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More celebrities get into social activism

June 21, 2011 - 19:16 By 김윤미
Entertainers may voice opinions on social issues, but some lack focus

Korean entertainers who voice their opinions on political and social issues have been making headlines in recent weeks.

The controversy ― whether entertainers should take advantage of their fame to draw fans to join their causes ― was sparked anew after singer Kim Heung-guk was forced to quit as a DJ. He was pushed out of his MBC radio program for his support of the ruling Grand National Party in an April by-election.

On June 15, actress Kim Yoh-jin was summoned by the police for questioning over her participation in a sit-in protest in support of labor union members at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction’s shipyard.

Critics say entertainers have every right to voice their opinions as members of society, but some of them lack expertise, which renders their activism unsustainable and ineffective.

“Koreans tend to view entertainers separately from citizens but they are also citizens and they can express their opinions. Some more conservative people call them ‘ttanttara,’ (a derogatory term for an entertainer) looking down on them and thinking how dare they engage in politics but that kind of thinking is not right,” pop culture and broadcasting industry critic Kim Hun-sick told The Korea Herald.

“I don’t think it is right to sack a person from radio just because of his political color. Singer Kim Heung-guk and comedian Kim Mi-hwa (who claimed to be on a KBS blacklist) are scapegoats of political ideologies,” he said.
Singer Kim Heung-guk has his head shaved in front of the MBC head office in Seoul on Friday, protesting the broadcaster’s decision to dismiss him from a radio program. (Yonhap News)

Kim Heung-guk on Friday had his head shaved in front of the MBC headquarters, protesting the broadcaster’s decision to dismiss him from the 2 p.m. radio program that he hosted.

MBC said it was “inappropriate” that the singer participated in a by-election campaign of Kang Jae-sup, then the GNP candidate for Bundang B district in Gyeonggi Province, in April.

Choi Kyu-sung, another pop culture critic, said artists’ political views should not influence their career opportunities.

“To the public, it will be very annoying if an artist tries to voice his or her opinions through their artworks. In that case, such activity may be subject to restrictions. But Kim Heung-guk didn’t make any comments related to politics while on air,” Choi said.

“The public is wise enough to discern whether an art work has a political color or not.”

Another pop culture critic Lee Moon-won said actress-activist Kim Yoh-jin is an unusual case, saying she is touching on all kinds of social issues. Foreign celebrities, the critic pointed out, are known for having expertise in a single issue that they espouse.

“Richard Gere, who’s currently in Korea, is famous for his support for human rights in Tibet. Audrey Hepburn was known for her activism for famine relief in Africa. But Kim Yoh-jin’s activism is in all areas ― the push for half-price tuition, opposition of the four river restoration project and other issues against the current administration,” Lee said.

“But her lack of expertise will soon surface and the public will know it.”

Lee added that if a celebrity wants to engage in activism seriously, that person should develop expertise so that he or she can answer any question from veteran journalists.

“It is hard to expect such professionalism from Kim Yoh-jin,” he said, adding that she is maybe the first Korean actress to become famous because of her activism.

“If it were not for such activism, most Koreans in general wouldn’t have known who Kim Yoh-jin was,” Lee said.

Kim is a frequent user of Twitter, just like many other celebrity-activists such as TV celebrity Kim Je-dong, singer Park Hye-kyoung and singer Yoon Do-hyun.

Park, who regularly helps children of labor union members who were fired by Ssangyong Motor, is also actively supporting university students’ protests calling for slashing university tuition by half through concerts and Twitter feeds.

“When requesting help on Twitter, I get immediate responses. If I ask a question, so many answers come to me so quickly,” Park told The Korea Herald through a direct message on Twitter.

By Kim Yoon-mi (