Washington Post article written by Dough Struck appeared last December and revived the sad scandal surrounding Baek Ji Young, a pop diva.
The scandal was a useful topic for me to use in my group-discussion evaluations for English Conversation because choosing a random topic that all of the students in a group could have an opinion on is difficult. When I introduced the Miss Baek scandal I was struck by the number of students, both male and female, that not only had an opinion but had seen her steamy video as well.
All of the students were sympathetic and supportive of Miss Baek, viewing her as a victim of an entertainment industry that manipulates aspiring starlets from poor families. And everyone agreed that Kim Si Won, Miss Baek's producer, and the one responsible for releasing the video on the Internet, was a cad. There were comparisons between Miss Baek and Miss Korea of 1988, Oh Hyun Kyung, a successful TV actress who fled Korea for self-imposed exile in Koreatown USA after her naughty video appeared on the Internet and wrecked her career.
Unlike Miss Oh, students believe that Miss Baek will weather the scandal and her career will survive if not flourish. She did give an emotional New Year's Eve concert attended by her loyal legion of fans, the same fans that failed in their attempt to block access to her video on the Internet fat chance. Though Miss Baek was conspicuously absent from the New Year's TV shows that showcase Korea's popular singers.
Nonetheless, I believe that Miss Oh paid a much heavier price for a lesser sin. She did something silly with her boyfriend when they were both undergraduates. It ends there. Miss Baek, on the other hand, was desperate for fame and fortune and, seemingly, was willing to do just about anything to further her career. She made her Faustian bargain, if you will, and paid the inevitable price.
One student proffered a decidedly Korean assessment of the Miss Baek scandal: Yes, her singing career will continue, he said, but she is unsuitable for marriage. The other students nodded in agreement.
America, of course, has seen it all before. Miss America of 1984, Vanessa Williams, shocked the nation and rocked the Miss America Pageant when her photos appeared in Jerry Flint's raunchy Hustler magazine after her coronation on national TV. Hugh Heffner's Playboy magazine, to its credit, turned down the photos. That issue of Hustler disappeared from newsstands.
Vanessa, fortunately, did make the right choice in marriage, marrying a guy who gave her a family life and rejuvenated her moribund career. She has lived happily ever after, attaining stardom in movies and music videos and is a frequent guest on TV chat shows. It is as if Vanessa and the disgraced Miss America are different women.
That could never be in Korea, where, unlike permissive America, there are no second acts. A second act for a Korean is going to America, for good.
Hollywood has had much to do with how Americans have perceived themselves.
Americans, therefore, are most tolerant and enamored of movie stars, who, after all, are their alter egos. Stardom, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon in Korea. Those who have it can be different superficially, but matinee idols are not free from the same strict standards that apply to everyone else once their private lives become public scandal. All Korean actresses and divas are Miss Koreas.?Behavior transgressing that ideal ends a career.
Even though the status quo has been challenged by Baek Ji Young's fans and by Hong Suk Chon's brave admission of his homosexuality and even though the Internet has made censorship of cutting-edge performers ineffectual Korean celebrities, despite their exotic appearance, do not live on a Planet Hollywood but do live in a world governed by Confucian mores that apply to all.
America has become so permissive toward movie stars and celebrity athletes (the line has blurred) that the actor Robert Downey Jr, for example, continues to appear on The Ally McBeal Show while his drug abuse is front-page news and could send him back to jail. And how many second chances has the drug-abusing baseball player, Darryl Strawberry, had
Meanwhile, one drug offense is the kiss of death for a Korean actor or athlete.
Permissive America's ho-hum response to the release, on the Internet, of Pamela Anderson's tawdry video is in stark contrast to Confucian Korea's apoplexy over its starlets?videos.
Pamela Anderson, as all pubescent boys know, is the original Bay Watch?babe, and was married to the drummer Tommy Lee of Crew. Her fame and fortune have been made possible by silicon, endowing her with the most famous bosom since the zaftig Jane Mansfield. Jane's, however, was her own.
It neither surprised nor shocked anyone that there was an X-rated video of the blonde bimbo and her degenerate rock 's roller. Everyone assumed that those people did that sort of thing.
X-rated is such a quaint expression nowadays.
The Internet may allow edgy performers to bypass Korea's puritanical censors, yet Korean films and TV especially remain firmly under their thumbs. Once upon a time it was that way in America.
The censorship of Hollywood was a crusade led by Cardinal Spellman of New York, the most powerful Roman Catholic prelate of his day and a force to be reckoned with. The Old World Jews who ran Hollywood's studios and practically owned its movie stars were compliant with the cardinal's designs on upholding Catholic standards in motion pictures (movies).
Before the old studio system broke down and was replaced by so many independent filmmakers, mounds of censored film were left on the cutting-room floor of many a Hollywood blockbuster, including, for instance, the best parts of Gina Lollobrigida's exotic dance in Hen Hur as well as undertones of homosexuality among Roman centurions in the film's bath scenes. But the numerous independent filmmakers, many of which did not produce in Hollywood, were impervious to the pressure tactics of the Catholic Legion of Decency ?the tip of Spellman's spear whose mission it was to uphold Catholic standards in Hollywood by exerting pressure on the major studios.
American television remained strictly censored long after Hollywood's standards collapsed because the wonderful world of television, until the advent of Cable TV, was the fiefdom of three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) that were even more vulnerable to censorship pressure than were the Hollywood studios. Compared to the movies, television was positively prudish. Pregnant, for example, was a taboo word not to be spoken on American TV in the 1950s and 0s, while married couples on TV shows often slept in separate beds and headless mannequins were substituted for models in bra and girdle commercials.
One device employed by Hollywood to get around, and tease, the censors was the Torpedo Bra, the Super Bra of its day. The Torpedo Bra was always worn under a tight sweater, a literal in-your-face to the censors. Those bountifully endowed sweater girls seemed to defy gravity, and my adolescent eyes anticipated everything busting right through their tight sweaters. They also lent credence to an Oscar Wilde aphorism: The human body is not erotic, clothes are.
Then there is an anecdote about the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, producer and director of Tings, the classic aviation film and winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1928. One day, as the story goes, the director of one of Mr. Hughes films met with the tycoon to discuss a dilemma that he (the director) faced over the choice of a leading lady: the choice of the starring role in the film is between an accomplished Broadway actress and a rank beginner, said the director. the beginner can't act worth a damn, but nobody looks better in a sweater. To which Mr. Hughes replied: Five the slobs what they want.
The writer is a professor in the Dept. of English Lang. & Lit. at DU.
Sheridan The Dongguk Post
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