Activist celebrities are today’s court jesters

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Activist celebrities are today’s court jesters


In 1340, during the Hundred Years’ War, the French fleet suffered a defeat at the hands of the English in the Battle of Sluys. The French ministers were reluctant to deliver the terrible news to King Philip VI. It was a court jester who came forward and told the king, “Our knights are much braver than the English. The English do not dare to jump into the sea in full armor.” Called “licensed fools,” jesters were distinguished from other fools by their use of humor and satire to advise the king.

Outspoken court jesters can be found in Korea as well. An entry made in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty on Dec. 29 of the 11th year of King Yeonsan’s reign recorded that a court jester named Gonggil was exiled after giving straightforward advice to the king. Gonggil would later be portrayed as the protagonist in “The King and the Clown.”

The role of a jester who refuses to ignore reality may now be the domain of celebrities who are willing to speak up on important social issues. These so-called “conscious entertainers” are also referred to as “socialtainers,” and they include comedians Kim Mi-hwa and Kim Jedong and actress Kim Yeo-jin, who has openly supported rallies calling for half-priced college tuition and the labor strike at Hanjin Heavy Industries.

People have mixed views on these outspoken celebrities. Critics say that because celebrities have a great impact on society, they should be prudent when expressing their opinions. In contrast, the young respond favorably. They feel as if the stars are fighting for them. Moreover, many young Koreans feel that the older generation, especially politicians, is incompetent.

A few days ago, a Japanese insurance company surveyed who the Japanese want to lead the country in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake. Takeshi Kitano, acclaimed actor and director known for “Fireworks” and “Kikujiro,” received the most votes. Known for his outspokenness, he has said, “No lawmaker in Japan is doing well” and “Everyone has a different capacity, so it is extremely irresponsible to teach kids they can make their dreams come true if they try.” Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has been criticized for his management of the crisis, came in 19th in the survey.

Regardless of the actual viability or political chances of these celebrities, it becomes clear why the public buys the voices of the “conscious entertainers.” They may be the court jesters of our time.

*The writer is a culture and sports reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By By Ki Sun-min
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