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Bloggerithecus Koreanus vs the MIC
After weeks of an Internet embargo, Kevin Kim talks about the blogosphere's next move
Todd Thacker (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-07-19 10:23 (KST)   
Kevin Kim, aka Big Hominid
©2004 K. Kim
A subfamily of the Internet species Bloggerithecus Koreanus is facing extinction and the Big Hominid is fighting mad.

The big man behind the Big Hominid blog is Kevin Kim, 34, whose penchant for scatological humor has endeared him to the tight-knit Korean blogosphere over the past year.

The problems started when Korea's Ministry of Communication and Information (MIC) began enforcing a blanket ban on domains it identified as trafficking in the Kim Seon Il beheading video, which appeared late last month. Bloggers and readers who have nothing to do with the macabre video from Iraq have been left unable to access their sites.

The government decision is impeding Kim and thousands of others from their daily blogging constitutionals and raising fundamental questions about its commitment to democratic free speech here.

Fed up after weeks of embargo, some bloggers have bought private domains to migrate to. Others, like Kim, are waiting to see what happens, but they aren't taking the indiscriminate ban lying down.

"Some people are more gung-ho about going legal. My own thing is to continue to agitate and be the obnoxious beacon on the hill," said Kim.

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Despite his sense of injustice and the anti-censorship movement he started with an intentionally rude acronym -- Folks Undermining Censorship in Korea -- Kim's take on the ban is a balanced one. He has logical arguments for every facet of the ban and decries official government statements that contradict each other.

"The folks at the MIC are not all on the same page. Where's the accountability?" he wrote on July 14. "South Korea hasn't come that far from its dictatorial past, and some of us seem to have forgotten that."

"There's a PRC (People's Republic of China) theme going on here: two dodges, the bureaucratic dodge with no accountability, and the semantic dodge which says it's not really censorship," he told OhmyNews.

Kim thinks a spade should be called a spade. Take his July 14 blog entry:
Whether one views the blog blockage as the "collateral damage" of a larger, flailing attempt at stamping out distribution of the Kim video, or as something intentional and targeted, it's censorship. All the blogs in several particular domains have been censored because the domains were adjudged to contain "material considered sensitive or harmful." That's massive, indiscriminate, intentional censorship in my book. Is it also a sign of incompetence? Hell, yes! On several levels!

On July 16 he asked his readers:
Are we being Anglo-Saxon imperialists, imposing our value system on Koreans instead of sitting quietly by with tolerant understanding of censorship? My position is that our actions have absolutely nothing to do with imperialism ... We're holding Korea to its own standards here.

Comments from two anti-censorship petitions

Though taking on a government ministry is like David facing Goliath, bloggers in Korea have not been taking the ban lying down.

Joel Browning of About Joel, drew up the People Against Censorship in South Korea, petition calling the government's move "behavior more becoming of a fascist state than of a thriving democracy."

Some petitioner's comments:

NS, from Indonesia:
"It's very sad that the whole domains are blocked. MIC should only block particular hosts only (subdomains), not the WHOLE domain. It's very sad to know that MIC doesn't know that sites like blogspot.com have millions of users that mostly are against the war and don't want to watch those videos. This kind of blocking has denied me to visit friends' blogs and share ideas that is totally against the war, and has nothing to do with any violent videos!"

Edward Smith, of Gumbi and Marley, also took up a petition titled Censorship in Korea.

P. Richardson, an American, wrote:
"The people who ask "Why do people want to watch a beheading?" are completely missing the point. I have not watched and have no intention of watching any of the beheading videos, but as a citizen of a democracy it is my right to make this decision. I think that this censorship has less to do with 'protecting Koreans from grief' and more to do with protecting the government from bad polls/disgruntled voters ..."

Petitioner Sabrina weighed in as well:
"The government I believe made a decision of integrity by refusing to be manipulated by irrational, heinous people and keeping their commitments on troop deployment. It is probably not a popular decision in the Republic of Korea, however, censorship will only serve to further erode the public trust. Repeal the censorship and rebuild the trust of your people on the free dissemination of information."
Affected netizens say the Korean government is undermining its so-called "superior Internet culture" and tarnishing the nation's image as a bastion of freedom of speech in the region.

An MIC official said at the beginning of the ban that it would remain in place "until things stabilize." However, the ministry's English Web site still makes no mention of the embargo.

An ironic twist to the story is that Seoul has just finished hosting a weeklong international conference on the topic of "E-Governance: Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy, Administration and Law."

The futility of the ban is inherent in the design of the Internet. There are simple ways to circumvent such a government order. As of this writing, the Kim Seon Il video is easily found via Google. The ban is destined to be a patchy, and ultimately unenforceable, measure.

By the same token, anonymous browsing services or proxies like Unipeak.com are a viable workaround to posting and reading banned blogs, but due to problems with second level link glitches at Unipeak, life on the net for Korean bloggers has become an Excedrin-strength headache.

Kim has a laundry list of things about the ban that get his goat. The first he calls "selfish" since he can no longer blog with the same ease. Then there's the hypocrisy of blocking a beheading video now, when other beheading footage circulated freely on Korean networks.

"I feel for the family, I really do, but the government went about this the wrong way. They could have had more targeted block, or they could have allowed the distribution," he explained, adding that if a child stumbles across the video it should be an issue that parents talk about, especially when Korea touts itself as such an Internet culture.

On the argument about protecting the Kim family from more distress, Kim was quick to point out that overzealous journalists swarmed their family home during and after the crisis, and put everything on the nightly news for the "sensationalism-hungry public."

Jeon Woojay, a Korean OhmyNews citizen reporter and blogger who goes by the handle Woojay (Blog of the Pythi Master) recently wrote an OhmyNews story on the legal implications of the MIC ban, one of the first to do so in Korean.

It went largely unnoticed by his countrymen, but one OhmyNews reader dubbed "Sugar Shin" commented:
I thought this site-blockade would end as fast and silently as it had started, but my guess was apparently wrong.
Although, frankly speaking, all the blog-articles, petitions and so forth won't change a thing. The MIC will ignore all initiatives, because they have the protection from the top on this issue and are backed by the mood among the Korean populace. Sad as it is, but this is the reality.
The guys at Cheong Wa Dae have forgotten their own anthem of democratic struggle.

Many say that the Roh administration was under such intense political pressure after it refused to pull out troops from Iraq - and thus capitulate to Kim Seon Il's captors in order to save his life - that stopping distribution of the video of the killing became more important than the free flow of information. The trouble is that there has been a high level of "collateral damage" to free speech in this Internet democracy.

Austrolopithecus Africanus Hominid
©2004 Wikipedia
Kim's blog has carved out a niche in Korean blogging as an entertaining and informative place to relax. He is handy with Photoshop, producing all sorts of eye-catching graphics and tailor-made graphical links to his fellow bloggers sites.

Bloggerithecus Koreanus Hominid
©2004 K. Kim
Big Hominid's potty humor and keen insights on Korea, along with a readable style, have made him a colorful and well-received contributor to the Korean blogosphere. But the ban has made it much more difficult for fans to get their daily fix.

Describing his blogging style as starting with a "vague skeleton of a silly narrative," he follows the lead of the photos he has to help "the article write itself." Like most bloggers, he invests a lot of time and effort into his missives. He's a "split-shift blogger," putting in about five hours a day, though much of this is what he calls unfocused surfing.

He says he takes pride in being part of the bloggers in Korea. "I'm the king of parentheticals - I always qualify, which is a tendency I have to curb. I wish I could write like Kevin at IA (Incestuous Amplification)."

The "Incestuous Amplification" sidebar that Kim created for his fellow blogger.
©2004 K. Kim
In a departure from his colleagues, there is no place to leave comments on his page. He explained that it just takes too much time and effort to moderate. "I don't have time to spare to cultivate the (blogging) culture... I spend it on my posts."

Though he came to Korea to study the language and religion, he's now found a job teaching English. "Dr. Kim," as he is jokingly referred to, said his new employer makes lecturers wear a lab coat while teaching.

He expects that his new job will cut into his blogging time, so he plans to save his longer posts for the weekend. "I'd like to go back to my weekly schedule with an issue of the day," he said.

On social issues like gay marriage, he's very "pro," but leans toward the conservative on foreign policy. "But I'm more connected to people's realities, thanks to blogging," he added.

"I didn't consider myself political until the (Iraq) war, when I exchanged emails with friends -- who lean in all kinds of directions -- and debated them."

"Though I was against (the war), we can't just pull out now. I think we bit off more than we could chew," he said.

Kim's first Internet foray was in 1997, after opening an America Online account. His login name was bighominid. "The last of the hominids... and I'm one of the hairier ones," he joked.

Though never a class clown in school, he said his comic spark comes from three sources: his parents, a middle school drama class that helped him come out of his shell, and, perhaps the funniest of all, access to bulletin boards on the much-maligned bastion of newbieness, AOL.

"I used to post on the "The Amazing Instant Novelist" board. It was moderated, and that was first time I bumped into censorship since my filthy poetry got me kicked out," he recounted. "I moved to the humor board and they were much more tolerant. So that's where I practiced my humor writing, back from 1997 to 1999."

Kim's sense of humor was recently put to the test in a Joongang Ilbo article covering the MIC ban. He was incorrectly listed as "Big Homonid," a gab he first encountered on AOL.

One of Kim's screaming aliens
©2004 K. Kim
A Washington D.C. native, Kim graduated from Georgetown University in 1991 and "wanted to change the world" as a French teacher. He studied in France and Switzerland in the 1990s, and says he tries to maintain his language abilities by writing to his French and Swiss host families. He recently posted a blog entry entirely in French as a symbolic act of civil disobedience.

Kim uses his humor and skills as an artist to convey his Hominidic worldview. He says he is "self-taught" and produces "high naive art."

Kim's Korean heritage (his mother is Korean and his father is a Westerner) brought him to Seoul in September 2002 to take Korean-language courses at Korea University. He says his listening and writing is "very poor" but because he can speak basic Korean quickly, the interviewers placed him in too high a language class.

All in all, though, he said the intensive coursework was very good and his Mom could tell the difference in his Korean-language abilities.

Kim is Presbyterian and interested interreligious dialogue, which he pointed out was another factor in his coming to Korea.

"I wanted to see Buddhist/Christian interactions up-close, and this is the place to do it," he said. "Korea is a cultural crossroads." He says he's most proud of a long blog entry on the question of religious pluralism, which he posted last year.

Dalma Daesa
©2004 K. Kim
Kim's Buddhist drawings are on his site and he's also a self-published author and illustrator of a book of his humorous musings titled "Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia" (2001), which is available on Amazon.com and through his site.

He said that he may not be outwardly pious (still, he neither drinks nor smokes), but when it comes to the search of the ultimate questions of life, then he is very religious.

Though Kim's focus on scatological humor may shock and offend, he says there is no contradiction with his deep interest in religion.

"That's why I like the Korean Zen Buddhism. They don't mind the foul mouth, unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition." One Buddhist tale famously equates the nature of the Buddha to a stick of dung, which though outwardly incongruous, is meant to show that the nature of everything is one, a core Buddhist tenet.

As to where the blogging community goes to from here Kim is stoically philosophical. But questions remain about how the community should proceed.

"If they just lift the ban, what do we do? Do we continue for the principle of the thing or do we just stop?" he asked. "My view is we should press forward, because it just wasn't right."

Referring to the online demonstrations and two anti-censorship petitions, Kim thinks that every little bit helps. "Some people pooh-pooh the numbers, but we're still at the beginning of this."

He says that he'll hold on for now, but he doesn't know when "enough will be enough."

"You can't stay angry. If you lose your sense of humor, it's like the dark side of the force -- it can alter your destiny."

More Big Hominid thoughts on the ban

July 16, from Google's cache.

The shape of the fight can be seen as a function of the three major barriers before us:

1. The ban itself (and those responsible for it).
2. Korean apathy toward/unawareness of the ban.
3. Western apathy toward/unawareness of the ban.

What is the immediate object of the game, then? Removal of the ban. Switching to if/then mode:

1. If the ban is suddenly lifted by the Korean government:
(a) We stop. The immediate objective has been reached. Or--
(b) We continue the fight, because the ban could happen again, and laws need to be changed. (Etc., etc.; I can come up with quite a few reasons to pursue this.)

2. If the ban isn't lifted:
(a) We don't fight. No movement/concerted action forms, people end up finding new hosting services for their blogs, and we simply live outside the ban.
(b) We fight.

3. Assume 2(b). How do we fight?
(a) The Korean angle. Go deep.
(b) The foreign angle. Go wide.
COMMENT: The above two are interconnected, as you'll see in a moment.

4. What's the Korean angle?
We go deep. I see it this way:
(a) Legal route: petitions to the Korean government. Right now, the two major petitions show a lot of foreign signatures. As has been repeatedly pointed out, this isn't necessarily persuasive to prisoners of the Hermit Kingdom mentality. Which leads to...
(b) Consciousness-raising in Korea. How?
i. Word of mouth. You've got Korean friends, and they'll listen to you. You've also got foreign friends, many of whom might not be aware of what's happening. The more, the merrier-- and you already see that Korean/foreign consciousness-raising is an interconnected thing.
ii. Invade message boards with Korean translations of our message-- preferably in short, easily postable form (i.e., not written by long-winded people like me). If you've got the Korean skills to condense our basic argument into a few brief talking points (and an early draft of Ed's petition had just such points), you've got a weapon. Don't feel guilty about this, either: it's the same tactic Korean Netizens use. Spread it around like graffiti, baby.
iii. Keep pestering the English- and Korean-language press. We're aiming for deep penetration into the Korean psyche here. News has to get out. Ultimately, the news needs to be spread by Koreans who think the government's gone too far. Although time is against us in some ways, time is on our side in this instance: the longer the ban, the greater the injustice. It's a matter of persuading more Koreans to see it this way.
(c) Direct tangling with the MIC. I have no idea what might come of this, but why not try to get in touch with MIC staffers and officials? Why not have someone sit down with them and determine what's up and where we can go from here? ...

5. What's the foreign angle?
We go wide, and the object is to shame people, to make Koreans aware that the world is watching and not approving.
(a) The anglophone blogosphere. More anglophone bloggers need to be made aware of what's going on. ... The greater blogosphere should be up in arms about this, even if it's been largely blase about other examples of censorship, such as in the PRC...
(b) The foreign press. On the assumption that Koreans don't want their country viewed as backward and sharing the negative qualities of the PRC, and on the assumption that Koreans do in fact pride themselves on having a great (if incestuous) Internet culture, we need to hammer the Korean government hard by getting the press to notice how bad it's being. Not hammer Korea, mind: hammer the government and, by implication, the Netizens who support its actions.
(c) Blogging service providers. Are they working in cooperation with the SK government? Are they aware of the ban? Are any of their staffers upset by it? Are they even aware it's happening? how do we get in touch with them and start hounding them?
(d) Joe Citizen. Again, tee shirts might be good meme-spreaders. Tees, stickers, etc. And word of mouth is always good.

For more on Big Hominid's views on the ban, go to BigHominid via a proxy site or use Google's cache.
©2004 OhmyNews

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