The Korea Herald


Steven Yeun’s flag controversy grows despite apology

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 13, 2018 - 17:51

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Former “Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun has found himself neck-deep in controversy in his birthplace surrounding him “liking” an image of a disputed flag, as some called even his apology not good enough.

On Friday, Yeun pressed “like” on a picture posted by Joe Lynch -- with whom he worked on 2017 flick “Mayhem” -- of him wearing a shirt with a design resembling the “Rising Sun” flag of the Empire of Japan, which carries strong negative connotations in Korea.

The actor acknowledged the next day that he was careless and posted a public apology, but some Koreans took issue with his apology. 

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Seo Kyoung-duk, professor of general education at Sungshin Women’s University, criticized Yeun by saying that the actor posted different content in the English and Korean versions.

He cited the passage in Yeun’s apology that said “It does say something about our culture, however, to know that we are all just a thumb swipe, misplaced like, or mindless internet scrolling away from the questioning of our character. Our world on the internet is so fragile at the moment that it makes me sad that we use this platform to represent us fully.”

“He (Yeun) admitted his mistake in the Korean version, but in the English version. ... It can be interpreted as saying that ‘people are judged by a solitary mistake on the internet,’” Seo said.

While the Rising Sun design is popular in pop culture today -- with even Nike’s Air Jordan series using it -- most of the Korean population have negative feelings toward it, ranging from discomfort to being appalled.

The design, depicting the sun and its rays, was used by the Japanese military during World War II. It is regarded as a symbol of the Japanese Empire, which colonized Korea and sexually enslaved its women during the war. It continues to be used today by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, some US military units in Japan and Japanese company Asahi.

In his English apology, Yeun said he is aware of the “histories of the countries I am a part of and from,” and that he does not take lightly nor condone the images, symbols and messages that “conjure the horrible moments in our histories.”

He referred to as pressing the “like” button on the picture as “thoughtlessly engaging with an image that to me was just a photo of a colleague as a child.”