How Netflix Disappointed South Korean Users

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Starring in SNL Korea and numerous other TV shows, comedian Yoo Se-yoon is a familiar figure in South Korea. So when Netflix Korea, struggling since its launch in 2016, chose Yoo to promote their latest original series, they thought it would attract attention.

“Yoo Se-yoon is throwing in his entire body to introduce to you, Iron Fist.” (Source: Screen-shot of deleted tweet on Netflix Korea)

It did, but not the way Netflix anticipated.

Yoo has a history of belittling marginalized communities, including women and disabled people. One of his most problematic statements came during a podcast where Yoo and two other male comedians, a group called Ongdalsaem, had a lewd and raunchy conversation about women’s virginity. After over 17 minutes of mimicking a girl trying to fake virginity to her boyfriend, Yoo sums up his feeling: “We cannot stand women who are not virgins.”

And yet Netflix, which is known for embracing minorities’ rights and issues through the products they show, chose to feature this decidedly unheroic figure in a promotion of their superhero series “Iron Fist.” Angry users are, not surprisingly, cancelling their subscriptions.

“With the exception of ‘Iron Fist,’ the shows connected to Netflix’s original series ‘The Defenders’ feature a disabled person, a woman and a person of color as protagonists. Yoo Se-yoon, on the other hand, has caused problems with regard to all three groups.”

Many Netflix shows champion people of color. The company also has a reputation for being keenly aware of social issues such as feminism and LGBTQ rights. The previous series from Marvel, the company that produced “Iron Fist,” highlight minorities who were previously sidelined in popular culture. “Orange is the New Black,” another Netflix hit, is often seen as a champion of feminism and LGBTQ rights.

Such shows are rare in mainstream South Korean culture.

So some South Korean users willingly paid more for Netflix’s distinctive contents (Netflix is more expensive compared to other more popular streaming services in South Korea). They made up for the meager user base, the details of which Netflix doesn’t disclose, of less than 100,000 (reportedly) out of 93 million global Netflix users.

So when a comedian that scoffs at women and disabled people shamelessly appeared on Netflix’s latest ad, it disappointed, if not enraged, many users who complained to Netflix on Twitter. Some have posted screenshots of their cancelled subscriptions.

A few hours after posting the ad, Netflix took down the commercials online and apologized, rather vaguely, which provoked even more criticism.

“Netflix will listen more carefully [to our users] and be more attentive. We will share new, daring and diverse stories, which better meet our goals.”

https://twitter.com/g_gloyalty/status/844530696811139072

“I waited in good faith, but I can’t anymore. I’m unsubscribing. Please clarify in your apology what you have done wrong (hiring Yoo Se-yoon), and why it is problematic (hiring a celebrity who repeatedly aroused criticisms over misogynistic statements clashes with the propensity and interests of Netflix’s main user base). @NetflixKR”

Some users wondered if Netflix Korea understood its target audience.

https://twitter.com/soundvoc/status/844415285234978816

“@NetflixKR I subscribed to Netflix because Korean TV shows were full of men with misogynistic views, like Yoo Se-yoon and Jang Dong-min [also a member of the controversial podcast trio, Ongdalsaem]. I think there are quite a few users like me. Should I take this [ad] as Netflix taking Yoo’s and trying to profit off misogyny?”

Neither Netflix nor Yoo has commented on whether he will continue to be part of the promotion campaign.

Cover image: Screenshot of the now-deleted Netflix ad featuring Yoo Se-yoon. (Source: OhMyNews)

Jieun Choi wrote this radar report.

Jieun Choi is staff writer at Korea Exposé. She has worked in the art industry and startups in Hong Kong and Australia.