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The Constant Controversy Over WebtoonsThe Writer's Freedom of Expression Versus the Reader's Freedom of Interpretation
  • By Jo Soo-bin, cub-reporter
  • 승인 2020.10.05 08:57
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▲ Naver webtoon 'Returning King', which was controversial

Recently, webtoon writer Gian84 drew public criticism for his inappropriate portrayal of women in the popular webtoon "King of Return", which is serialized on Naver. The controversy is about misogyny. In his work, when a female character Bong Ji-eun breaks a shell on her stomach, she says, “It doesn't make sense to work hard. It's not academic background, it's specs, it's hard work, it's... Her cell itself wanted work." This scene made readers upset, some saying that Gian84 is promoting the stereotype of women using sex to pursue success in their careers, as opposed to through skills. Last year, the portrayal of the main character, Woo Ki-myung, also drew controversy over comments made about a deaf woman saying she was "a person who is not only very talkative but intellectually problematic". He also drew controversy over comments made about a migrant worker from Thailand, saying he was "a person who grew up so poor that he likes not only buses, but also old resorts with leaky ceilings."

King of Return is not the only webtoon to recently face controversy. The webtoon "Nya Han Man" was also controversial because of its depictions of sexual imagery. In the webtoon "The Girl of Random Chat" a woman wore a short skirt, but the thighs were mosaic against a white background, while the man in "Nya Han Man" took off his clothes without censorship. There has also been controversy over sexual inequality, with some saying that there is more tolerance for male sexual expression than female sexual expression. In addition, the webtoon "Helper" sexually objectified minors and described sexual violence explicitly, disturbing many readers. Webtoons are not only being discussed in terms of sexual depictions of women and men, but also in terms of mocking the socially disadvantaged, sensationalism, and violence. Webtoon controversies can largely be divided into two opposing camps: The freedom of expression of the author versus the freedom of interpretation by the reader. What do the students of Changwon University think about these webtoon controversies?

Many students shared the same opinion as the public regarding the controversy. Cho Hee-soo, a third-year student in the department of English and Literature, said, "There is a lack of consideration for readers complaining about being disturbed by the content of the webtoon, and the author needs to be more careful with what he chooses to publish." Cho Hee-soo is also referring to the fact that this is not the first controversy over Gian84's work. Yoo Seung-mi, a third-year student in the department of Chinese studies, said, "The freedom of expression of the author and the freedom of interpretation by the reader are both valid, but there is a lack of understanding of each other's positions and opinions. If readers don’t enjoy a webtoon, readers can choose a different webtoon that meets their standards in the golden age of the webtoon industry." Kim Hyun-ji, a third-year student in the department of English and Literature, said, "The freedom of interpretation is important, but readers must respect the right of expression of the author because a work can be interpreted in many ways, and these interpretations are separate from the author’s intent." Perhaps this controversy will continue for some time as there are so many different views on the controversy.

After the controversy, webtoon writer Joo Ho-min emphasized his right to the freedom of expression, describing the present as an "era of citizen dictatorship" saying, "In the past, the state censored media, these days, citizens censor media." Readers should refrain from distorting criticism by objectively looking at the intent of the author, and try to prevent criticism from being an attack. In addition, at this time of constant controversy over webtoons because of sensationalism, violence, ghostwriting and plagiarism, authors need to pay more attention to the provocative expressions, descriptions, and expressions of sensitive material that they publish. This will require more communication between authors and readers, and this communication should be based on respect for each other's understanding of the work being discussed.

By Jo Soo-bin, cub-reporter

By Jo Soo-bin, cub-reporter  hyun185415@naver.com

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