[FORUM]Entertainers and Double Standards

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[FORUM]Entertainers and Double Standards

A recent crackdown on drug users has alarmed the entertainment world. A popular singer known as "Psy" was nabbed for smoking marijuana, and Hwang Su-jeong, a well-known television actress, was arrested on charges of using methamphetamines. The older generation was shocked that Miss Yejin (a TV drama heroine, whose part Ms. Hwang played) would be involved in drug use. Teenagers said in astonishment, "Psy smoked pot?" But by whomever they may have been shocked, their conclusion is the same. "What else can we really expect from entertainers?"

Are entertainers really idols to us? I don't think so. On the one hand, we admire entertainers as "stars," the flowers of popular culture. But on the other hand, we look down on them, due to the old tradition in which entertainers were regarded as people of humble station. If young entertainers who have emerged as stars because of support from teenagers refer to their "duty as a public figure" in the media, we sniff and say, "What kind of public figures are they?" (They are just humble entertainers.) But when they cause a scandal, we get angry at them, 10 times more than we get at ordinary people, and say, "How can public figures behave like that?"

Entertainers advertise themselves as "public figures" in ordinary times, but if they become the focus of criticism they say, "People criticize me, saying that I'm a public figure. But, frankly speaking, I don't know why I should be." (They have never recognized me as a public figure in ordinary times.)

An American lawyer and former counsel to the U.S. president, John Dean, quoted the U.S. Supreme Court in a column he wrote on who is a public figure. Public figures, the court observed, generally "have assumed roles of special prominence in the affairs of society" and have "assumed special prominence in the resolution of public questions." According to the U.S. Supreme Court, there are "all purpose" public figures, "limited purpose" public figures and those who have become public figures through no purposeful action of their own. Mr. Dean believes popular entertainers "occupy positions of such persuasive power and influence that they are deemed public figures for all purposes," in the court's words. These are people like Ralph Nader, a consumer activist, Julia Roberts, an actress, and Madonna, an entertainer, Mr. Dean said. Are entertainers public figures in our society? How much influence do they have?

Beyond that question of the influence of entertainers, we have a double standard toward scandal-tinged entertainers. We are still punishing Oh Hyun-kyung, an actress, and Baek Ji-young, a singer, who were involved in sex-video scandals. Ms. Oh was cast in a major movie about the navy, "Blue," after secluding herself for several years. But she has faced strong opposition by the navy, which said, "We cannot allow a sex video actress to wear a seaman's uniform." With effort, Ms. Baek is still singing at live concerts and has appeared on some talk shows. But she is still facing difficulties in her career.

After Lee Tae-ran, a television actress, accused her former manager of threatening to reveal an alleged sex film involving her, job offers dwindled. Son Tae-young, a television actress, departed for France after a love triangle scandal with two male entertainers, but the two men have become more famous. Moreover, Ms. Oh's partner in the sex video, an obscure man, has become famous thanks to the scandal, and is now in charge of an Internet broadcast program. Accordingly, a scandal is a gain for men and a loss for women.

The media are quick to say that Ms. Hwang is through, while Psy is not.

A male entertainer can easily rebound after a scandal, even after a sexual attack on a woman, adultery or drug use. We are generous to them. But a female entertainer, even if she is only the victim of a scandal, is shunned. The double standard is alive and well in our society.

Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, said that moral sense comes from the fear of being criticized and punished for our wrong behavior. If we apply the standard of morality asymmetrically according to gender, the standard will have no more value as a guide to living.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee

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