The Impersonation: Korea's New Fad

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The Impersonation: Korea's New Fad

Korea, the land of the five-minute fad, has a new craze - for impersonating celebrities. Now everyone who's anyone is required to learn this party trick.

The concept originated in a television talk show called the "Seo Se-won Show." The stars who participate in this show, where their host grades the wittiness of their banter, tried to make up for their deficiencies by aping other celebrities, to the mirth of the audience. Their tricks won them an instant boost in popularity and, almost overnight, the fad for impersonating celebrities spread nationwide.

In Korean, the ability to impersonate has been called "individual skills."

This could be mocking other stars, politicians or even former and present presidents. Shim Hyun-sub, a comedian, stole the show with his impersonation of President Kim Dae-jung, and Kim Ji-hoon, a member of the group DUKE, demonstrated a forte for imitating the comedic character called Maenggu.

The popularity of impersonation is such that the pressure to perform is not just limited to celebrities. Now everyone is expected to have his or her own impersonation - staff at companies and schools, students and church parishioners as well as hosts of television and radio shows.

And woe betide any man looking for a sweetheart who doesn't have his own comedy routine. DAKS club, a marriage agency, recently surveyed agency staff on the traits their women clients most often seek in a man. Of the 80 persons questioned, 41 indicated "ability to perform a humorous party trick." Just 23 indicated "a sense of style" and merely 16 "polite and pleasant manners." The best advice for single men may be, throw away the suit and chivalry, and get practicing in front of the mirror.

Not everyone is happy about the new frenzy for impersonation. For Kim Eun-ah, 26, who recently joined a company, the mere thought of the welcoming party, where everyone showed off their party tricks, mimicking celebrities, makes her shudder. A sudden assault of impersonations and parroted dances from her seniors was rather dismaying, she said.

Her enthusiasm drained and she chose to feign drunkenness rather than perform. "I didn't mean to be a party pooper, but the idea that I should stand up and show off my 'individual skills' filled me with dread."

Jung Jun-young, a professor at Dongduk Women's University, remarked, "This fad could be interpreted as the current public obsession with celebrity." He said that when ordinary members of the public copy stars, some feel almost as though they have actually become the stars themselves. And ability to perform a slick party trick is one step toward fame. But Professor Jung went on, "Impersonation is only possible if there's someone to mimic. The fad relies on intrusion into other people's lives."

At the same time, this mimicry could be criticized as lacking in originality. But in today's society, where it seems anything is justifiable in pursuit of a laugh, being able to ape has become essential.



by Kim Jung-soo

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