Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Dark Side of Korean Dramas - Part 2

Dramas With Issues

As I said in my previous article (also found here in my blog), I decided to talk a bit about the various problems and cruelties of being a television actor, idol and celebrity in Korea. They are things that occupy my thoughts quite often, as a fan of Korean entertainment.

I was very glad to see people discussing the issues. The internet can get a bit heavy on the positive things sometimes, as a lot of fans seem to prefer denial and only talking about the good things, as reality can be too much to bare sometimes. But reality is not always bleak and problems have solutions too.

In this second and final part of my thoughts on the issue, I talk about the third big "culprit" of these problems, the audiences, and give a little closure and some ideas on how Korea could go about changing things for its entertainment.

The Spoiled and Cruel Audience

Possibly the biggest culprit here, even if they were brought to such a state by the industry and its lust for money. Because it's their demands, lack of understanding and caring and sometimes plain mental and emotional disability that cause many issues which are making television filming difficult for all those involved but them and those who sit back and cash in. This is a chicken and egg situation. Did the industry spoil them or were they the ones who drove the industry to this point? I don't know and I don't think we should care at this point, as the problem is here and how it started is no part of the solution in this twisted industry/audience relationship.

Like I said before, the reason why filming is done live is because audiences have been spoiled. They have been spoiled by being given control over many aspects of any given series. They may be the ones a series is made for, but a series is still the creation of a team made for them, not by them. That is the way things should be and audiences should be encouraged to accept that. They would love any series that is pre-produced had they not been so spoiled. There is a reason people study or train to do these things and just because you think you know better does not mean you have the right to change said things.

So, that arrogance and demand is what causes actors to overwork themselves. Furthermore, there is the issue of them receiving the script only hours before the shoot, most of the times. This is done to avoid leaking the story. But it is also done because the changes netizens demand can be written into things or things they don't like be written out. It's also pressure for the writer, having to create a story within days and hours. Have you ever noticed some directors or writers suddenly get changed after a while? Or a character's style and way of dressing suddenly changing radically for no reason? That is "their" work. Netizens who don't have a life so they feel they need to control the "life" they see on television. Power at the hands of sociopaths.

Le to Me Poster
"Lie to me" is one of the many dramas which suffered through a writer switch due to ratings

Having a series which is 2 hours per week is also due to that demand. I have not heard of this in any other country. Japanese shows are even only half an hour a week and no one complains. I know the masses' attention span is short, but a whole season of a series ending in 2 months is just crazy. It raises the need for more shows and also tougher filming. Would a 16 episode series spanning over 4 months be that bad? I mean, people do or should have lives, school, university etc. I am pretty sure an hour a week from the 4-5 series they are watching would do just fine.

It would do fine for me and even if I myself am spoiled now, I would gladly settle for one hour less if it meant not working the actors I respect and admire and the crew of a show half to death. I'd also gladly settle for a pre-produced series and just accept that some things might not be as I like them. Heck, there are plenty of things people hate in these live filmed series as well. That cannot change, no matter what you do and any audience which is hooked will still be hooked if you don't obey their every command and take that power away. Or is displaying some simple human decency and not ordering people to get sick and tired for their sake too much to ask of these netizens?

Lee Da Hae asleep
Lee Da Hae fell asleep while filming "Miss Ripley"

We also see the way in which they contribute to actor abuse directly. They demand more of an actor or less of an actor, they demand that popular actors appear in variety shows and fan meetings and events all the time, just because they don't like their dolls taken away from them. Because that is how these "fans" treat actors and actresses. Like dolls, puppets and imaginary characters that should always be available for them and doing what will please them and save them from having to actually face a real world which will not always give them everything they want.

As for the more disturbing ways in which "fans" can abuse actors, I will not go there as it is too big of an issue. From stalking to "antis", verbal abuse when their dollies don't do what they like to downright blackmailing an actor to chose you over something or someone important to them, these form a very frightening side of Korean entertainment and also paint a scary picture about the state of Korea's youth (and not only). Looking at actors through rose-tinted glasses and forcing a Prince Charming image on them is also an issue when it comes to fans. I've talked about this before and it's true for women as well. Actors and celebrities in general are seen as Gods, as perfect creatures who should not have a life or flaws. They are stripped of their humanity by those who are too deep in denial to admit that people have flaws and that perfection cannot be determined or achieved.

What Can Be Done

"Union" is the word du jour. We've been screaming that word at the top of our lungs for a while now and having worker unions is a pretty common thing in most modern countries. There are people that care, in Korea. Of course there are. But why are they then not forming a union to protect their own rights? Is it that they don't feel it will help? Are they right to feel that way? Are they perhaps not allowed to form one?

A union would solve a lot of things indeed. It would give actors their own authority, through which they could fend for themselves and also fellow actors who might not have the power to do so without support. They're not all as powerful.

Screen Quota Protest
Many actors joined in protest over the rights of their movies. Why not over their own?

But as much as a union would help, not much would change unless that union did have power. And that power can only be given by a change in mentality. By an internal change in how these industries treat their actors, which at this point is a bit higher than a bath towel, and also how they treat audiences. "A client is king". I beg to differ. A King (or at least those who "guide" him) knows what he is doing, knows his subject better than anyone and does it well. Clients know what they demand and can squeeze out of something, regardless of the fact that it may be unreasonable, not doable or even not good for them or good in general. Especially the "clients" of Korean dramas.

Another major problem and potential solution is media. Unfortunately, they only serve to enable these obsessions and the cruel industry and audiences. A lot of people know I have an issue with Jang Keun Suk's shot to fame during these last two years and mind you, I was his die hard fan for a few months and until I saw this change for the worse. A lot of it is due to media. Where was this media back when he was doing good movies and series and giving very nice performances? Why did they start paying attention when all that quality went out the window in favor of non-stop promotion and little substantial work? They reward buzz with more buzz, instead of helping the good things surface.

They spoil audiences by only paying attention to and attracting more attention to celebrities who "get around" and some times don't even create anything of value, while hardworking talented people cannot get some news on them because they prefer to focus on doing something well and don't go around spreading "love" 24/7 to obsessed girls who need their fix. But the buzz sells. And these media make a lot of money out of the popular trends so they make sure to keep them popular. But by doing so, they harm both the audiences and the quality of their country's works and image.

Asia Prince Concert
Forgive me if I don't find this "big news"

They also don't highlight problems enough. If someone talks about IV drips, they call them "hard-working" and create an air of admiration around that fact in their articles. If there is a Han Ye Seul-like issue, they mostly present the people in charge and with influence as saints while completely ignoring the flip-side (although there are always exceptions). The media treat such issues so nonchalantly, as if they're something normal that can just keep happening or then they put the blame on things and people that netizens and the industry want the blame to be placed on, without much regard to not picking sides and actually investigating something a bit. They make a big deal out of things that aren't dire and belittle the real problems.

Last, but not least, it's the fans. I am not talking about the fangirls, pedophile "aunties" or all these categories of those disturbed and socially awkward, but about the proper fans. These fans can help by being vocal about these issues. About the quality of television, the actors and how they have it hard. It must be very daunting to be a normal fan and person in such a country. We do understand that. The internet is filled with the brainless type of fans a bit too heavily. But more mature fans can get organized. They can form communities and unite in their cries for some decency, quality and respect for the works and people involved. Maybe such communities do exist. They should keep doing their best.

Closing Comments

There are things which have been left out in this article. As I mentioned, I would be talking about these bigger issues that are more visible to us. There are things which don't get a lot of publicity and which are so dire and "big" that I don't feel I am equipped to talk about and also don't have enough of an image for the "behind the curtain" side of. Agencies abusing and forcing actors and actresses to work like slaves while not protecting them when things go badly is one problem that could be mentioned. From slave contracts, to forcing actresses into sexual favors, this side is too deep into the category of crime to be really investigated by the "paint a perfect image" media.

Jang Ja Yeon's Suicide
Jang Ja Yeon's death was one case that got attention. But how many have not?

Also, I'm not implying actors and actresses are saints and poor hurt kittens here. That is only one side. There are celebrities who do this work because they love it/need it, have no other qualifications or have been lured into it with false promises, but there are also those who do it simply because they want fame and easy money. Those are worthy of their fate and they are the "diva" category which frankly has no right to complain. A lot of celebrities are less-than-holy, I assure you. They manipulate people, commit crimes, misuse what they have. Those exist too and they don't make things easier for anyone, including the decent people and professionals.

Murderer on the lose
Did you know "Spy Myeong Wol"'s Jo Hyeong Gi is a murderer who only got 1 year in jail?

A lot of us here in the ignored West can see how great Korean works can be and what wonderful actors they have. There is no denying it. Koreans have the proper amount of talent, potential, creativity and skills to compete with even Hollywood; the most over-hyped of institutions in entertainment. They even surpass it in so many ways. But the culture of their entertainment is what is holding them back.

Greed keeps them from realizing their potential. Greed of the industries for less expenses and effort with more profits out of the work done, greed of certain entertainers who create a bad image and environment for the rest, greed of the audiences who overestimate their skills and importance while ignoring what is best for all and not just for "me".

But we should still hope and still voice our opinions on those issues. One person can't lift an entire wall unit by themselves, but many of them together, no matter how weak individually, can do it. But if having many people working hard is not an option, then having the few right people for the job working on it is an alternative. As a fan who can see how great Korean entertainment can be (movies and series alike) I sincerely hope that, even if little by little, things shift towards the better. These two articles and my frequent ramblings are my own little pebble in the big murky waters of Korean entertainment. You are free and encouraged to throw your own.

Again, here are some (not all) articles which inspired this one.

- Viewers complain about "Heartstrings"

- Protect the Boss Stylist Writes: “Jaejoong is Too Beautiful, So We Must Suppress His Looks.”

- “Secret Garden” secures final plot script by announcing gag order on staff

- Poor rating "Spy MyeongWol" switching writers... will it work?

- SBS’s “Lie To Me” suddenly replaces scriptwriter Kim Ye Ri

- Yoon Eun Hye Criticized for Tweet about Riding the Bus for the First Time in Ten Years

- ‘Anti-fans’ force managers to increase stars’ security

- [Opinion] Anti Fans and Their Power in the Music Industry

- 60% of Actresses 'Accosted for Sex by Bigwigs'

- `Actresses Pressured to Give Sexual Favors`

- Chairman of the late Jang Ja-yeon's management firm gets one year probation

- Suicide Actress 'Forced into Sex with 31 Influential Figures'

- Lee Ji-ah's Privacy Severely Disclosed

- Nam Gyoo-ri passes out during shoot, 'sleeping in the waiting room'

- [Forum Post] Korean Screen Quota under fire... again (a lot of pictures)

- Did They Really? Celebrity Crimes Revisited

- '40 Percent of Actors Considered Suicide'

- Gay Actor Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

- Park Yong-ha 'Suffered Stress and Depression'

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