Protecting our idols‘Superstar K,” the local version of the popular U.S. music talent show “American Idol,” attracted more than 1.34 million viewers across Korea in its second season.
That amounts to roughly twice the number of people who tuned in for the first season of the show, which airs on cable television.
Teenagers account for the bulk of the viewership. So many young Koreans aspire to get into the entertainment business, talent scouts joke, that auditions are now as intense and competitive as the civil service exams.
But there’s a dark underside to the country’s entertainment world. Under the current structure, companies that manage and recruit talent wield enormous power over teenagers hoping to become the next Korean idol. These teenagers are also under enormous pressure to “make it” in the business no matter the circumstances.
So it’s no wonder that exploitation and abuse are rampant, as highlighted in a survey of teenagers in the industry by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
About 60 percent of underage female entertainers who responded to the survey, for instance, said their booking managers or agents have pushed them to expose as much skin as possible in their appearances.
Singers and dancers in female idol groups are sent on stage dressed up in sexy outfits, and they perform sensual dance moves to lure in adult men.
These adolescents suffer from sleep disorders and depression because of the constant demands to appear sexy, according to the study.
They are also deprived of their rights to study and pursue a professional career.
Many are forced to drop out of school and are subjected to horrendous work schedules that leave little time for education, let alone fun with family and friends.
The conditions they work under are barbaric compared to what young entertainers in Western societies experience. The teen actors in the Harry Potter movies, for example, are on set no more than nine and a half hours a day, three of which are reserved for private tutoring.
There’s currently a campaign in Korea pushing for laws that would ensure student athletes get study time each day, but teen entertainers remain neglected.
The current star-making machine here does not even guarantee teenagers the opportunity to earn an education.
We must remember that these teenagers are still vulnerable and need the protection and encouragement of adults.
If the nation does not change the entertainment industry’s current structure, we will fail in our responsibilities to Korea’s youth.