The Boryeong Mud Festival is stupid.

The NAACP probably wouldn't approve of these festival mascots.If you are a native English speaker living in Korea, chances are you will somehow get on someone’s mailing list, join a group on facebook, or otherwise be connected to the expat community such that every year, someone will give you some information about the stupidest annual event.  It’s called the Boryeong Mud Festival.  Here’s a description of it from the Korea Tourism website describes it like this:

Of the numerous festivals in Korea, it is the Boryeong Mud Festival that probably attracts the largest number of international visitors…

Woah!  Stop right there!  Largest number of international visitors? Why? Why is this marketed specifically at international visitors? Does it not appeal to Koreans?

I’ve seen pamphlets and brochures for this year after year.  When I was in grad school, the organizers of the festival sent lots of promotional materials because our grad school had a lot of foreigners.  When I managed a foreigners’ bar, the festival was often the topic of discussion amongst the customers.  When I started working, I had a lot of foreign coworkers.  We got materials about the festival and our company even offered to organize transportation for us.  It’s marketed as a foreigners’ event.
Okay, so what goes on at the mud festival? Again, the same tourism website says:

…visitors enjoy mud wrestling, mud sliding and even swimming in the mud mega tub.

Really?  Mud wrestling, sliding and swimming in mud?  How is that fun at all?  Why would anyone want to go to do that? Find out why after the jump.

The foreigners who attend think they are somehow participating in Korean culture.  Koreans who attend the event somehow think they are participating in Western culture.  The fact of the matter is, under normal circumstances neither Koreans nor Westerners would travel great distances to wallow in the mud en masse.  They (Expats) do it because they are in Korea, and are willing to try new things that normally would be seen as crazy at home.  Or they (Koreans) do it because they are the type that like to hang out with foreigners and think wallowing in the mud is a normal way to have fun in foreign countries.  In reality they (Koreans and foreigners) are being duped by the crafty marketing of the festival organizers.  Granted, countries have their weird dirty festivals, the most famous of which is probably La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain.  La Tomatina is only 65 years old, but it was started by Spaniards for Spaniards, and international visitors who saw it thought it was cool and decided to join in.  But when and why did Boryeong’s mud festival start?  After some research, I found:

When? 1998.  Why? Muddy fields used for agricultural purposes don’t attract tourists.  After deciding on the premise of the festival a strong marketing campaign by the city somehow attracts tourists.  I don’t know if it was initially marketed towards foreigners, but my guess is that probably they marketed a mud bath for its therapeutic purposes.  The event may have had limited success until a group of foreigners got wind of it. Two dudes probably engaged in a playful mud wrestling match and then probably other dudes joined in.  Then they all probably moshed in the mud and threw mud at each other all the while drinking and making the experience unpleasant for those who just wanted to have their mud bath in peace.  Probably the organizers who saw this got dollar signs in their eyes and focused their efforts on foreigners.  The event thus became the foreigner festival.  I have to laugh at the marketing campaign sometimes, as the pictures they publish of the festival don’t look fun at all.  It’s also almost impossible to find any photos of attractive people partaking of the event.  The following are some pictures of the event I found on the internet:

Fun?  Really?

I admit I’ve never been to the mud festival.  Some people might tell me that I shouldn’t knock it until I try it.  I guess that idea has some merit, but I’ve never tried jumping out of an office building, eating glass, or smelling your underarms either.

Some people might say I should just let these people have their fun and if I don’t like the event, then I shouldn’t go.  Yes, of course that’s what I am going to do.  However, this festival is harmful in that it reinforces negative stereotypes.  First, Koreans are lead to believe that foreigners enjoy wallowing in the mud like pigs and the idea must sound appealing to all of them.  Second, it warps the perception of Korean culture by the foreign participants and foreign media who might be present at the event.  I mean really.  Korea is a robust economy and it leads the world in several sectors of advanced technology.  The image is not congruent with reality.  If there were more positive images of Korea in the minds of people with no Korea experience, then I really wouldn’t care one way or the other, and I’d just probably laugh at the brochures I get every year showing unattractive people covered in mud.


8 Responses to “The Boryeong Mud Festival is stupid.”

  1. Great blog topic! I am debating whether to attend this year or not. I googled “mudfest stupid,” and your blog came up. The marketing really makes you think you are missing out if you don’t attend, but when you think about what it is rationally and the analogy you made to pigs and Koreans’ view of waygooks, makes you wonder! Is it really fun or is it just dirty and an excuse to party?

  2. I just saw the mud festival covered on Korean news and… yeah. I was embarrassed to be a foreigner for a few seconds there. I may have to start thinking about “the Korean gaze”

  3. As I said in my Asia Now report – it’s just like an American Spring Break. The same thing I saw in Cancun, Lake Havasu, and other places.

    What bothered me more was the safety hazards.

  4. That was the stupidest load of crap ever written.

  5. I don’t think any foreigners think they’re participating in Korean culture. It’s more seen as an opportunity to have fun at a really good beach where people seem not to mind lots or foreigners and noise (which, as you can imagine, is a bit of a rarity here.)

    At the end of the day, it probably is a massive money-making event for the city/province, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Besides, the mud thing takes all of 30 minutes then people are over it and off to play on the beach/in the sea.

    Sitting behind a computer telling people that something you’ve never experienced “is stupid” is way more stupid. Lighten up, go and have some fun.

    • Well like I said, I’ve never been, and I have no intention of going, but I am tired of hearing about it year after year after year and talked to as if it is something I’d be into simply because I look a certain way. It’s a stupid festival, but lots of people seem to like it, so have at it.

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