Ferry Tragedy: Stop Blaming the Drowned
Kai Ma takes exception to the media's culture blaming
By Kevin Spak, Newser User
Posted Apr 25, 2014 12:27 PM CDT
A man attaches messages for the missing students on a wall at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

(Newser) – The Sewol ferry disaster has left the world looking for answers, wondering who to blame. And an uncomfortable number of English-language media outlets have hit on an answer, Kai Ma at Time observes: South Korea's "culture of obedience." For example...

  • LA Times: The disaster and failed rescue have "cast a harsh light on a Confucian culture in which young people are taught to respect the older generation."
  • Reuters: "Many of the children did not question their elders, as is customary in hierarchical Korean society. They paid for their obedience with their lives."
  • Dallas Morning News: "If that was a boatload of American students, you know they would have been finding any and every way to get off that ferry. But in Asian cultures … compliance is de rigueur."

"It's called 'culture blaming,' and the media embraces it—especially the mainstream," Ma complains. "On the surface, it appears like an innocuous and thoughtful attempt to offer insight, but at the root is the suggestion that these cultures are inferior, broken, or backwards." Certainly aspects of Korean society failed here—like its "fumbling bureaucracies and the lack of protocol." But blaming it on some cultural flaw is lazy journalism, and, more heinously, "It places blame on the victims and their families as a nation grieves." Click for the full column.

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Apr 25, 2014 6:11 PM CDT
While this is a horrible horrible tragedy, people are missing the one good point, which is today travelling by airplane, ferry and automobile is drastically safer than 50 years ago. Fifty years ago if your car hit an acorn it would skid out of control, only two of your wheels would even have any brakes and there was no ABS, the solid metal bolted bumper would propel the crush-zone less engine compartment till there was a hot engine in your lap and the lack of seat belts, air bags and collapsible steering wheels would mean a steering column through your skull. Flying was unsafe enough that there were insurance vending machines at every gate! Today flying is safe enough that we can forget about the 20 million planes every year that don't crash and spend months on MH370.
Apr 25, 2014 2:47 PM CDT
You never would have seen on 9/11 the American workers at the World Trade Towers staying at their desks after they were told to do so, with the first tower burning. Oh wait, that's exactly what they did.
Apr 25, 2014 2:21 PM CDT
There's a lot of blame to go around here and pointing to the cultural imperatives that drive people's behavior is not out of bounds. Is the Korean culture insistent that the young obey their elders? Do young people tend to forgo their judgment in favor of instructions issued by authority figures? If the answers are both, "Yes," that's a factor in this tragedy. There're also the people who designed the refit of the ferry and the people who certified it seaworthy, along with the people who loaded it and secured the cargo and the people who were operating it at the time. Yeah ... there's a LOT to look at here. Let's not dismiss some of it because it's uncomfortable.