What Hur victory symbolizesA 25-year-old repairman won what has become the biggest televised singing contest in Korea. The audience’s response to the season finale of “Superstar K,” which aired on the local music cable network Mnet, was so hot that the show had record-high cable ratings of 18.1 percent, almost double that of other television programs that aired during the same hour. More than 1.3 million people applied for the chance to be on the show and a similarly large amount of 1.3 million text messages were sent in as votes during the final round.
What made Superstar K so popular among viewers and what does Hur Gak’s victory symbolize?
In the eyes of viewers, Hur, who came from a low-income, single-parent family and is part of the so-called 880,000-won-a-month generation, was likely perceived as one of the many underdogs in our society. Just 163 centimeters (5 feet, 4 inches) tall and somewhat stocky for his height, he was clearly less handsome than his main rival. Unlike his U.S.-educated competitor, Hur only has a middle school education and cannot speak English at all. After his win, he said: “I never thought that I was the protagonist of my life and I am satisfied with my role of supporting someone else.”
Although his excellent singing ability played a part in his winning the contest, it is not enough to explain how he won the support of the thousands of people who sent in their votes via phone or the Internet.
Those in power may need to deliberate on what Hur’s win means for our society as a whole. It goes far beyond a simple singing contest to represent the people’s thirst for justice as well as the numerous grievances plaguing our society.
Of course, the phenomenon could also be the result of television companies exploiting our need to express our empathy and the satisfaction we feel at seeing someone win a large sum of money. One could also dismiss it as just a passing trend. Still, the values the television contest embodies - fair competition, transparency and two-way communication - may be just the virtues our society needs.
During the three months the program was on the air, our society has been scarred by redundant nepotism scandals in both the cabinet and the National Assembly.
We believe that the public, having been disappointed by such unfair practices and the government’s lack of communication, has finally found an example of hope in the poignant story of Hur Gak.