Conservatives protest Sewol families by gorging on pizza and kimbap

Posted on : 2014-09-10 12:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
‘Eating protest’ is online group’s latest grotesque action meant to get attention, positive or negative  

By Lee Jae-wook, staff reporter

A crowd of 100 people, including members of the online humor community Ilgan Best (“Ilbe”), staged an “eating protest” in front of grieving family members of Sewol ferry sinking victims on Sept. 6.

For the afternoon event, protestors gorged on kimbap (seaweed rolls) and pizza in front of people who had joined the relatives for a sympathy hunger strike calling for the legislation of the special Sewol Law. A few scuffles broke out in the process.

It was the first known offline activity by the right-wing site’s members, who had previously been known mainly for posting parodic “confirmation photographs.”

Experts called the latest episode another step in the site’s “evolution”: no longer confining themselves to online anonymity, members are now coming out in public for collective actions.

“This ‘eating protest,’ with Ilbe members coming out to a specific place to stage an event, is a real transformation, something qualitatively different from what they’ve been doing so far,” said Chung-Ang University sociology professor Shin Jin-wook on Sept. 9.

According to Shin, conservative political parties and news outlets may have encouraged the episode with their silence on previous “escapades.”

“South Korea’s conservative parties and news media have never explicitly come out against the actions of Ilbe members,” Shin explained. “Instead, they’ve been offering their tacit support, encouragement, and defense, which leads the Ilbe members to think they’re acting on behalf of the country’s conservatives.

"Politicians and the press have been the substrate, so to speak, for Ilbe’s evolution."

The public antics have been locally nicknamed "Il-ming out," or "coming out as Ilbe members," which analysts said is its own type of social phenomenon nurtured by a rightward-leaning society.”

“Ilbe members see that their room to operate has expanded,” said psychologist Lee Myeong-soo. “It really looks like they’re behaving like this now because they don’t perceive any kind of threat to themselves.”

“Somewhere along the way, Korean society has changed to one where people felt like the ends justify the means,” Lee continued. “They don’t see the need to feel shame. What brought this kind of behavior on is the dog-eat-dog logic, the feeling that it’s okay to walk all over the weak to get the money or results they want.”

Hwang Jun-won, a professor of psychiatry at Kangwon National University, said the actions may stem from a perverse desire for recognition.

“As a group, Ilbe members are starved for public attention,” Hwang said. “It’s the same reason they don’t just want favorable attention, but derive a kind of masochistic pleasure from negative reaction. The ‘eating protest’ is a collective manifestation of that masochistic tendency.”

The Sewol family members themselves were livid over the event.

“Who could do such a thing if they had any kind of human decency?” asked 60-year-old Kwon Oh-bok, who is awaiting the recovery of a younger sibling and nephew’s bodies from Jindo. “Is this the way you act with people who‘ve lost family members and are grieving?”

Kim Jeong-hae, the 44-year-old mother of Danwon High School student and sinking victim Ahn Joo-hyun, was visibly distraught.

“We’re just doing what we can to get the special law legislated so we can at least find out what caused these needless deaths,” she said. “I just don’t know what’s going through their heads.”

Chun Sang-jin, a sociology professor at Sogang University, said the group’s actions “are similar to a hate crime in many ways.”

“They’re blaming the victims here,” Chun said. “We need to look at whether some kind of legal response to this behavior is available.”


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