Thursday, January 25, 2007

Randi in Korea Part 1

p>I stumbled upon this while over at James Randi's site. Randi is a former stage magician who has spent the last few decades debunking psychics and other con men who prey on the gullible.

It is a recount of his trip to Korea in 1995 to take part in a TV show. For almost everyone who has spent some time working in Korea, regardless of the kind of work they do, this story will sound all too familiar.

Some of the choicer bits that took place once he arrived:

Nothing, but nothing, took place as planned.  People would call, arrange to

meet me, and never show up.  There was little, if any, understanding of what

I was there to do, though I'd gone into exquisite detail on the faxes.  It

took us two days to discover that the Big Producer, Mr. Kim*, had been

misinformed; he thought I was a genuine psychic!

Well, that posed a major problem.  I'd outlined 16 tricks-of-the-psychics I

would do, along with explanations.  And I did them all at the production

meetings, to establish that they'd work.  Everyone oooohed and ahhhhed, but

Kim was quite troubled.  He finally announced that I would wear a silver

robe and hat, and declare it all to be the real thing.  I counter-announced

that I'd do no such thing, and he could only get that costume onto my

corpse.  [Would like to have heard the interpreters handle that one]. Kim suggested that I say that some of what I did was fake, but most

of it was real.  I said no.  He told me I could say that most of what I did

was fake, but some was real.  Nyet, nein, no, non.  We were not at all happy

with each other, and Kim kept saying that the Korean people like to believe

that psychic stuff is real, and they would expect me to say that it is.

"A silver robe and hat", that's just classic. It reminded me of the last time I saw local celebrity Isaac Durst on his latest TV show teaching English to kids. He was wearing a jester's suit, complete with the jingle-bell hat for no apparent reason whatsoever. I can just see his own Mr Kim: PD' coming up with this grand idea and Isaac, basically completely bereft of whatever dignity he once had when he first came to Korea, just went along with it.

And Big Producer Kim was right; most people watching these kinds of shows on TV want to oooh and aaah at the supposed supernatural, rather than have some party pooper come along and tell them that its all bullshit that can be done anyone. That's not just Korea, but the sad state of affairs in all of the supposedly enlightened first world countries. Even the Discovery channel stoops to this kind of nonsense repeatedly.

Back to Randi's misadventures in Korea

Note: Mr. Kim wasn't at all interested in the truth of the matter, but only

in what the Korean public wanted to hear.  His lack of respect for their

dignity really annoyed me.  And his confident declarations of psychic powers

that were, he said, part of the lives of Koreans, really depressed me.  When

he ran on about a Korean girl who could read sealed envelopes -- and had

been "tested by scientists!" -- I offered to give her my fee for the

engagement if she could do it for me, just ONCE, but he waved away that

suggestion.  We have an exprssion that involves putting up or shutting up,

but I think it would have been lost on the man.

Be sure to read the rest, especially about how they tried to get around paying Randi his fee.   Par for the course in these parts, Randi. Welcome to the Hub of Asia.

Randi did return to Korea in 2003 and did a series of shows for SBS. This experience went a whole lot better and the shows actually did let Randi expose Korean psychics for the frauds they were.  Not many shows in the West have the decency to do the same thing, so mad props to SBS for this moment, however brief, of sanity.  More on that in Part 2 of Randi in Korea, coming (relatively) soon...

Comments on original blog post

Great Post, sounds about par for the course.

Posted by: EFL Geek | January 25, 2007 at 02:51 AM

Too bad I have not looked through Randi's site enough to find the gem. Thanks for the sharp eyes.

As a counterpoint, if anybody wants to find the Skeptic's Guide podcast of a few weeks ago Randi has some very complementary things to say about Korea as well.

His whole dilemma reminds me of trying to serve cilantro at my old restaurant. Korean's expect not to like it, so you should never serve it. Or so the told me while eagerly shoveling homemade cilantro laced salsa down their gullet.

Posted by: Dram_man | January 25, 2007 at 05:09 AM

Korean TV producers exclusively use the Ooooooh-meter when making programming choices. Frauds and con artists (read: psychics and fortune tellers) get plenty of airtime, not only because Koreans are eternal suckers for the supernatural, but because the entire culture is inundated with crap of a similar vein like blood-type bullshit, golden pigs, street psychics, lucky grave sites, CHINESE MEDICINE and on and on. Authoritarian culture + general lack of skepticism + inherent "trust" in your seniors/parents/authority figures + inability to differentiate science from pseudo-science = Absolutely Gullible.

I would have to disagree, Pooper, with your assessment that not many shows in the West have the decency to expose psychics. Of course the dipshit talk shows (with Larry King, Montel, Maury Povich, etc. being the worst offenders) tend to book asshats like John Edwards, Sylvia Browne, and Something Van Something and give them free reign to talk with the dead without much skepticism. But the news magazines (20/20, Dateline, Primetime) do a solid job of digging deeper and exposing the manipulation and bullshit behind the entire industry.

Watch James Randi's account of how he and Johnny Carson exposed famous (at the time) spoon-bending douchebag Uri Geller on the Tonight Show. It's a classic. Carson part starts at 5:42. There's also a sweet healing-preacher he exposes at the end of the vid.

Randi for Preznit.

Posted by: iheartblueballs | January 26, 2007 at 11:19 PM

partypooper is pooping everywhere here!!! iIt rocks!..... yeah..... u really need to go pro with this! ;)

Posted by: partypooperwannabe | March 05, 2007 at 09:06 PM

No comments: