

Newspapers should hold up an ideal of the pursuit of truth with the intention of providing practical information for the general reader that will help him to make informed decisions. As such, the media is critical for the nation from the perspective of the ordinary man as a means to assure we have an educated public that can make informed decisions within a democratic system. Reporters should feel a deep responsibility to make complex issues accessible in an original manner.

Media has become a market in recent years, but it does not have to be. The sooner Korea snaps out of that haze, the faster it will be able to objectively judge its own interests and serve as a global leader.

At first readers may be put off by writing that actually locates issues in their historical context and makes proposals for long-term solutions. But over time, I believe, we can lead the public back to responsible politics, get them to stop being consumers and become engaged citizens.

Korea will face tremendous challenges in the years ahead that will require us to pull together as a nation and to make informed decisions.

This is the moment for a deep commitment to journalism of the very highest standards.

“President Park’s State Visit to US” (Asia Institute Brief)

May 15, 2015

Asia Institute Brief


“President Park’s State Visit to US”


Emanuel Pastreich


Eugene Hwang


“From Joseon to cyberspace” Joongang Daily February 6, 2014

Joongang Daily

“From Joseon to cyberspace”

February 6, 2014


Emanuel Pastreich

The misuse of information is one of the most serious challenges for a society that depends on cyberspace. Such abuses threaten to create, in the not-too-distant future, a world in which the details of our lives can be easily collected and manipulated without our knowledge. The massive leaks of consumers’ financial information that have roiled Korean politics for the last week are just the tip of the iceberg in a shift in our society, which extends to the recent abuse of information by the National Security Agency in the United States and many other cases that have received less attention.

But it would be a mistake to judge the increase in both the abuse of information and the fabrication of information simply in moral terms. Although there is greed and arrogance among people, the stark fact is that the ability to gather and alter information is increasing at an exponential rate, in accordance with Moore’s Law. Although we can criticize people for being seduced by the power offered by exponential increases in IT technology, going after bad people will not address the issue.

Rather, we will need to create new systems to respond to this challenge by Read more of this post

The Media & the Importance of History (Essay)

The Media & the Importance of History

Emanuel Pastreich


August 4, 2013

China has a tremendous tradition of history. The study of history, the compilation of history and the ethical reading of history were considered the most important action for the intellectual and the consideration of history and precedents were seen as the essence of good government and responsible citizenship. Such remarkable figures as Confucius and Mencius   asserted that the pursuit of accurate history was an essential part of the ethical life, and the only way to avoid tyranny. The famed historian, and progenitor of historiography in China, Sima Qian, suffered tremendous humiliation in order that he would be able to write down history in an accurate and compelling manner for the sake of future generations. He chose castration and life in a manner that was considered demeaning in order that he could complete an accurate historical record of recent history.

Traditionally, Chinese empires placed great emphasis on history and its accurate compilation and transmission. Each dynasty made tremendous efforts to collect and edit the essential documents from governance so that they could be used when it was necessary to compose an accurate history in the future, presumably under the orders of the next dynasty. That process of preparing for an accurate record of the events of the dynasty, one that would be written by future generations, was not only important for maintaining the historical record, it was also essential to creating a mood of ethical action within the government. To the degree that government officials felt that their actions were being observed by future generations, and that they would be subject judgment beyond the perspectives of their families and immediate superiors, their work was suffused with significance and a moral imperative. That is not to suggest that all action was moral, but rather the emphasis on the judgment of history checked the raw use of power.

But that role of the historian has disappeared in China, and in most countries around the world. Although information piles up in greater and greater amounts, there is no historian to analyze it in an ethical sense or make judgments as to what that data means in terms of useful to future generation. In the absence of an office for the compilation of the historical record, the functional guardians of what we might call history have been reduced to the media, to intelligence and to a variety of private firms handling creation of images on a paid basis. None of these institutions has any commitment to rendering history in an ethical sense. Increasingly all of them are driven primarily by the potential market value of information.

There is essentially not effort to find valuable institutions in the past, or to consider how the good or bad policies of previous rulers can be of service today. History has become, tragically, irrelevant. Read more of this post

Asia Institute Seminar with Noam Chomsky: “The Problem of the Media in Korea”

Asia Institute Seminar

 “The Problem of the Media in Korea”

 Monday, April 09, 2012


Noam Chomsky

Professor of Linguistics



Emanuel Pastreich:

You may remember that in a seminar we held a few months ago there were a series of questions from the Korean students concerning a individual by the name of Jeong Bongju who had not been able to obtain a visa to come visit the United States.

His story is quite significant with regards to the question of the media, specifically the decay that some of us perceive in the quality of media in Korea and around the world. Jeong Bongju, a former politician, has become immensely famous in Korea through his television comedy show “Na num Ggomsu” (translates as something like “I am a small-minded jerk”).

This show is essentially comedy, but it treats serious political issues more accurately and more directly than anything you will find on network television. His willingness to talk so frankly, and explicitly, about issues that most powerful people would like to have disappear is one reason that he has caused so much trouble.

But even if we appreciate that the show brings up topics otherwise not treated, the trend is disturbing. There is something so dysfunctional about media environment in which the comedy show becomes the only medium in which the truth is accurately conveyed. There is of course a long history of “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of  the king” –but we find the use of comedy to convey real news increasingly pervasive.

In the United States we have similar programs like “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart that mix comedy with truth. Perhaps such programs are an indication of the decay of media institutions, or perhaps it is a natural product of the info-tainment revolution. Or perhaps such mixtures of comedy and truth have a new significance. What do you think?

Noam Chomsky:

You’re right that the court jester was the one figure who was allowed to tell the truth. That is a tradition that extended until the present, in totalitarian states as well. Yes, the situation is dysfunctional. But I’m not sure it’s a matter of the decay of media institutions, because I don’t think they were better in the past. Read more of this post

Asia Institute Seminar with Robert McChesney “Korean Media in Comparative Perspective”

Asia Institute Seminar


May 9, 2012


“Korean Media in Comparative Perspective”


Robert W McChesney

Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication

University of Illinois


Emanuel Pastreich:

The reliability of the mainstream media has become an enormous issue in Korea today as many feel that the newspapers and television broadcasts no longer serve a role of keeping citizens informed. Recently the TV comedy show “I am a Selfish Prick” (“Nanun Ggomsu da”)  was rated as more accurate than the mainstream media—even though most of its content is tongue in cheek. What exactly is the problem with media and how can we approach it?

Robert McChesney:

Firstly, one must begin understanding that the media is a problem for Korean society. By “problem” I do not mean that the media is poor quality or produces dubious content that has negative effects upon our culture, politics, and society. By this framing, if the media were doing a commendable job, there would be no problem. Whether their content is good, bad or a combination, the media is a problem for any society, and an unavoidable one at that.  The problem of the media exists in all societies, regardless of their structure.

Emanuel Pastreich:

So the very existence of media in any country, not just Korea, will bring forth issues that are problematic. Is that is to say there is not a pure state of an objective media that we could reach if we just follow a certain set of policies? To become a democratic society does not make one immune from such problems?

Robert McChesney:

Media are at the center of struggles for power and control in any society, and this is arguably even more the case in democratic nations, where the issue is more up for grabs.

The political nature of the problem of the media in democratic societies is well-known, virtually all theories of self-government are premised on having an informed citizenry, and the creation of such an informed citizenry is the province of the media.  The measure of a media system in political terms is not whether it creates a viable democratic society, but whether the media system, on balance, in the context of the broader social and economic situation, challenges and undermines anti-democratic pressures and tendencies, or whether it reinforces them.   Read more of this post

“I am a selfish bastard” as media and cultural phenomenon in Korea (report)

Emanuel Pastreich

Report on Media in Korea

August 6, 2012

“I am a selfish bastard”

The rise of the podcast comic radio program “I am a selfish bastard” (“Na nun Ggomsu da”)was a profoundly important political event in Korea. The title “I am a selfish Bastard” phrase refers explicitly to President Lee Myung Bak in the most vulgar of wording. The show functions as something like the Korean equivalent of the Daily Show, making fun of the Lee Myung Bak administration without mercy, but there is more to the show than just comedy.

Members of “I am a Stupid Bastard” at their best.

“I am a selfish bastard” took an extremely original approach to media and news unlike anything Koreans had witnessed before. Read more of this post