Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Discussion Boards and the EFL Teacher

bullhornWhat an odd piece by a columnist in the Korea Times online edition. A whopping 1300 words to come to the conclusion that foreigners teaching English in Korea vent on discussion boards because...they are treated like crap by their employers.

And then at the end of his meandering pontification, he congratulates himself on his little theory. All delivered with a mind-numbing Fog Index rating of close to 17.

No doubt there is truth to the stunning revelation that people don't take kindly to being treated badly. But there are also a few other factors at play here.

Sarcasm, Nastiness, A Good Insult Etc.

Sarcasm just doesn't play as well in many Asian countries as it does in the west. Huge generalization there, but I'll stand by it. Brits, Canadians, Americans, and people from numerous other English speaking countries find humour in a good sneering insult. Degrading people for laughs somehow comes easier to us. It's a type of humour that just doesn't jibe with the culture in many Asian countries.

So the supposed "bitterness" and negative attitudes observed by the Korea Times writer may not be indicative of true unhappiness. Some people simply enjoy the sport of ripping things. And what better fodder than the surreal foreign twilight zone in which you find yourself immersed?

As an example of this mindset, I recently watched an entire four seasons worth of a television show (Battlestar Galactiaca) just for the sheer joy of bashing and ridiculing one of the most horrid, melodramatic loads of tripe ever produced.


I've spent extended periods of time in various countries around the world over the past fifteen years. Venting is a way to deal with the indignities of living as an outsider in a foreign country. Don't get me wrong—living and working in different countries around the world is something I love doing. But despite the benefits, there is a certain kind of relief that only comes from getting together with other expats and unloading on your host country. I've experienced this everywhere I've travelled. It's just that nowadays, many of these venting sessions take place on discussion forums. Which brings us to the next point.

It's the Internet

The age of the internet is truly glorious. Never before in the history of the world have we seen the true, twisted (and wildly exaggerated) pathology of the human mind split open for all to see. There's nothing like the weirdness and exposed deviancy of online discussion boards. And that's half the fun. Discussion boards are kind of like alcohol. Some people can handle it and others can't.

The sheer entertainment value of those who go off the rails provides almost as much entertainment as those who engage in some highly intelligent and interesting discussion. But just like some wacko tanked up on a bottle of Thunderbird, is it an insight into a person's real character, or is it just an excuse to unload and have some mindless fun?

Conflict drives all types of writing, both fiction and non-fiction. And discussion forums are no exception. Some weary clown comes home from a day at the hagwon and blasts off a sneering thread bashing his employer. People pile on. It gets an exaggerated amount of attention. And that provides an outlet for another type of human behaviour. There's something that validates our own choices and existence in highlighting others' supposed unhappiness. Discussion forums provide an extreme and very entertaining outlet for this kind of interaction.

Like never before, we can latch onto whichever twisted tableau suits our fancy, use it to launch a half-baked theory, and then broadcast it to the world.


Anonymous said...

Learned about Gunning Fog Indexes. Cool!

Alex Case said...

I've read some crappy columnists in my time, especially in Asia, but Mr Jon Huer absolutely wins the prize every time. I am open mouthed in astonishment before I reach the end of any of his pieces

Post a Comment