HITTG Side Post-The Cult of the Han Family

After more thought on the truly disturbing beating of IS by his father, and watching the rest of Episodes 10 and 11, I recalled a news event that I thought most interesting and relevant to what I am seeing happen in HITTG–the kidnapping and subsequent brainwashing of Patty Hearst in 1974. For you young people (OK yeah, I was in 4th grade that year, lol!) Patty Hearst was the grand-daughter of William Randolph Hearst–the closest thing I can imagine to a real American Chaebol. Happily going to college at Berkeley, she was kidnapped, isolated, tortured, raped and brainwashed by a radical political group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. You can read the rest of the details in this Wikipedia article. It’s somewhat lengthy, but well worth your time. For a better explanation of the psychological effects, I would recommend this piece “Cults in our Midst”, which I would like to quote here:

“This cycle—isolation, threats, and humiliation, punctuated by a little peace (reward) for compliance—broke down Hearst’s sense of self. As she later told Larry King, “Most of the time I was with them, my mind was going through doing exactly what I was supposed to do… I had no freewill.”

The SLA members stimulated in her an overwhelming sense of dependency, which induced her finally to accept their version of reality, and put her past life out of her mind. Hearst eventually became such a reliable convert that she not only robbed banks with them, but did not consider escaping later, when she had many opportunities to do so.”

Isn’t this exactly what the Han Parents have done thus far? Isolate, threaten and shame/humiliate SB, then Mommy Han gives her a necklace as a gift?  I swear writer-nim must have read this article before I did.

Here’s another great quote from the same article:

(words in Italics are my emphasis)

“In her 1995 book Cults in our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer (d. 2003) explores in detail the methods and processes of coercive persuasion. These methods are used not just by cult leaders, but by anyone who manipulates the behavior of others in order to promote a hidden agenda, often involving the consolidation of power…..

According to Singer, the tactics of a thought reform program are organized to do three things: destabilize a person’s sense of self; get the person to alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality; and develop dependency in the person, turning him into a deployable agent for the controller or the agenda.

Singer also lists six conditions that create an atmosphere conducive to coercive persuasion:

  • Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person and their thoughts
  • Control time and physical environment
  • Create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and dependency
  • Suppress old behavior and attitudes
  • Instill new behavior and attitudes
  • Put forth a closed system of logic.”

OK, how many of these things are the Han Parents are doing? Let’s start with the first one. Clearly the Han Parents are attempting to control and change SB, so she will be “qualified” to be their DiL. However, SB appears to be quite aware that there is a full-blown agenda to control and change her, and because she seeks the approval of IS’s parents, and wants to understand the source of their power, she goes along, dying a little bit inside each time she does. I recall the scene where she apologizes to Mommy Han in Episode 11, then goes into the study room and has tears running down her face–only to be scolded by the tutor for being weak. (A heartbreaking moment for me personally.)

The Han Parents score a perfect 10 for the second point–Controlling time and physical environment. From restricting the time SB spends with her son JY, to the locked study-prison room, to not letting her go outside in public for things like a manicure, they have certainly controlled her time and environment. The third point seems quite obvious–The Han Parents have done a great job in keeping her powerless. SB can only see the baby when feeding him, while the rest of her day has been meticulously scheduled for studying. The Han’s also are exceptionally good at using fear, as Daddy Han instigated physical violence against SB’s family at the “Breakfast Brawl” and IS’s beating scenes both by his father in the dining room, and by his mother on the staircase come to mind. IS’s lack of retaliation in these scenes suggests that he too has been under his family’s control for so long, he no longer bothers to fight back in any meaningful way, choosing instead to placate them and hope for the best. He may ask timidly for a few minor concessions, which are subsequently celebrated as major victories. Dependency–SB knows that if she leaves with the baby, the Han’s can and will go to court to remove the baby from her care. IS and SB have used what little free time they’ve had to teach themselves precepts and memorize laws that might be needed to keep their son with them, and their marriage from being dissolved. For IS and SB, learning those laws is not mere studying, but gaining potentially life-altering knowledge. Keeping SB isolated from her family is a linchpin–the Han’s fear the influence of the Seo Parents on SB, and IS as well by association. The Han Parents also pick out SB’s wardrobe and makeup, and buy everything the baby JY needs like diapers and clothing, removing even the smallest thing from the locus of her control.

The fourth and fifth points–suppress old behavior and attitudes while instilling new behaviors and attitudes can be validated by the scenes where SB is told how to address the servants, having the servants call her “little madam” or “little lady”, teaching her table manners and proper bowing techniques, the scenes of the formality of the 100th day party, and introducing SB to their friends–I’m thinking of the scene both at the HanSong Club of Exclusiveness with Daddy Han and in the earlier episode, where SB meets Mommy Han’s Vulture Friends and is told not to even say her name!

The sixth point–“put forth a closed system of logic” is best exemplified by the SB’s daily reading of the book “The Prince” by Machiavelli. Daddy Han obviously holds the tenets of this book in high esteem, extolling it’s usefulness and virtues to IS and SB. There is immense pressure to agree with him and his (warped) worldview, as he scolds IS and SB vigorously if they disagree with him. There is quite a bit of verbal and non-verbal intimidation in these reading scenes, from Daddy Han sitting behind the desk in a position of power, to his dismissal of their viewpoints and opinions–only Daddy Han can have the correct point of view; all dissent is outlawed.

SB is being “qualified” as the Han parents’ DiL. Her family’s background has now been changed to meet the Han’s needs, and the intensive “training” and isolation of SB to conform to their viewpoints and lifestyle, is certainly making SB into “a deployable agent” of the Han Parents.

In my mind, this show to date is not really a “black comedy”, but more of a psychological study on the use of isolation, coercion and shame to achieve power and control. Perhaps if the show had been marketed as such, it would not have garnered viewers, but misrepresenting it’s true aim is a disservice by the writer and PD to viewers like me who prefer not to be deceived.


4 thoughts on “HITTG Side Post-The Cult of the Han Family

  1. Brilliant! 😀 I truly enjoyed reading this, excellent points. It never crossed my mind to use the word “brain-washing” but that’s exactly what the Han’s are doing, you are SPOT ON. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Delicious insights and a very cohesive argument – comparing SB’s confinement in the Han household to Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and subsequent Stockholm syndrome. EXCEPT, that throughout the drama it is made clear that Bom is aware of what is happening and tries to use the experience to her advantage. AND that the Hans exert some control in some situations, but obviously not in all. Which makes for the hilarious plans A, B, C, D, E etc!

    Once I finish this marathon, I’ll definitely google to see what Patty’s been up to lately. LOL!


    • At the beginning, I don’t believe SB is aware of the brainwashing. She’s too overwhelmed with the birth of JY. Yes, SB is aware of the power dynamic later on, but by then, the influence of the captors (the Han Parents) has had plenty of time to sink in. SB even asks Daddy Han how she too can be powerful. But to me, this is more evidence that she is in survival mode. When SB starts defending the actions of the Han Parents, that to me is classic Stockholm syndrome. How else is she (and her son) going to make it out of this situation, if she doesn’t find some way to placate her captors? SB and JY are physically trapped, and even if she could escape with JY, she knows the influence of Hansong would make custody of JY an impossibility for her. In addition, it would potentially wreck her relationship with IS, who she seems to genuinely love. Of course SB will use any situation to her advantage. Her choices are limited, and heavily influenced by her desire to please the Han Parents, in hopes of better treatment for her and her son.

      The Han’s do try (and fail) to control every situation. Luckily, they don’t succeed 100% of the time. Over the years, they’ve stepped on a few toes. They may have a lot of power and influence–but the Han’s have made a considerable number of enemies as well.

      One think I love about this drama is that it brings a lot of discussion points to the table. It asks the viewer a lot of questions–none of which have easy answers.


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