On January 21, MBC aired a Lunar New Year’s special of “Sebakwi” (aka “Three Wheels”), where it featured a controversial performance by guests Lee Kyung Shil and Kim Ji Sun, sparking an outrage among netizens all over the world.
The controversial scene occurred when the two guests appeared as blackfaces and made a fool of themselves while singing and dancing. While they dressed themselves as the character Maicole from the cartoon series “Dooly,” which is well known domestically, from a foreigner’s perspective, the performance did appear to be blatantly racist. Many netizens expressed their shock at MBC for airing such a scene, while others defended by stating that they were merely dressed up as a cartoon character.
One netizen uploaded a video on Youtube, criticizing the insensitivity and racism in Korean programs. She commented, “I didn’t think it was funny. What the f*** were they thinking? It’s not funny. Black people do not look like that.” She also mentioned that such controversial scenes could harm hallyu’s image and popularity abroad, which is no longer limited to Asia. The netizen continued, “You should be careful about other people’s culture, especially now when K-Pop is so popular around the world – not just in Asian countries, not just Europe, not just America, K-Pop has even reached Africa…Be sensitive about other people’s culture.” More and more netizens also began to openly address and criticize the controversial issue.
Korean netizens also flooded MBC’s homepage with comments like “What were you thinking?” “It’s only understandable that these foreigners are angry. These programs are not just viewed in Korea anymore, but around the world,” “How can you guys be so careless, “Please be more careful from now,” and more.
On February 28, “Sebakwi” released an official apology on their homepage. The post read, “We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended after watching the special that was aired on January 21. The dress-up was simply a parody of the cartoon series, but we realize now that it was a scene that offended our foreign viewers, especially those who had no prior knowledge about the cartoon character. We will be more careful when we determine our subjects from now on.”
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