Ferry Tragedy: Stop Blaming the Drowned

Kai Ma takes exception to the media's culture blaming

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 25, 2014 12:27 PM CDT

(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.

A man attaches messages for the missing students on a wall at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.
A man attaches messages for the missing students on a wall at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
People offer prayers for the victims of South Korea's sunken ferry in Tokyo Friday.
People offer prayers for the victims of South Korea's sunken ferry in Tokyo Friday.   (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
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