Plane Shame

Interesting and a bit predictable in light of the recent Asiana crash in San Francisco — some South Koreans take it personally as a “point of shame.”  To wit:

“The president issued a statement of regret. With a low bow, Asiana Airlines’ chief apologized not just to passengers and their families but to all of South Korea. Along with sadness over one of the highest-profile crashes by a Korean air carrier in recent years, average South Koreans expressed shame and embarrassment about how it would reflect on their country.

It is a reaction that would be difficult to imagine coming from people in the U.S. or many other countries. The successes and failures of big South Korean firms are intimately linked to this small, proud, recently developed country’s psyche.”

Allow me to put on my obligatory “IANAPS” hat (I am not a professional sociologist), but it’s interesting to see cultural norms on display over the past few days.  Even in 2013 after enjoying multiple decades of status as a fully developed economic powerhouse, a fuck-up by an individual South Korean pilot who happens to work for a South Korean-owned company is Serious Business here, and a mandatory bit of national shame is required to appease the Gods of — what exactly?

Imagine if, after British Petroleum basically ruined the southeastern coast of the United States, the British Prime Minister had personally apologized to all Americans and all British people for bringing tons of black sludge to Louisiana and a huge blow to the British “psyche.”

LOL!  Silly rabbit, that’s not how global capitalism works!  Being a corporate entity means you are never responsible for your fuck-ups, ever!  Just ask the dead Bangledeshis who died in a collapsing building while sewing cheap clothing for Wal-Mart.

So on the one hand it’s refreshing to see that some South Koreans are personally invested in the notion of corporate responsibility, and actually care about the international reputations of their companies.

On the other hand, it’s incredibly quaint — this notion that a private company actually has to suffer the public’s obloquy for an individual employee’s mistake, however serious it actually was.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after living in South Korea for five years it’s this — a strong sense of national pride can go hand-in-hand with an equally strong sense of national guilt or shame.

Speaking as an American, somehow my country has managed to cultivate a ton of the former and very little of the latter.

And frankly, I’m wary of a tendency to deeply identify with the corporate powers that be.  Yes, shame them and call them out for when they act irresponsibly.  But feeling personally ashamed?

Apologies to souless spokesman for corporate greed Mitt Romney, but companies are not and will never be people.  Feeling ashamed of their actions when they fuck up kind of implies that you owe them a debt of gratitude when they aren’t getting people killed or actively ruining the environment.

No, you don’t owe them anything, ever, even if your innate sense of nationalism tells you that you do.

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