The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] What porn? ‘Poverty porn’ reference to first lady sparks furor

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Nov. 16, 2022 - 13:57

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A South Korean opposition lawmaker is in the hot seat after he used the phrase “poverty porn” to describe first lady Kim Keon-hee who released photos of her philanthropic work while accompanying President Yoon Suk-yeol’s visit to Southeast Asia.

Rep. Jang Kyung-tae of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea said Wednesday that he will “consider expressing regret” if the first lady was upset by his recent comment, while fending off the ruling People Power Party’s criticism that it was an obscene and anti-feminist expression.

On Monday, the legislator criticized Kim for “shooting poverty porn” while on an official visit to Cambodia. The first lady skipped the cultural event arranged by the Cambodian government for the visiting state leaders’ spouses and instead visited a child suffering from a heart condition in an undisclosed schedule. Photos of her holding the ill child were later released to the press by the presidential office.

On Tuesday, the ruling PPP decided to request the parliamentary special committee on ethics to convene regarding the remark.

Jang claimed “poverty porn” was an academic term, in a media interview.

First Lady Kim Keon-hee (Yonhap) First Lady Kim Keon-hee (Yonhap)

‘Poverty porn’ is a term used in reference to a type of media, written, photographed or filmed, that exploits the poor’s condition for a specific purpose, whether it be generating sympathy or raising support for an individual or a given cause.

It is a term that has some exposure in the West, by being used in headlines of major news outlets including CNN and the Guardian. But it is not one familiar to most Koreans.

The opposition claimed the photos were staged, in order for Kim to “play an Audrey Hepburn,” referring to the late actress’ photograph of holding an impoverished child in her arms during her philanthropic work.

Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the ruling party, said Jang’s comments were insulting and anti-feministic, adding he should apologize to all women and demanded his party impose disciplinary actions against him.