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I deserve to be naked if I want to.
March 25, 2013 12:25 PM   Subscribe

In a Room Full of Naked Koreans, Margaret Cho’s Body Is an Unwelcome Sight. Margaret Cho discusses the disapproval of her fellow Korean spa visitors upon seeing her naked, heavily tattooed body as she enjoys the facilities. Single link Jezebel.
posted by sweetkid (165 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
> I actually said, in Korean "Do you know who I am? I am MARGARET CHO!"

Sympathy gone, right there. Tattoos irrelevant.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [38 favorites]


I love Korean Spa so much.
posted by k8t at 12:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Margaret Cho is indeed an all around badass. I've watched her acts over the years: hers is a convoluted and terribly affecting odyssey of discovery. It seems unfair that integrity should be so painful.

Sometimes the refuge to be found in entitlement is a blessing, and I'll settle for enlightenment by proxy when I can get it.

Anyhow, the tats on her page were great.
posted by mule98J at 12:37 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of my Japanese friends got the same treatment in Japan. They had to cover their tats before they were allowed within. I imagine it's a cultural taboo that will take some time to combat but good on Cho for not outing the specific Spa but just bringing up the issue and an example of it. That sort of thing can lead to good discussions and increased awareness, though not always of course.
posted by juiceCake at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's.....not what I remember Margaret Cho looking like.

So, the internet seems to be turning into a vast area where people can air how they've been wronged in their own special way. Why does everyone place so much credence in the opinions of strangers?
posted by nevercalm at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is more of a whine about old Korean grammas, but she turns it into "I am such an influential and important person and I am being robbed of my rights, wah wah wahhhhhh!"

Old Korean grammas in ANY state would probably give the "stink eye" to a heavily tattooed girl. From the spas point of view: "Well, we can ask the egotistical "Star" to cover up and risk losing her business... or, we ask everyone else to deal with it and risk losing ALL of their business."

That said, it's a silly story altogether. Respect for one's elders versus personal freedom. Generational gaps make for fun reading. ANYONE should be able to walk around naked in a spa, for crying out loud.

If I have to endure turning a corner in a spa to find a man blow-drying his balls, then the Old Korean Grammas should be fine with seeing Cho's decorated torso.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


The comments are super interesting. Given that it's Jezebel, I expected them to be all "you go girl!" but a lot of them are fairly harsh. Some excerpts:
PC people always talk about respecting cultures than want to shit all over traditions, don't eat pork and bread at my Passover seder tonight!

Tattoos like these are repulsive. Enjoy them when you get old, fat, and wrinkly and they look even more horrid in your later years.

Margaret, you had me up until: "My tattoos represent much of the pain & suffering I have endured." Please (eye roll)

But Margaret, as much as you have the right to be naked in a roomful of Korean women, they also have the same right to view your body as distasteful. My mom and her friends would be clucking their tongues and yelling that your parents didn't teach you well. Yes, it's myopic but Koreans are judgmental about body issues. This isn't news. Also, this whole "I have suffered" nonsense is cringeworthy.
posted by desjardins at 12:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you go someplace where a lot of people of a particular culture hang out and you choose to behave in a way that is different from that culture's norms don't be surprised if they look askance at you. Whether that location is within that culture's usual geographical area or not is irrelevant.
posted by Runes at 12:40 PM on March 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


I guess as a straight white male who went to pasty white Catholic schools and was raised in an upper middle class household with two parents I'm the last person who should be giving their opinion on what a Korean Spa should be like, or what any other non-majority /place of /thing should be like for that matter... but my only response to that was "No shit Sherlock."

I guess she did the right thing though. Paid for the services she received and then promised to herself that she'd never set foot in that place again, even if for only that singular reason that she deserved better.

I think more people should behave like that, even if it doesn't involve tattoos.

(And yes, I'm fully aware that the white guy is telling other people how to behave... and yeah, it does feel sorta weird... but I'd like to think we can all agree that surrounding yourself with people who enjoy your company is something that is a universally good thing.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:41 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, Margaret Cho. I enjoyed some of her early work. Every time I've heard if her over the past ten years, she seems to be nursing some grievance, as if she doesn't know how to function anymore if there wasn't some outside force attacking her to focus on. Seems to happen to some people, when they get famous enough. You can disappear into this bubble where you never have to have any contact with anyone who will tell you that your problems aren't very important.
posted by Diablevert at 12:41 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not just that particular place that's having issues; the Korean spa near me recently announced a policy that bans transgender and homosexual people. Classy stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


It is interesting that the link at her byline (to her own site) shows an image of her that seems to be either out of date or heavily photoshopped to judge from the lack of ink on display.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:43 PM on March 25, 2013


I actually said, in Korean "Do you know who I am? I am MARGARET CHO!"

This only carries weight if it means "I can buy this play and have you fired" or "my people will have you killed."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:44 PM on March 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


I assume everyone's giving me the stink-eye at the korean spa (and, everywhere, in general) but I'm not wearing my glasses in the shower room so I can't see anyone's expression. Works out pretty well.
posted by bleep at 12:45 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


She has an excellent point in that there was a heavily tattooed man in the spa who'd presumably not been asked to cover himself. Once again, women get the heavier hand of the body police.

I maintain it's more upsetting to people when women do something unapproved with their bodies because everyone knows we're supposed to make ourselves pretty for the consumption of others and not, you know, have real desires of our own. Hence all the comments about how women are "ruining" their bodies with piercings, tattoos and other modifications when it's rare to hear that kind of language applied to a man.

Seriously, her art is gorgeous. I aspire to be that covered someday.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2013 [37 favorites]


I should not be mean, but my high school punk rock stalkergirlfriend used to sneer at people in the mall while we were walking around and snarl "I dunno why everyone's always lookin' at me like they're all fuckin' uptight an' shit! Why can't they all mind their own fuckin' business and leave me the fuck alone?"

I would, on my braver days, point out that she'd shaved half her head, dyed the other half bluish-purple (with Kool-Aid), drawn a big anarchy symbol on the bald half of her head with a Sharpie, and was wearing a live rat on her shoulder.

"What's your point?"

"It's possible that I don't have one," I'd say, largely because I didn't want her to spit in my mouth in that endearing way she used to do when she wanted to settle an argument.

"Yuh—I didn't think so."

"By the way, did I ever mention that I'm totally into dudes now?"

"Yeah, you keep saying that. Wanna make out?"
posted by sonascope at 12:48 PM on March 25, 2013 [22 favorites]


It is interesting that the link at her byline (to her own site) shows an image
No need to add the "tattoo" part of that google search... taking it off yields much the same graphical and anatomical information. Which is great that it's similar, there's some weird emotional calculus going on when you search for Van Goh compared to when you search for Van Goh Ear. I mean, the ear is just a single point in a timeline, and it just strikes me as somewhat odd to endear onesself to one thing and not to the person itself.

Which I think is sort of one of the points that she was trying to say.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:49 PM on March 25, 2013


1) That's a lot of ink.
2) I would not fuck with Margaret Cho.
posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of you are really holding her up to a lofty standard!

If you were singled out for weird, judgmental treatment while naked, you don't think you'd grasp at whatever semblance of balancing power you could find?

It's definitely crappy to play the "but I'm a celebrity!" card, but it sounds to me like she was definitely getting some shitty treatment and being put on the spot in a really gross way!
posted by SharkParty at 12:49 PM on March 25, 2013 [32 favorites]


You know, on almost every other website I visit, I make a special effort to avoid reading the comment sections. I respect MetaFilter and have a long enough history here to be comfortable giving them a scan. It'd be great if we could stop copy-pasting the shitty comments from other websites into MetaFilter.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:51 PM on March 25, 2013 [41 favorites]


Sexism sucks even if it is culture specific.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:51 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting. Until a few minutes ago I had no idea who Margaret Cho was, and now I am so happy because I've seen this.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 12:53 PM on March 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ten or so years ago a British friend of mine went to a public onsen in Japan, washed thoroughly and approached the baths. He is a hairy man, with a hairy back. Half the men took one look at him and quietly got out. Then his friend arrived. He is a British Indian, married to a Japanese woman. He is an exceptionally hairy man, with a very hairy back. The rest of the men got out so quickly it was like a shark had jumped into the baths.

So, on the one hand: racism. On the other hand: a winning formula for turning a public onsen into a private one.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


I walked into the huge sauna, naked, and sat there watching golf on tv –- they have a fucking tv in the sauna. How sweet is that?

Sounds like the sauna isn't hot enough. If you can concentrate on something other than Breathing and Not Dying, your sauna isn't hot enough.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Weird to see so much Cho-antipathy here.

One thing that I would mention is that, weirdly, the LA Korean culture seems to be more reactionary than the Korean culture of Korea, at least Seoul. Tattoos still get side-eye there, but over here, especially in the first gen folks, there's a lot more bound up in the theoretical preservation of cultural norms than there seems to be in Seoul, where traditions seem to modernize a fair amount.

It's similar to how it's actually pretty easy to find vegetarian Korean food in Korea, but over here, a whole bunch of Koreans will totally stan for the idea that all Korean food is all meat.
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


As a caucasian lady with tattoos who frequents Korean spas in Korea, I have never been asked to cover up, or been told I made anyone uncomfortable. No one has ever brought a robe to me, apologetically or no. However, I have gotten some serious old lady stinkeye, and also random conversations from kids who wanted to touch my tattooed skin, without asking first. My tattooed african-american girlfriend has had people touch her hair and skin, without asking, but similarly never been kicked out or asked to cover up.
posted by nile_red at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The world does not owe you approval, nor does it have to like you. Especially grandmas.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's definitely crappy to play the "but I'm a celebrity!" card

I'm getting a sense she knows that, TBH.
posted by Artw at 12:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yes, you deserve to be naked if you want. You don't deserve the admiration for your tats as you think it should be.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


juiceCake: "Some of my Japanese friends got the same treatment in Japan. They had to cover their tats before they were allowed within."

This is almost certainly due to a societal shunning of Yakuza members; tattoos themselves, regardless of size, shape or imagery, are viewed by many older Japanese as proof positive of criminality. Guilt by association, as it were.
posted by scrump at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: so much credence in the opinions of strangers?
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Grandmas worldwide are the most reactionary, racist, sexist, godawful people. Fuck them if they can't take a joke.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Weird to see so much Cho-antipathy here.

Judgmental scorn is basically a spinner wheel on MeFi.
posted by Artw at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


You don't deserve the admiration for your tats as you think it should be.

It doesn't seem like she is asking for admiration. Unless "admiration" means "not getting kicked out of the spa."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


Yes, you deserve to be naked if you want. You don't deserve the admiration for your tats as you think it should be.

wow this sets the bar for "admiration" REALLY LOW!!
posted by SharkParty at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos. So, mission accomplished.
posted by rocket88 at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2013 [6 favorites]



The world does not owe you approval, nor does it have to like you. Especially grandmas.

But places of public accommodation do owe you the right not to be discriminated against.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


As a heavily tattooed, hairy, very nearsighted man, I should really get out to the spa more often.
posted by box at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


I brought the first Korean American family to television. I have influenced a generation of Asian American comedians, artists, musicians, actors, authors -– many, many people to do what they dreamed of doing, not letting their race and the lack of Asian Americans in the media stop them. If anything, I understand Korean culture better than most, because I have had to fight against much of its homophobia, sexism, racism –- all the while trying to maintain my fierce ethnic pride. I struggle with the language so that I can be better understood. I try to communicate my frustrations in Korean so that I can enhance my relationship with my identity, my family, my parents homeland.

I deserve to be naked if I want to.
See, this is the problem I have with Margaret Cho: I feel like I should like her more than I do, but then she'll say something that's just ugh. I stopped reading her blog when she declared, apparently in all seriousness, that Martha Stewart was a political prisoner.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:03 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


2N2222: "Yes, you deserve to be naked if you want. You don't deserve the admiration for your tats as you think it should be."

Getting kicked out of a spa isn't "admiration". C'mon.
posted by boo_radley at 1:04 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos. So, mission accomplished.

Groan.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:04 PM on March 25, 2013 [58 favorites]


especially in the first gen folks, there's a lot more bound up in the theoretical preservation of cultural norms than there seems to be in Seoul, where traditions seem to modernize a fair amount

This makes a lot of sense, having seen similar phenomena in other contexts. I think Margaret Cho was perhaps operating on a "I'm in LA" mindset and did not take into account the clinging to cultural norms thing that so frequently happens in immigrant communities.
posted by ambrosia at 1:05 PM on March 25, 2013


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos.

Can't speak for everyone, but that never entered into it for me. FWIW, this assumption seems to be far more common among people who don't have tattoos than it is among people who do.
posted by box at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2013 [56 favorites]


I don't think she played the "do you know who I am" card for celebrity influence, but rather as a way of saying, "are you not familiar with my identity and my schtick as a person? All that you see is who I am!"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Margaret Cho isn't just any celebrity, she's a prominent Korean-American. When she plays the celebrity card in a Korean spa, it reinforces her Korean-ness and asserts her status in the very community that is attacking her. I think it's fair, and sort of ironically appropriate.

The spa owner is in a bad position here, but she made the wrong choice, and blogging about it seems like a good way to draw attention. Margaret is right: You're in LA, not Korea, so get over the tattoos.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2013 [39 favorites]


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos.

You are wrong.
posted by spindrifter at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


One thing that I would mention is that, weirdly, the LA Korean culture seems to be more reactionary than the Korean culture of Korea, at least Seoul. Tattoos still get side-eye there, but over here, especially in the first gen folks, there's a lot more bound up in the theoretical preservation of cultural norms than there seems to be in Seoul, where traditions seem to modernize a fair amount.

That's pretty common among immigrant communities everywhere. It's easier to maintain that attitude of "That person is being Korean wrong!" when you're looking at one Margaret Cho and have millions of non-Koreans around for easy comparison. But when you're back in Seoul, it's not as easy to point at the thousands of tattooed Chos and Kims and Parks and say, "All of those people are being Korean wrong!"

I'm sure that Seoul is full of grandmothers who say "That person is being Gwangju wrong!" after having lived in the big city for fifty years, too.
posted by Etrigan at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]




Getting kicked out of a spa isn't "admiration". C'mon.


She didn't get kicked out. And I didn't say it was admiration, regardless.

Old Korean women don't like you. They don't owe you anything. You don't have to like it.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:13 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos.

This is such a strange assumption to make about other people and their motives, to assume that they paid a not-small sum of money and underwent a not-small amount of pain not because they liked the artwork being put on their skin, but because they hoped it might piss off some strangers.
posted by palomar at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


They don't owe you anything

That's not true. They do owe you the right not to be disturbed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:16 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


She was forced to put on a robe, unlike everybody else at the spa. That's not just stinkeye.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:17 PM on March 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


2N2222: "She didn't get kicked out."

Pressured to leave, whatever.
posted by boo_radley at 1:18 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


rocket88: "I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos. So, mission accomplished."

Bullshit.

Edit: It's not a significant factor. It's just a perk. Icing on the cake, see?
posted by Splunge at 1:18 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


To follow up my comment: I've heard this opinion about all sorts of body modifications, and it represents, to me, a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of most people's motivations, which we can pretty easily clear up with 5 words: It is not about you.

That thing young people do that bothers you so much? It's not about you.

Those clothes that other people wear that you find so titillating? It's not about you.

Those bodymods that person has? It's not about you.

Now, sure, sometimes it IS about you, but that's like 5% of the time or less. So on average, it's not about you, and everything goes a lot more smoothly if we don't take the actions of strangers personally.
posted by spindrifter at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2013 [39 favorites]


The old ladies were there first. I'm sure there are other spas where a rich celebrity can go.
posted by unSane at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


everything goes a lot more smoothly if we don't take the actions of strangers personally.

She sure took their stinkeye personally.
posted by FJT at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2013


The old ladies were there first.

What is this, preschool? No.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2013 [27 favorites]


Tattoos are expensive, permanent, and they kinda fucking hurt. I can't see getting one just to piss off someone else.
posted by desjardins at 1:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


She sure took their stinkeye personally.

Stinkeye probably is about you more than the 5% outlined above.
posted by spindrifter at 1:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


When she plays the celebrity card in a Korean spa, it reinforces her Korean-ness and asserts her status in the very community that is attacking her. I think it's fair, and sort of ironically appropriate.

I agree. And this is why I don't get the whole snide "well, this is what you get for disrespecting Korean culture" dismissal of her grievance. I mean, by definition, she's part of Korean (and Korean-American) culture, and so the fact that she's a queer, heavily tattooed Korean woman means that the boundaries of what constitutes "being Korean" are being challenged. Now, that's not to say that other Koreans and Korean-Americans will automatically like the challenge she presents, but that is not the same as saying that Cho is "disrespecting" Korean culture by manifesting those challenges.

I'm sure there are other spas where a rich celebrity can go.

She grew up going to Korean spas. She has every bit as much right to be there as the elderly Korean women.
posted by scody at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [61 favorites]



Looks like the old ladies were as disturbed as Cho. The spa was as accommodating as they could be. Sucks to be her at this place, but thems the breaks. Deal with the hate or just move on. Yeah, life is tough.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2013


It really, really sucks to be told "Your particular personal body is offensive and you should cover it up." It sucks a lot, no matter how self-confident and body-positive and comfortable in your own skin you are. So even though I don't love Cho's tone of badass celebrity entitlement here, I have a huge amount of sympathy for her.

And FWIW for others considering , my entire back is covered with tattoos and I've never experienced this at the Korean-owned, -operated, and -attended spa I go to--in fact, the Korean spa workers always ooh and ahh over the large flowers on my back and tell me how pretty they are. I'm fully aware that this may be a "be nice to the paying customer" sort of thing, but the point is that tattoos at a Korean spa don't seem to be an automatic violation of cultural taboo. Please tell me otherwise if I'm wrong, though.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I do think this is an issue related to her decision to represent her femaleness in a way that goes against certain norms. And, since I am neither female nor Korean, I don't think it's my place to tell her life is tough and she should just suck it up. I would not presume to think I know enough to tell her what is and what is not important within her own gender and culture.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:27 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I kind of struggle with this article, because on one hand I'm a fat pasty white girl and I, too, have been given the side-eye of death for daring to be naked or semi-naked. I also understand that while tattoos and other body modification are gaining in cultural acceptance, there are places where they are still not acceptable or are even taboo.

But that said... what does Cho want me or any other Jezebel reader to do? Are a lot of Jezebel readers Korean-spa owners? Or Korean-spa patrons? Except for a few sentences near the end, it doesn't even really work as a call for body acceptance at large, just for tattoo acceptance in the Korean-American community. Which doesn't really apply to something like 95% of Jezebel's readers.
posted by muddgirl at 1:27 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect mainly she wants to shout GAH really loudly.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not clear on what you are asking, mudgirl. Do you think the article is not valuable if it does not contain a call to action or address itself to the majority of Jezebel readers?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Her P.S. could've been an entire post in and of itself. I don't think the management would've done this to a man.

I think the other spa clients have a right to react however they want to react (stink eye and all), but taking it to management, and management asking her to cover up? that's where it all went crazy for me. Margaret did nothing wrong, broke no rules, harassed no one directly or indirectly by her behavior. I'm stunned that she actually covered up in order to stay, but apparently that's how much she wanted to enjoy the offerings of the spa.

full disclosure that I love Margaret Cho, but i think I'd be feeling this way even if they'd done this to Ann Coulter.
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:32 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I posted this, and I'm not a Korean American but I am an Asian American (Indian). I'm also a bit surprised at the vitriol here. I thought this was quite well written and a really insightful and moving account of a culture clash within your "own" culture, and what that even means.

As was said above, she is part of Korean culture, and therefore it's not fair to tell her to just go to some other spa, because the Korean spa is part of her family tradition. Also, Korean immigrant culture is different in the US than back in Korea. Further, Korean American (second generation) culture is different than immigrant culture - something I know quite well since my parents were born in India and I was born here. And she's right - she has done a lot to define and lead the image of Korean Americans in our culture, and I'm sure it was damn hard, too. I don't think it's out of line for her to talk about it and to feel indignant about the situation.

I think she's saying this tradition or taboo about tattoos is something to be challenged, and I think she has every right to say that.
posted by sweetkid at 1:32 PM on March 25, 2013 [22 favorites]


"I grew up hard and am still hard and I don’t care. I did not choose this face or this body and I have learned to live with it and love it and celebrate it and adorn it with tremendous drawings from the greatest artists in the world and I feel good and powerful like a nation that has never been free and now after many hard won victories is finally fucking free. I am beautiful and I am finally fucking free."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm pretty sure a significant factor in getting tattoos, especially being heavily tattooed, is wanting to upset the kinds of people who get upset by tattoos. So, mission accomplished.

Seriously? Are you writing this from 30 years ago? I'll see myself off your lawn now.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


Cho and the linked piece aside (reading it now), I had a strange experience as a very heavily tattooed American male in Korea. I went to a spa, and was told right off the bat that I was not allowed in. Every Korean I met, though, (and there were many) was really into my tattoos. The young sisters of a friend in Seoul repeatedly dragged me into their laundry room to secretly examine all of my tattoos, and retail workers talked to me endlessly about tattoos without the weird tone that most Americans adopt in those conversations. It was really different in a lot of intangible ways, but also a nice break from the regular tattoo conversations I find myself in at the grocery store in my American town.
posted by broadway bill at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2013


I do think this is an issue related to her decision to represent her femaleness in a way that goes against certain norms. And, since I am neither female nor Korean, I don't think it's my place to tell her life is tough and she should just suck it up. I would not presume to think I know enough to tell her what is and what is not important within her own gender and culture.

Ok. But none of this matters. We can't do much about it. Her beef is with that bunch of crabby old ladies. All I can say is that it sucks.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK it should go without saying that my comment doesn't apply to everyone and I didn't mean to imply it was the only reason people get heavily tattooed. If it doesn't apply to you, I believe you.
My personal experience is that the people *I know* with multiple tattoos delight in the negative attention they invoke from certain people. They may be outliers, but I doubt it.
YMMV, etc.
posted by rocket88 at 1:35 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ok. But none of this matters.

Just because it doesn't matter to you doesn't mean it doesn't matter.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not clear on what you are asking, mudgirl. Do you think the article is not valuable if it does not contain a call to action or address itself to the majority of Jezebel readers?

Given that this is my personal opinion and not some law that I can enforce on any publication - yes, I think that in general an article should address its intended audience in some way. I'm not saying that Margaret Cho shouldn't write for Jezebel - I'm saying I want to know why I should care. The thesis of a personal essay like this often contains a call to action of some sort. That call to action can indeed be "commiserate with me!" But from my reading of the last couple paragraphs, that's not what Cho is asking for. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think she's saying this tradition or taboo about tattoos is something to be challenged, and I think she has every right to say that.

As a white girl, it would be really REALLY presumptive of me to challenge a Korean taboo, no?

All I can say is that it sucks.

Exactly.
posted by muddgirl at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2013


My personal experience is that the people *I know* with multiple tattoos delight in the negative attention they invoke from certain people. They may be outliers, but I doubt it.

That doesn't mean that's why they GOT them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:36 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


More from Cho's blog:
"I love tattooed women, maybe because they are uncontrollable, they are themselves to the point of drawing symbols of their power on their skin. Talk about owning your own body, being in your body, claiming yourself. I love it. When the world is in an uproar over whether women should have a choice or not when it comes to their bodies, being tattooed is one of the most visible choices of all."

The whole post is definitely worth reading to understand where she's coming from.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:37 PM on March 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm not saying that Margaret Cho shouldn't write for Jezebel - I'm saying I want to know why I should care.

You're entirely free not to care. But I think the suggestion that unless an article is somehow tailored to the majority -- assumably white, non-Korean -- is odd. I found it the article interesting, and it is useful to know that cultures other than my own wrestle with body issues, especially as it relates to femaleness.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:38 PM on March 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


Cho's post does sound rather self-aggrandizing, but what she experienced sets off all sorts of alarm bells for me: someone viewed as different or strange by a crowd winds up not only facing glares and nasty comments, but the institution in which this occurs backs up their bile, blaming the victim.

I'm a Jewish trans* guy who spent years swimming at my local JCC, but had to give up my membership unless or until I get surgery I can't afford, based on this same logic: my body would make other people uncomfortable. Mind you, even if I were still allowed to use the locker rooms and pool, as a trans* man who hasn't had "top surgery" I wouldn't, because I can't cope with expressions of horror about my body from other people. But the "logic" that the JCC is a "family institution with Jewish values" that I violate by existing makes me, a parent and Jew-with-values, pretty sad.

People with "weird" bodies are still members of our communities of origin, and bias is isn't less ugly because it's coming from within a marginalized group.
posted by DrMew at 1:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [31 favorites]


"As a white girl, it would be really REALLY presumptive of me to challenge a Korean taboo, no?"

I know as a white person, it's really tempting to think, "But what does this have to do with me?!" But actually, other ethnicities have their own cultural mores, and at a general interest web site, we can discuss them — and sometimes people from those ethnicities will even chime in!
posted by klangklangston at 1:39 PM on March 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'm saying I want to know why I should care.

It's an interesting topic about conflicting motivations, cultural assumptions and power dynamics, written by a celebrity who is a powerful symbol within several American cultures (gay, Korean-American)? Or I don't know why else you should care.

I think she's saying this tradition or taboo about tattoos is something to be challenged, and I think she has every right to say that.

As a white girl, it would be really REALLY presumptive of me to challenge a Korean taboo, no
?

It depends on the context, it can be presumptive or it can not be, but what does that have to do with the situation here? What is your point?
posted by sweetkid at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a white girl, it would be really REALLY presumptive of me to challenge a Korean taboo, no?

I know what you mean, and this is definitely one of those areas where we to some extent can't help putting our feet wrong one way or the other; but I don't think one can accept this as a blanket statement. I mean, I'm happy to condemn FGM, for example, regardless of the fact that the cultural context in which it occurs is not mine (and is one with deep cultural and historical roots in many of the areas where it is practiced). I'm happy to condemn honor killings of rape victims too. Obviously "giving the stink eye to tattooed women" is a long way from those "bright line" cases, but the point they establish is simply that we can't just say "moral judgment can never extend beyond the bounds of your cultural context."
posted by yoink at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


"As a white girl, it would be really REALLY presumptive of me to challenge a Korean taboo, no?"

I know as a white person, it's really tempting to think, "But what does this have to do with me?!" But actually, other ethnicities have their own cultural mores, and at a general interest web site, we can even discuss them — and sometimes people from those ethnicities will even chime in!


Yes. This, thank you.
posted by sweetkid at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2013


DrMew, I guess this is unrelated to the OP, but JCC denying you facilities or making them conditional is illegal in many states.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:41 PM on March 25, 2013


Given that this is my personal opinion and not some law that I can enforce on any publication - yes, I think that in general an article should address its intended audience in some way.

I'm white and don't have any tattoos. But I am a woman and a feminist who's interested in body acceptance issues and the ways in which the dominant culture (and various subsets within that culture) work to shame and punish people (usually women, but not always) for deviating from our culturally enforced norms. So I have no idea why someplace like Jezebel wouldn't be the right forum for this article (other than the fact that I often find Jezebel really annoying).
posted by scody at 1:41 PM on March 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


Can you guys stop using the straw man about how she's just mad that she got the stink-eye from a bunch of old ladies? That's how it started; it ended in her being asked to cover up and pressured to leave by the authorities of the place in question (IE the staff of the spa) and generally ruined the entire point of visiting the spa (relaxation).
posted by NoraReed at 1:44 PM on March 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


But that said... what does Cho want me or any other Jezebel reader to do? Are a lot of Jezebel readers Korean-spa owners? Or Korean-spa patrons? Except for a few sentences near the end, it doesn't even really work as a call for body acceptance at large, just for tattoo acceptance in the Korean-American community. Which doesn't really apply to something like 95% of Jezebel's readers.

Well, I can't responsibly say I can know what Cho wants readers to do, but I would say a reason why this piece is valuable is because it gives people an opportunity to talk and think about how feminism and immigrant cultures interact, and gives them an example of why it's important to talk/think about same.

Moreover, I think it effectively illustrates why lazy solutions — like the "the group is always right" solution being bandied around/taken apart here — don't work in this domain.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:48 PM on March 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


DrMew, I guess this is unrelated to the OP, but JCC denying you facilities or making them conditional is illegal in many states.

Unfortunately, only 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity/expression, and I don't live in one of them. . . Anyway, this was meant as an example, and I don't want to derail. But thanks.
posted by DrMew at 1:50 PM on March 25, 2013


This is almost certainly due to a societal shunning of Yakuza members; tattoos themselves, regardless of size, shape or imagery, are viewed by many older Japanese as proof positive of criminality. Guilt by association, as it were.

Yes, I'm aware of that. My friends found it slightly absurd and comic that they, being Japanese Canadians who speak about 10 words of Japanese and can't read Kanji are associated with the Yakuza because of a tattoo here and there when naked in a Spa but were automatically assumed to be nice and lovers of donuts when dressed and speaking of where they were from.

I'm saying I want to know why I should care.

As for why people should care, that question is basically answerable. We all have different interests and concerns and her article makes those who read it and may be interested in it more aware of the experience if they weren't before, and probably addresses those who are aware of it and have experienced something similar. It may encourage discussion about the issues. If you don't care about it, then you don't need to read it or be part of the discussion. It's not the responsibility of anyone to tell you what you should care about, that would be obnoxious unless it was something do to with imminent danger to your livelihood that you're unaware of I'd imagine.
posted by juiceCake at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


But that said... what does Cho want me or any other Jezebel reader to do?

I think that's a valid point. I mean, I'm Asian-American, and from my experience, Asian immigrant communities don't like airing out their laundry. I kind of question why Cho decided to go only with Jezebel, instead of also going with a prominent Asian/Korean immigrant or at least Asian/Korean-American publication or blog.
posted by FJT at 1:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I never thought about this. I go to Korean spas sometimes, and also Russian spas. I've been to saunas in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, and Iceland. And for me they represent kind of the opposite, like environment where I first started to not care at all about people looking at my naked body. Coming from a conservative Evangelical culture in the South, it was scandalous to even see a naked woman in a locker room, no matter what she looked like. You always changed under a towel to minimize exposure if there were no stalls available.

And then I did study abroad and was invited to saunas where you HAD to take off all your clothes. No only that, some of them, like those in Austria and Finland, were both nude and co-ed. It was major culture shock, but it was kind of a great experience to be in an environment where everyone was naked, but there was nothing sexual. A blessing is that I'm blind as a bat without my glasses, so that took away the anxiety of looking at people, but from what I could see, all kind of people come to these places with all kinds of bodies.

So it's sad to learn that some bodies, bodies with tattoos, are actually not OK in some places, but I think it also is a cultural issue that they are less OK with her because she represents going against their own culture as a member of it. I have several white friends with lots of tatoos who have never had an issue at the Korean spa, but she's an apostate to them, which is always worse than anything no matter what culture you come from. I'm not sure what to do about that, it's too bad the business took that kind of ostracism's side. I guess now I'd be concerned about taking my Asian tatooed friends to a Korean spa now unless they had an explicit policy against discrimination.
posted by melissam at 1:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I kind of question why Cho decided to go only with Jezebel, instead of also going with a prominent Asian/Korean immigrant or at least Asian/Korean-American publication or blog.

I'm pretty sure the obvious answer is that she wanted a lot of people to read about it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


These days, when nearly every single parent visiting Disney World is sporting garish and extensive tattoo work; it's amazing that she found a place where it's considered socially unacceptable.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


These days, when nearly every single parent visiting Disney World is sporting garish and extensive tattoo work; it's amazing that she found a place where it's considered socially unacceptable.

Hey, nice job loading so much bias and contempt into one sentence.
posted by liketitanic at 2:00 PM on March 25, 2013 [27 favorites]


FJT, still don't know why you or anyone think we are meant to DO anything.

I kind of question why Cho decided to go only with Jezebel, instead of also going with a prominent Asian/Korean immigrant or at least Asian/Korean-American publication or blog

Why, do Asian American stories only belong in those places? Or are they American stories as well?
posted by sweetkid at 2:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [18 favorites]


But that said... what does Cho want me or any other Jezebel reader to do?

A lot of these Jezebel guest essays are really kind of like the old Sassy Magazine "It Happened To Me" column. They're not really a call to anything, just an opportunity to share an experience that may be of interest to the readership. I think this qualifies, because Jezebel writes a lot about bodies and -isms.
posted by padraigin at 2:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, reading over this thread, I realise I was too harsh, earlier. Just because I find Margaret Cho insufferable and unbearably self-involved, it doesn't mean that a shitty thing that happens to her is not shitty. This was shitty, and she's right to call attention to it.
posted by Diablevert at 2:04 PM on March 25, 2013 [25 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the obvious answer is that she wanted a lot of people to read about it.

A lot of people that would have already agreed with her. I mean, that's more of a sign of a great show-person, not someone that wants to engage and perhaps influence minds.

Why, do Asian American stories only belong in those places? Or are they American stories as well?

Because by aiming for an American audience, you'll end up missing the Asian immigrant/Asian-American audience. There is some overlap, but it's not complete.

I'm Chinese, not Korean, so I can only speak for my experience. My folks don't read Jezebel. They don't use the Internet for any sort of news, except for stock trading. But they do read the Chinese World Journal, and listen to AM 1300 and other Chinese radio stations regularly. And my mother is about the same age as Cho.

And I didn't make it sound like one or the other. I said "also", meaning at the very least it's best to aim for both.
posted by FJT at 2:13 PM on March 25, 2013


Well, the same post appears on her personal blog, so maybe she syndicated it out and it will show up on more than just Jezebel.
posted by padraigin at 2:17 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Right but FJT, she is writing about her experience, not trying to convince your mom or anyone else of something, necessarily.

A lot of people that would have already agreed with her.

That's not necessarily true. Look at all the people in this thread (And Jezebel comments, if you dare) who are just saying that she is whining and disrespecting the culture.

As a second generation Indian American, I find in the mainstream American media people have very little access to anything about my experience. I see almost nothing about it. Therefore, people know nothing about it, and are constantly misunderstanding and making assumptions (for example, I don't have an arranged marriage, neither did my parents or grandparents or any of my parents' friends or their kids - this is not supershocking to me but it is to a lot of people - 'So unusual!' blah blah).

Margaret Cho actually has a place and a voice and an audience on Jezebel and she is using it to discuss problematic intersections within a culture she identifies with and yet feels apart from. That is a great thing and it needs to keep happening.
posted by sweetkid at 2:20 PM on March 25, 2013 [25 favorites]


Diablevert: Just because I find Margaret Cho insufferable and unbearably self-involved, it doesn't mean that a shitty thing that happens to her is not shitty. This was shitty, and she's right to call attention to it.

Seconded.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:38 PM on March 25, 2013


[A couple comments removed. If you cannot make your point without making a "see it's just like you're a racist" analogy, step away from the thread.]
posted by cortex at 2:43 PM on March 25, 2013


There's a little bit of contextualization going on about the associations and taboos that this sort of thing brings up, but I don't think that the strength of this taboo has been emphasized enough, and the rapidity with which it has largely been dispelled from Korean culture.

It had been the case for centuries in Korea, before Westernization, that criminals were always punished by giving them tattoos. Like, "I am a thief" on your forehead after you stole something, or "I am a rapist," and then your genitals get cut off. Slaves also got tattoos telling of who owned them. I can't think of a Korean tattoo artist older than about 50. My grandmother once remarked to me, "Don't be a criminal! Don't get tattoos!" and I don't think that I ever heard that there was such a thing as a tattoo which was not a gang tattoo until I started my Western education.

Here's an interesting paper. Read the abstract, and think about all the sorts of things that it implies. A more cultural study is this. Not that useful for its conclusions, but for the conclusions you can draw about the dude who wrote and did the study. You would get a radically different study if you did this in 2013.

To me, a young Korean person, this taboo is fairly meaningless, but to my grandmother, for example, it would not be. The generation gap in Korea is perhaps the biggest in the world. My grandmother was born to a fundamentally agrarian society which was poorer than Somalia, but I got my first computer when I was 7. Why would that make a difference? It means that my grandmother does not have a 21st-century attitude towards tattooing, and it's not quite realistic to expect her to have one. Still terrible, but if you tried to change her attitude towards tattooing, you would fail.

I suspect that one of the reasons why the young woman who had to give Cho the robes was so embarrassed was that the woman herself thought it pretty ludicrous.

I also don't see the exact age of the women who disapproved of Cho so much. This does matter. If the generations are somewhat different in America, they are profoundly so in Korea. I would be very surprised if Cho was not familiar with, say, how hatefully an ajumma can behave.
posted by curuinor at 2:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [54 favorites]


that's interesting, curuinor.
posted by sweetkid at 2:57 PM on March 25, 2013


Because by aiming for an American audience, you'll end up missing the Asian immigrant/Asian-American audience. There is some overlap, but it's not complete.

I'm Chinese, not Korean, so I can only speak for my experience. My folks don't read Jezebel. They don't use the Internet for any sort of news, except for stock trading. But they do read the Chinese World Journal, and listen to AM 1300 and other Chinese radio stations regularly. And my mother is about the same age as Cho.

And I didn't make it sound like one or the other. I said "also", meaning at the very least it's best to aim for bot


I'm Chinese American (not born here though) and I used to read Jezebel occasionally... This really just sounds like you're nitpicking. If I could, I would favorite sweetkid's response to you a thousand times.
posted by driedmango at 3:26 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


FJT, I have read other articles by Cho on Jezebel. I think they asked her permission previously, not the other way around. I haven't looked to see which it was, but they published, with permission, something she had already written on her blog. If you need an example, I will try to find it/them, but your assumption may be wrong.
posted by annsunny at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2013


Here is one example, please see the credit given at the bottom of the article. This one too. She may not be the one choosing where her stuff gets published.

On the other hand, It looks like she writes articles for other publications as well. So, who knows?
posted by annsunny at 3:48 PM on March 25, 2013


My comment above sounds flip now, but I didn't mean it to be. I'm very sorry this happened to Cho. She has had a hard time and has been a pioneer in the field of accepting and loving your body and self when everyone else is telling you not to bother. This incident just seems like cruel irony.
posted by bleep at 3:52 PM on March 25, 2013


"what does Cho want me or any other Jezebel reader to do?"

Learn something about our fellow Americans which, while it may not pertain to our personal lives or include currently actionable tasks, may help make us more informed and sympathetic citizens and human beings and may, in the future, inform our opinions and actions on this or related issues?

I read this with interest. I have no tattoos, don't go to Korean spas, am not Korean, and I can't even imagine being naked in a sauna in public, but it's not inconceivable that I might at some point find myself involved in a debate about, let us say, local ordinances about nudity in places of public accommodation (such as pools, spas, gym lockerrooms), and having read this article might help me better understand what some members of my community who are different from me think and feel and value about the issue. I also think that, because Americans are such a diverse people from so many different backgrounds and live in so many different ways and places, it's a sort of civic virtue to learn about American experiences that are different from mine and to expand my knowledge of what it means to be American.

Actually, while I'm too body-private to want to be naked in semi-public, I did walk around breastfeeding in public all the darn time, and I can clearly draw a line from Cho's article about tattoos and nudity and cultural norms and generation gaps to debates about public breastfeeding and a different sort of "being naked and performing femaleness in public," and I can clearly see how those two issues -- one totally foreign to my life and one intimately familiar -- have resonance and speak to different-but-related concerns of being a woman and living in a community where there are clashing and shifting attitudes towards women's bodies, not any one of which is necessarily "right," but all of which have to be navigated and reconciled when we exist in a shared community.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2013 [23 favorites]


Totally o/t, but

And my mother is about the same age as Cho.

Like a dagger in my brain.

How can this be?
posted by MoxieProxy at 4:06 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's not necessarily true. Look at all the people in this thread (And Jezebel comments, if you dare) who are just saying that she is whining and disrespecting the culture.

People who go here and to Jezebel are already a certain audience that is used to and even enjoys online discussions revolving around certain issues. The medium and the blog have already pruned the audience down to a certain subset that already come with certain viewpoints. I'm not saying this is a problem only with Jezebel, but this is the general trend for the way modern media is consumed.

That is a great thing and it needs to keep happening.

Of course. I'm a 1.5th generation immigrant, and frequently become the role of cultural bridge or accidental ambassador. It's important to give voice to experiences within the immigrant and minority communities to mainstream Americans, but I would say it's also important to discuss these experiences within the communities, too.
posted by FJT at 4:11 PM on March 25, 2013


Artw: "Judgmental scorn is basically a spinner wheel on MeFi."

...almost as if people occasionally form opinions about a topic on its own merits.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:13 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heh.

No.
posted by Artw at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I actually said, in Korean "Do you know who I am? I am MARGARET CHO!"
Sympathy gone, right there. Tattoos irrelevant.

I am an Asian-American of a younger generation, and have once, during an unpleasant argument with which I was reaching my wit's end, also pulled an ad hominem similar to hers. Because of my Western upbringing I was unproud of what I had said, but that tactic finally got my message across. People of different cultures really do think differently, and it's important to take that into consideration. That's just how it is, and all biculturals navigate this gap, not only while communicating with others, but also in our inner lives, all the time.

I have all my sympathy for Margaret Cho. I'm not even familiar with her work, but her positive impact on people like me should be obvious.
posted by polymodus at 5:00 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think Margaret is absolutely right and I understand why she feels the way she does. On the other hand, it's kinda cool that there are still some people in the world who see body art as counter-culture or something to scorn or be afraid of.

While I'm one of those people who fear the eventual homogenization of cultural diversity, I do support and believe in cultural changes that bring people together. Picking fights and complaining isn't really the best avenue for that change. That's just starting shit.

If I was "Hey, I'm MARGARET CHO, Dammit!," I have some fruit trays and a couple bottles of Crystal delivered just prior to my arrival.

I have no idea how effective that would be, but hey, if you're going to talk big shit...BACK IT UP and at least TRY to make friends.
posted by snsranch at 5:15 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


She didn't say anything about Being Margaret Cho until after she was glared at by the patrons of the spa and pulled aside for an awkward talking to by the staff.


If you were singled out for weird, judgmental treatment while naked, you don't think you'd grasp at whatever semblance of balancing power you could find?

Also this.
posted by sweetkid at 5:17 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I agree with her that what happened sucks.

But given how a recurring bit in her comedy iirc, is recounting/sending up the conservative silliness of her Korean elders, I am not entirely sure that I buy how shocked she was that this happened. And given that she counts much of her own family among said elders, it would have been nice to see her be a touch more magnanimous than another I-was-wronged online screed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:47 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find curuinor's post very interesting. In the Jewish community, there's always been an internal politics around the question of how to be part of the greater community while maintaining cultural (and religious) identity. That's what the second sanhedrin was about, and it's been an important part of the history of Jews in the US and Canada. I'm wondering if there aren't similar political tensions within the Korean community in the US.

Oh, and just a brief edit to say that I've always been a big fan of Margaret Cho.
posted by sfred at 6:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that Cho has gone through a very long process of both personal ethnic issues and body issues. As a child and as a teen, her parents ran a store that sold various pornography. Not that that was wrong. As well she has had issues with body size for most of her life. Now it seems that she is happy with who she is. Something that we should be very aware of and happy as well. If she wants to out the fact that Old Korean Women are giving her the "stink eye" then good for her.

If I, as a white person think that they granmas were full of shit, I'll say it.

That's the same way that I will say that any "old school" people abuse women is fucking wrong. I'll say that about Orthodox Jews. I'll say that about Italian women that still think, to this day, that an Italian man should not be with a Black woman. And I have heard that just recently about a cousin.

I am not one of those people that agrees that people get to fuck with other people because it's their religion or their "way".

Your beliefs are fucked up. If you think that women are property, you are wrong. If you think that your religion gives you the right to treat any other person badly, you are fucked up. You are wrong.

I will not ever give deluded people the right to do their deluded thing just because, It's a different culture. Fuck that.

If the Incas came back and asked for a right to cut the hearts out of virgins, would you say, "Oh well. Okay that's their thing. Go for it?"
posted by Splunge at 6:43 PM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


If the Incas came back and asked for a right to cut the hearts out of virgins, would you say, "Oh well. Okay that's their thing. Go for it?"

Because that's exactly the same.
posted by unSane at 6:47 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a caucasian lady with tattoos who frequents Korean spas in Korea, I have never been asked to cover up, or been told I made anyone uncomfortable. No one has ever brought a robe to me, apologetically or no.

It might be one of those things where they have different standards for insiders and outsiders. They don't much care what you do, but the nice Korean girl should know better. That would be my guess if there was any cultural reason behind it and not just chance.
posted by gjc at 7:00 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not tattooed, but I have lived in Korea for most of the past 17 years. I get the stink-eye or unwelcome attention from Korean people every single day, for a variety of reasons. I get grown-ass men unashamedly plucking at my arm hair in wonder when I wear short sleeves in the summer. I get refused service at some establishments nearly as often as I get over-enthusiastically welcomed.

I still love living in Korea. People are people, and they have their preconceptions, their prejudices, and their areas of ignorance. That's just the way it is. I've learned to understand it's not all about me.

Margaret -- and not from this episode exclusively by any means -- strikes me as someone who hasn't figured that out yet. But I do have bad days occasionally, when the proverbial final straw breaks the back of my equanimity, and so I sympathize.

A pretty large part of Cho's schtick, at least last time I paid much attention to her, was mocking and 'exposing' negative aspects of Korea and Koreanness while simultaneously setting her stance firmly in her own Koreanness, and she is a relatively-well-known comedian, so this seems to me like an extension of that.

I find it hard to believe this is a new experience for her, though. Feels a little like performance, even if it did really happen and she really is (justifiably, perhaps) upset about it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:08 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


unSane: "If the Incas came back and asked for a right to cut the hearts out of virgins, would you say, "Oh well. Okay that's their thing. Go for it?"

Because that's exactly the same.
"

And out of all the stuff that I wrote, that was your take away? Good work.
posted by Splunge at 7:08 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I always have trouble parsing where the line is between respecting an individual's right to whatever, and a culture's right to their own standards. She was, innocently enough I'm sure, violating the taboos of the culture at that establishment. Whose feelings count more? The people who have been patronizing the place, or the big fancy celebrity who swoops in and messes with the way things are done?

Obviously, she has the right to be as inked up as she desires, but that doesn't mean other people need to be accepting of it. Freedom of expression is not freedom from unintended effects of said expression.

(My other curiosity is if any of her tattoos are potentially obscene? I've dated women with tattoos that parents probably wouldn't want their kids seeing. Could this be an instance of that?)
posted by gjc at 7:10 PM on March 25, 2013


[A few comments deleted. Seriously cool it, you two.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:18 PM on March 25, 2013


She grew up going to Korean spas. She has every bit as much right to be there as the elderly Korean women.

Scody's comment is enlightened from a Western point of view, which is to some degree my point of view as I am a mixed race US citizen (black and Korean) and was raised by a single Korean mother. As a US citizen, I agree with the premise.

However, as someone who was "raised Korean", I will tell you that Cho does not have as much a "right" to be there as the elderly Korean women. In Confucian cultures, it is taboo to reject the opinions and machinations of elders, regardless of enlightenment, status, and rationality.

It's a problem and with no easy resolution.
posted by mistersquid at 7:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Exactly right, mistersquid, and thinking about it, that kind of thing may lie at the heart of my not-positive feelings about Cho and her comedy. As a kind of Korean-by-proxy, I guess.

What I mean is that there seems to be a (very Korean, ironically) conflict at the heart of her work and the persona she presents. She very strongly identifies as Korean, which is fine. She is also very outspoken in denouncing the things about being Korean that do not fit with her view of the world personally and as a Korean-American, which is also fine. In the tension between those two opposing viewpoints, there's a lot of grist for the mill.

But -- and I haven't listened to all of her output by any means, but I have seen or listened to a significant chunk of it -- there doesn't seem to be much synthesis there. The two conflicting thrusts of her work seem to actively grind against each other, and although certainly it makes for drama and sparks, nothing much seems to come out, and it just kind of makes me (at least) tired.

I'm not saying that comedy or performance art or spoken word or whatever you want to call it needs to necessarily be about pursuit of wisdom or insight or learning or anything like that. But it seems like there are so many interesting insights that are possible, insights that can still be funny, and she doesn't seem willing or able to reach for them.

Which is perhaps putting too much on her shoulders -- she's just a comic and actress after all -- but as someone who is always keen to have people understand Korea better, and always keen to see Koreans letting go and laughing at themselves a bit, it's just a little disappointing to me.

For what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:37 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


keen to have people understand Korea better

Well, she was born in San Francisco so it might not be her aim/expertise to get people to understand Korea better. I understand the cultural stuff is a big part of her game but I think it's different than just being about Korea.
posted by sweetkid at 7:45 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Margaret -- and not from this episode exclusively by any means -- strikes me as someone who hasn't figured that out yet.

She's queer. She's a woman. She's a member of an ethnic minority.

It's actually her job to analyze and comment on this stuff. Just the same as if she were a specialized university prof who had chosen this as her academic discipline, only she decided to take it to the street and be a comedian. (And, you know, be actually relevant and have a chance at changing how people think.)

And she was gracious in dealing the staff, which I don't know if I could be if I'd been spending my whole life having people police my body image.

I find it hard to believe this is a new experience for her, though. Feels a little like performance, even if it did really happen and she really is (justifiably, perhaps) upset about it.

This particular episode in her life was probably new to her, but still, it's all of a sameness with all the other shit she's dealt with, and she dealt with it the same way a black comic would who was pulled over in a new and interesting way for DWB.

She's a comedian, which often means a performance about reality.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:46 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whose feelings count more? The people who have been patronizing the place, or the big fancy celebrity who swoops in and messes with the way things are done?

She's a regular visitor of Korean spas and there was no indication that she "swooped in" to mess with how things are done.

The elderly women there have the right to their opinions but management should have explained to them that everyone is welcome and that Margaret was not breaking any rules.

In Confucian cultures, it is taboo to reject the opinions and machinations of elders, regardless of enlightenment, status, and rationality.

That doesn't make it any less bullshit.
posted by shoesietart at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That doesn't make it any less bullshit..

...the Westerner said from a convenient ethnocentric vantage.
posted by mistersquid at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I understand the cultural stuff is a big part of her game but I think it's different than just being about Korea.

Oh, I don't disagree. But the bit you quoted was about my feelings of keen-ness, not hers.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:11 PM on March 25, 2013


Interesting that she mentions a man with tattoos not getting the same treatment.

I don't know Korean culture, but in Japanese culture, anyone, male or female, with a tattoo is generally banned from hot tubs. In more recent years, non-Asians, particularly white or black foreigners don't always get subjected to this rule.

I wonder what the differences are among Asian cultures as far as this taboo goes. I was told in Japan, the stigma is related to the fact that Yakuza clans all have a lot of ink.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:24 PM on March 25, 2013


I wonder if Ask A Korean will weigh in. (Fascinating blog, btw.)
posted by desjardins at 8:32 PM on March 25, 2013


The Korean stigma about tattoos was explained upthread.
posted by sweetkid at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2013


Margaret Cho was one of the first celebrities to take up the cause of raising money and awareness for the release of the West Memphis Three. Many, many others followed and I heard less of her as time went on. Eventually (Peter Jackson, prev) deserves a great deal of credit for his contributions), there was enough momentum and money and the three were finally released from prison. Sometimes she is a bit off-putting but I will not forget her early work for those three boys (now men) who met with such injustice. (prev)
posted by Anitanola at 9:27 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


"If the Incas came back and asked for a right to cut the hearts out of virgins, would you say, "Oh well. Okay that's their thing. Go for it?"

Uh, wow. Okay, this is a little off topic, but I will be itchy all over my brain until I address this.

The Inca did not, at any point in their long and not actually over yet history, cut hearts out of virgins. They practiced very occasional human sacrifice, but it was of a completely different kind and resulted in the famous frozen mummies. You may be thinking of the Aztec, who did not cut the hearts out of virgins either but at least were kind of in the same neighborhood as that.

In addition, the Inca do not actually need to "come back," as they never went anywhere. Quechua-speaking people, many of whom are direct descendants of the Inca, number in the millions.

This has been a South American indigenous peoples public service announcement.
posted by nonasuch at 10:06 PM on March 25, 2013 [28 favorites]


The Korean grannies had their issues.

The grannies forgot, though: this is LA. She and the grannies brought different luggage to the bath, is what happened. No help for it.

There's the rub. It will always be the rub. The progression of sensibilities from one immigrant generation to the next will always be problematic. It varies in detail from one culture, and time, to the next, but friction is always there. Cho stood her ground with a good deal more equanimity than I might have shown.

Her fight wasn't with the attendant. It wasn't really with the grannies. It was with the struggle between the generations, a thing that has been one of her topics for years. I can easily differentiate between what she wrote about here--the travails in the spa--and what she does in her comedy bits. Her work is scathing, and rises above dick jokes and slapstick. If irony is the backbone of humor, then sometimes her stuff is so funny it hurts.

I am Margaret Cho!

I am not surprised that so many people took that to be a cry of arrogance, but that's not how I saw it.
posted by mule98J at 10:43 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I still love living in Korea. People are people, and they have their preconceptions, their prejudices, and their areas of ignorance. That's just the way it is. I've learned to understand it's not all about me.

Margaret -- and not from this episode exclusively by any means -- strikes me as someone who hasn't figured that out yet. But I do have bad days occasionally, when the proverbial final straw breaks the back of my equanimity, and so I sympathize.
I'm not sure how much you can compare the situation of an expat/western immigrant in Korea, with that of a second-generation (iirc) Korean-American in America though. It might be easier for you to write off Korean obnoxiousness or strangeness as just Koreans being Korean when you're not Korean yourself, more difficult to do so if you do think of yourself as Korean-American and part of the community just as much as grandma stinkeye.

It's also of a very different nature to come in as a non-Korean-American into those places and expect them to change for you, than if you're part of the same culture, even if that culture has its issues with you. In this context it's also a bit of a copout to say "different cultures, what are you gonna do".
posted by MartinWisse at 1:26 AM on March 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


No one should be discriminated against because of how their body looks. It would be nice for us to get to a point where we can all just be.
posted by heyjude at 1:37 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hate to be coming in so lately to the conversation, but I'd like to point something out regarding the whole "people get body mods to piss off the uptights" notion.
I, myself, and, I assume, every single person I've ever met with body piercings or tattoos, would still decide to get those body mods even if the last two people on earth were themselves and the artist.
"It's not about you" is incredibly true, probably even more so for someone who has extensive tattoos than for someone like me who only has (had, actually) a bunch of facial piercings. We may enjoy watching close-minded and ignorant reactionaries fume and sputter, because it's absolutely adorable when they do, but it's insane to think that someone would go through that much pain and spend that much money for so frivolous a reason as spite against the intolerant.
It's not about you.
posted by GoingToShopping at 1:42 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


mistersquid: In Confucian cultures, it is taboo to reject the opinions and machinations of elders, regardless of enlightenment, status, and rationality.

shoesietart: That doesn't make it any less bullshit.

mistersquid: That doesn't make it any less bullshit..

...the Westerner said from a convenient ethnocentric vantage.


I really appreciate your pointing this out, mistersquid. I think it's easy for Western progressives to recognize ethnocentrism when it's say, religious missionaries telling indigenous people they are going to hell for not being part of the right religion. I think we very often forget that our values are not necessarily the universally correct ones that we should always feel righteous about imposing on others.

I mean, our values are obviously right and these people who are going against our values are obviously wrong and being bad terrible people!!

It's so interesting when this plays out around tattoos. Most people (with tattoos and without) readily mock people who get "tribal" tattoos, when those tattoos have a specific meaning and purpose in a culture that the person is not a part of and is completely ignorant about. It's okay to mock culturally insensitive people who do that. They are disrespecting another culture's practices around tattoos!!! Bad! In this case, the people who are getting these "fake" tribal tattoos are not doing anything that the Western progressives feel strongly about as a value. (In fact, I think we readily mock them because many of us see people who do that as being of a different social class, one we value less). So, respecting the other culture is still really really important!!!!

Everything falls apart when that changes. I think there's a reason Margaret Cho used the framing that she did (that this was about body shaming for not having a "perfect" body, that her "skin" was bothering people, that her tattoos represent her pain and suffering) - she's invoking some of the very big guns when it comes to Western progressive values. We don't body shame people for not having a perfect body. We don't persecute people based on what their skin is like. I think there's a reason she then put this on Jezebel - the readership of Jezebel feels more strongly about the convergence of those particular values than most other sets of people I can think of.

I'm not saying Margaret Cho is some big manipulator!! I am just pointing out that she framed the story to focus on the violation of certain values, and she presented the story to a group of people that feels very, very strongly about those values.

What can we say? It's scary to tell other people who share your values that we should not automatically feel righteous about imposing them onto everyone. I want to go back to that line by mistersquid:

In Confucian cultures, it is taboo to reject the opinions and machinations of elders, regardless of enlightenment, status, and rationality.

Now, in American progressive culture, it's taboo to be made uncomfortable by someone else's body modification. These two things have collided here. Whose values will be respected?

Everyone has the right to say fuck those other people for being assholes, this is my country, I am obviously more moral and right, this is how we do things here, they are backwards and unenlightened, and they will need to go along to get along. Fine. I just ask that before you get there, at least stop for a second to think twice about why your value, as right as it might be, should automatically dominate someone else's.

P.S. It's been awesome to see all the unexamined contempt in this thread towards old women. Yes, old women are just silly grannies whose values and desires are rightfully dismissed with a quickness. Consider *that* is a feature of American culture too...
posted by cairdeas at 1:47 AM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


And I am specifically talking about the values of American progressives as a whole, including people who are of Korean descent and not. I do not think that to Margaret Cho, this is just about an intra-ethnic culture clash. It seems to me that she posted on Jezebel to open it up, to make it a clash between the (sub?) culture of the women in the spa and the culture of American progressives in general. To receive wider support and validation, mostly from non-Koreans.
posted by cairdeas at 2:02 AM on March 26, 2013


As a completely separate issue, I feel as if she's not being honest about why the women were upset about her tattoos. Maybe I do find her framing manipulative after all, and that's really angering.

I am happy in my skin and I am not sure what to say when others are not happy with my skin.

Here her framing is that the women are upset with her because of her skin, it's her skin itself that's the issue. And we all know what kind of people have problems with others based on their skin: racists. So when these women took issue with her tattoos, or when anyone has a problem with anyone else because of something having to do with their epidermis (like if my peeling sunburn bothered you) that is the same sort of thing as when racists take issue with people of other races. It's on the same continnum.

To me that framing co-opts the specific anger that people feel towards racism and racists, to redirect it towards these women who, yes, have a problem to do with something with her skin but who are not actually racists because of that. I find it to be a deeply dishonest and manipulative thing to invoke.

They are part of me, just like my scars, my fat, my eternal struggle with gravity. None of our bodies are ‘perfect'. We live in them. They aren't supposed to be ‘perfect'. We are just us, perceived flaws and all.


And here she implies that the womens' problem with her tattoos was that she didn't have a "perfect" body. This angers me too because I think Margaret Cho knows full-well that what bothered the other women had nothing to do with her body being "imperfect" but she knows this is red meat to throw to Jezebel.

As plenty of people said here, the reason the women in the spa were bothered by her tattoos was because in their culture, they have historically been associated with criminals. In a real-life, in your face way, not in a kind of removed, theoretical way like something you only see on TV.

One of my older male relatives grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood controlled by the mafia. So he's got a pretty different opinion about the mafia than mainstream Americans who think it is so cool. Imagine the worst bully who ever tormented you in your school days. Now imagine being stuck in your school days with that bully and his friends for your whole existence. The mafia members who controlled his neighborhood were vicious, bullying, violent, amoral thieves, rapists, and criminals. They could ruin you financially, rape your child, put you in the hospital for kicks, and you would have to keep smiling and not ever say a word.

My relative will not watch mafia movies, period. You cannot watch a mafia movie either in his home or in your home when he is there. He is disgusted by people who watch and enjoy those movies and he is disgusted by people who think the mafia is cool. You also cannot talk about famous mafia members around him as if they are some kind of cool celebrities.

If he got together with a bunch of his childhood friends at a pub with a TV, and they did not want any mafia movies playing there while they were in there trying to relax? Would you call him a body shaming racist? I fully understand why he does not want to be around those movies and doesn't like them.

In some cultures, some people have been deeply harmed by certain things that haven't been a problem with other cultures. In some cultures people associate certain things with profound trauma. Trauma that many of them have experienced personally. I don't know that it's wrong to have a place where people of a certain culture can go to relax without having to look at totems of those things.
posted by cairdeas at 3:01 AM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how much you can compare the situation of an expat/western immigrant in Korea, with that of a second-generation (iirc) Korean-American in America though. It might be easier for you to write off Korean obnoxiousness or strangeness as just Koreans being Korean when you're not Korean yourself, more difficult to do so if you do think of yourself as Korean-American and part of the community just as much as grandma stinkeye.

You may be right. I'm not convinced, but you may be.

Whatever, though. If you can't make honest efforts to understand things through the lens of your own experiences, then you might as well just give up. There are precious few other ways to do it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:20 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me that framing co-opts the specific anger that people feel towards racism and racists, to redirect it towards these women who, yes, have a problem to do with something with her skin but who are not actually racists because of that. I find it to be a deeply dishonest and manipulative thing to invoke.

It is about something that she cannot remove to suit the short-term social norms. There's a large difference between putting on long trousers to enter a temple and being told that you'd have to leave because you have marks on your body. Would you find this as acceptable if the person was being asked to leave because they had marks that indicated illness such as Kaposi's sarcoma? It's explicit exclusion because of one's naked body.

In some cultures, some people have been deeply harmed by certain things that haven't been a problem with other cultures. In some cultures people associate certain things with profound trauma. Trauma that many of them have experienced personally. I don't know that it's wrong to have a place where people of a certain culture can go to relax without having to look at totems of those things.


That doesn't seem super-relevant here. Unless you're suggesting that Cho was triggering where the male spa visitor was not, this looks a lot more like class policing.
posted by jaduncan at 4:38 AM on March 26, 2013


If he got together with a bunch of his childhood friends at a pub with a TV, and they did not want any mafia movies playing there while they were in there trying to relax? Would you call him a body shaming racist?

No, because that is a bad analogy.

A better analogy would be your relative and his friends who were traumatized by mafiosi trying to relax in a sauna, and in walks this guy who looks an awful lot like the worst mafioso of them all! He even has the same ENTERPRISE CVN-65 tattoo as the guy who used to personally torment them! I don't mean that he looked Italian, I mean that through sheer coincidence he bore a remarkable resemblance to the specific person in question, and your relative and his friends were sincerely uncomfortable and unhappy as a result.

Now, would he and his friends be justified in giving this guy the stinkeye because he looked like a criminal? Would they be justified in speaking to the management to ask that he be removed? Would management be justified in forcing him to cover himself?

There are multiple right ways to make sure that they can have an evening where they can ensure that they don't have to see anyone whose appearance upsets them. Most obviously, they can rent out the entire establishment so it's no longer open to the public while they're there. Or they can go to an establishment that is legitimately a private club and so is never open to the public. But going to a place that is open to the public necessarily implies that you might see members of the public behaving inoffensively whose appearance for whatever reason upsets you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:54 AM on March 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Let's not kid ourselves, and hopefully Cho is not kidding herself that her complaint will cause change. The Korean American community is not going to issue a ruling on this. There is no governing board of Korean spa standards.

I'd ask future-directed questions. The spa manager made an economic decision to please the old stinkeyes who pay the spa rent. Cho is just passing through. So my first question asks what will happen when these old stinkeyes are dead and buried.

Will the next generation of grandmas be equally stinkeyed? Is there something about immigrating to USA that makes them more stinkeyed? Are future grandma members likely to be new first generation immigrants or will they be 2nd generation and possibly more liberalized?
posted by surplus at 6:39 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


We don't body shame people for not having a perfect body.

Uh, what world are you living in? I'd like to buy a ticket for the next flight.
posted by liketitanic at 7:21 AM on March 26, 2013


OH! I get what you're saying. NEVER MIND, I'll see myself out.
posted by liketitanic at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is about something that she cannot remove to suit the short-term social norms. There's a large difference between putting on long trousers to enter a temple and being told that you'd have to leave because you have marks on your body. Would you find this as acceptable if the person was being asked to leave because they had marks that indicated illness such as Kaposi's sarcoma? It's explicit exclusion because of one's naked body.

This is a bad analogy because Cho chose to get those tattoos despite knowing (as she admits) that it was very offensive in Korean culture. Scars from an illness are not a conscious choice.

As someone who is heavily tattooed, I get a little weary when people complain about being discriminated against for their tattoos. Yes, it's shitty and we can all hope our society moves toward tattoo-acceptance, but I don't think anyone who chooses to get visibly tattooed is unaware that it is breaking the social norm. One realizes that and agrees to accept the consequences upon deciding to get the tattoo. We can hope for a better world, but right now that's the deal. It's not really comparable to situations outside one's control such as evidence of illness or gender dysphoria because getting tattooed is not something that just happens to you. Although the case could be made to the contrary (such as the blue man from the FPP the other day) tattoos are not so completely essential to one's self in the way that gender expression, etc, is... people do not become suicidally depressed if they cannot get tattooed the way they want to. I appreciate that her tattoos are an expression of her pain and triumph over that pain, but I still personally see this situation as: someone chooses to do something they know will offend members of their culture and is upset when those people are indeed offended.

All that said, I am sympathetic to her hurt that her body caused such revulsion in these women. It is a terrible feeling and I'm sorry she experienced it.
posted by marshmallow peep at 7:39 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's been awesome to see all the unexamined contempt in this thread towards old women.

I think we do have a lot of contempt for the elderly in this culture, and I think it's awful -- and as I've started to become more aware of my own aging process, I'm trying to come to grips with it myself (both personally and socially). However, I don't think it follows that everyone who has criticized the elderly women for their responses to Cho are automatically viewing them with contempt.
posted by scody at 8:53 AM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is a bad analogy because Cho chose to get those tattoos despite knowing (as she admits) that it was very offensive in Korean culture.

Well, let's clarify. It is very offensive to some segments of South Korean culture, although the taboo is starting to die out in cities in South Korea itself (there are even conventions), and, in this case, Cho was dealing with Korean immigrants to the United States, mostly older adults, who have decided to cling to a taboo that in their native country has become increasingly irrelevant, and in a country where a quarter of the population has tattoos -- including, almost certainly, some of their children or grandchildren.

It is by no means a universal taboo in Korea, or among Korean-Americans, and reactions to it vary. I think we're wrong here to presume that Cho knows that everybody is going to get stinkeye about her tattoos and was flaunting it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:55 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is by no means a universal taboo in Korea, or among Korean-Americans, and reactions to it vary. I think we're wrong here to presume that Cho knows that everybody is going to get stinkeye about her tattoos and was flaunting it.

Yeah, this is definitely one of my pet peeves when people talk about cultures they are outside of. There really isn't much you can say that "everyone" in a particular culture believes or does. It's always going to vary widely. You've got class, family background, religious, and ethnic variations all in play.
posted by sweetkid at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come across as generalizing like that. My comment was based on Cho's own account, here:
[S]he apologized even more profusely and tried to explain that in Korean culture, tattoos are very taboo and my body was upsetting everyone there. I told her I was aware of that...
posted by marshmallow peep at 9:18 AM on March 26, 2013


[quote]Now, in American progressive culture, it's taboo to be made uncomfortable by someone else's body modification. [/quote]

I love this. Akin to those who decry "Political Correctness" after they've verbalized just how traumatically uncomfortable they've been made, and then they institute policies to prevent further trauma.
posted by surplus at 9:58 AM on March 26, 2013


Oops. That was too sarcastic. Sorry! Pretend I didn't say traumatic.
posted by surplus at 10:13 AM on March 26, 2013


I agree that Cho should be able to be naked in the spa and I can totally understand why she was upset. But I would have liked to have seen a bit more explanation about the tattoo taboo and a bit more understanding of why her fellow spa-goers were made so uncomfortable.
posted by beau jackson at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2013


This is just an aside to say that the pic from the Jezebel article and the pic from her website aren't mutually exclusive at all, or indication of photo retouching or anything else. Her ink placement is set up to accommodate a v-neck or mild plunge, and her half-sleeve work stops right around the elbow, which is exactly what the shirt covers.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:32 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It might be one of those things where they have different standards for insiders and outsiders. They don't much care what you do, but the nice Korean girl should know better. That would be my guess if there was any cultural reason behind it and not just chance.

This has got to be common I would think. When I dated an Italian woman for a considerable amount of time (I mention the time because one would think that more time immersed in the cultural assumptions of another group might be a factor in how you are expected to understand them and abide them, if at all) me, being a manja cake, could cut through what I found to be an oppressive level of familial politics with ease, and be forgiven because I was just a manja (the constant joke was I was the manja cake who didn't eat cake, but the Italian cakes they gave me had so much sugar in them I would pass out).

After an hour's debate about whether we should all go to person X's brothers for the 47th time this year on a Sunday when we didn't want to I just picked up the phone, called the brother, and said we're not coming today, knowing full well that in my culture (though being classified as a WASP I'm constantly told I don't have one) that is no big deal, you don't feel like it, no problem, but that in that culture (at least the particular Italian ex-pat culture I was exposed to, since I'd agree with others upthread that expats often cling to certain things in the culture more than those back in the country or countries of orgin) this would be at minimal insulting, but also hurtful. I was both forgiven for doing what I did by those who were insulted by it, though they did not forgive the associate Italians, and I was praised and condemned by my associate group of Italians for getting them out of going but I shouldn't have said that.

Though I was let off the hook as it were, having to deal with the constant politics was very unpleasant. They still affected what I did because I did them with my girlfriend who was more bound to them, both willingly and unwillingly.

I want to emphasize that I'm using the word culture very generally, as I don't believe any culture is monocultural but I'm sure most people understand that.

My girlfriend's elders took a massive amount of glee in telling me how cheap I was because I was of Scottish descent.

When I was dating a Filipino woman and we were up in North Ontario we went to a Swiss Chalet. I ordered the quarter chicken dinner, they said to me, "With Fries?" I said sure. My girlfriend ordered the same thing, they said to her, "With rice?" She said, no, with fries.

In the case of the older generation I simply just didn't care that much about the manja and cheap jokes, I wasn't going to change that or stop that. They were generally nice to me (unlike the people at the Spa with Cho) and her mother always urged her daughter to keep me because supposedly, unlike Italian men, I'd help around the house. In the case of the Northern Ontario incident, I don't believe there was any ill intent, just perhaps some casual assumptions that might not be made had they been brought up in a diverse city (though of course this is not an absolute truth by any means, the comments I hear from time to time sadden and astound me). But really, in many cases you have to get to know the person to know where they are coming from.

That said, the massive familial politics and drama eventually divided us, but such things can be pretty much present in any culture.

None of this forgives any sort of misogyny, racism, scorn, etc., but it's rarely black and white as it were and though great strides have been made, many more remain to be made and how that is accomplished is rather obviously hotly debated. Raising awareness and discussing it, as Cho has here and as have many others is a great approach I think, whether in a playful or serious tone. She was of course aware she may experience this particular attitude in the Spa but the article is not about her prior awareness, but of this particular experience which is obviously very unpleasant.

Learning about cultures is great, even the unpleasant aspects, which get more focus media wise. There are a ton of similarities, differences, variations, etc., but I find people are mostly similar all round, from horrible to wonderful and everything in between.
posted by juiceCake at 7:15 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


cairdeas: "Yes, old women are just silly grannies whose values and desires are rightfully dismissed with a quickness."

hey when I was one my paternal grandmother thought i would toilet train faster if i realized i wouldn't 'get sucked down' the toilet when i sat on it. she held me in the toilet bowl and flushed repeatedly.

so wise
wow
grandmother of the century
number one meemaw
posted by boo_radley at 8:26 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, you're toilet trained now, right?
posted by desjardins at 9:00 AM on March 27, 2013


Yeah, this is definitely one of my pet peeves when people talk about cultures they are outside of. There really isn't much you can say that "everyone" in a particular culture believes or does. It's always going to vary widely. You've got class, family background, religious, and ethnic variations all in play.

Amusingly, I agree completely, and this is one of my pet peeves (as a non-Korean) here in Korea. In nearly two decades, I can't recall ever hearing a Korean qualify things like 'Koreans do [this]' or 'Koreans like [that]' or 'Koreans are [the other thing]' with a 'most of' or 'many' or 'usually'. And not because of linguistic differerences -- it is taken as a given that 'Koreans are/do/believe/like X' is a Thing.

The country is, of course, massively monocultural (it's an MMORPG, a Massively Monocultural Offline Role Playing Game!) -- something that's only beginning to change, a little (upwards of 2% of people here aren't actually Korean, which is a very significant increase in the last decade or so) -- but it certainly isn't just people outside of a given culture that can overgeneralize about the members of that culture.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Americans do that too.

All of them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:19 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Confucian cultures, it is taboo to reject the opinions and machinations of elders, regardless of enlightenment, status, and rationality.

That doesn't make it any less bullshit.


The funny thing is, I know it's bullshit, and sometimes I can't get rid of it. I was thinking, if I was put in this spa situation, would I have covered up? And I realize, yeah, I totally would have. And I would've hated myself for it afterwards. With any other group of people, at any other place, I probably would be outspoken and possibly even started somewhat of a fracas - because that is my normal personality. Amongst Koreans though? Korean grandmas? My back would bend into a involuntary bow, my voice would pitch higher immediately, I would physically alter my posture to make myself smaller in subservience - this would all just happen reflexively. Because it's drilled into you! Constantly! Particularly amongst immigrant parents that are holding on to the old culture. I'm conditioned to it, despite rationally having worked through that it is, in fact, bullshit.

So, yes, it's bullshit, but it's very hard to kill. Particularly when you have a goddamned Pavlovian obeisance response every time you see elderly Asian people.
posted by Tikirific at 6:47 PM on March 28, 2013


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