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Pam Frampton: Some things are ‘fun facts.’ Some are deadly serious

When St. John's realtor and city councillor Debbie Hanlon's real estate ads caused an outcry, she should've expected the criticism. She should not have been the target of personal attacks, Pam Frampton writes.
When St. John's realtor and city councillor Debbie Hanlon's real estate ads caused an outcry, she should’ve expected the criticism. She should not have been the target of personal attacks, Pam Frampton writes. — 123RF Stock Photo

Yang Kyoungjong, a Korean boy who was living in Japan-controlled territory when the Second World War broke out, was forced onto the battlefield against his will by the Japanese to fight the Soviets at the age of 18.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

I read about his life on the website Rare Historical Photos, but information about him abounds.

He was captured by the Soviets and detained in a labour camp. At age 22, the Soviets forced him to join their fight against the Nazis. The Germans captured him and made him a prisoner of war for a second time. The Nazis eventually made him wear a German uniform and go into combat against the Allies in France. He was captured by U.S. soldiers and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Britain.

After the war, he immigrated to the United States, where by all accounts he lived out his life quietly until his death in Illinois at age 72.
As War History Online observes, “he fought for three armies in a war that did not spare many men who only fought for one. Even worse, he was never fighting for his own beliefs, but always for those thrust upon him.

“While only one man, the story of a Korean soldier who fought under three different banners, passed around between enemies, embodies the ruthless and inhumane nature to which many men are prone on both sides of a war.”

It goes without saying that none of this information constitutes “fun facts,” which is why, when realtor and St. John’s city Coun. Debbie Hanlon used Yang Kyoungjong’s story and image to set up her real estate ad tagline “Want an agent who fights for you, call me!” there was outrage on social media.

Hanlon removed the ads in the heat of the controversy, including one featuring a photo of respected Puerto Rican taxi driver Victor Perez Cardona being waked in his cab at his death in 2015.

I wasn’t surprised by the legitimate criticism, given the insensitive treatment of the subject matter, but I was surprised by Hanlon’s reaction to it.

She defended the ad campaign — and, to be fair, she had many ads that did not elicit the same horror — in an interview with The Telegram by saying they are meant to be lighthearted.

“With real estate these days, you have to be a bit more creative, you can’t just be shoving ‘Oh I’m selling houses’ in people’s faces, so you add it with a bit of fun, a bit of laughter. …,” she told reporter Juanita Mercer. “So, you know, it wasn’t hurtful, it wasn’t mean, it was just a fun fact.”

Hanlon was shocked at the depth of vitriol from some critics, saying she was labelled a “racist pig,” “a cokehead” and “a slut.”

All those descriptions are deplorable, and I can understand how she felt overwhelmed by the personal attacks.

I wasn’t surprised by the legitimate criticism, given the insensitive treatment of the subject matter, but I was surprised by Hanlon’s reaction to it.

If you disagree with someone’s work choices, particularly when that person is in the public eye as a realtor and as a member of city council, then by all means let them know. But there’s no need to get abusive, and Hanlon didn’t deserve that any more than any of us do online when what could be a reasoned discussion turns into poisoned ad hominem attacks.

Besides, the slurs hurled at Hanlon completely miss the point, which is the content of the ads themselves.

Hanlon’s right that it’s a tough market and realtors have to think of clever ways of catching attention in a city awash in properties for sale.

But using someone’s horrible war experiences or treating someone’s dying wish as mere oddities to draw eyes to your ads is in poor taste. Clearly, based on the social media reaction, I’m not alone in thinking that.

Hanlon was right to take them down, and perhaps she will give her message more thought next time.

We all have a right to react to public content. It’s the personal attacks that cause all the harm.

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Recent columns by this author

Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it's personal (part 1)

Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it's personal (part 2)

Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it's personal (part 3)

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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