[Viewpoint] Leave Kang Ho-dong aloneAfter popular television personality Kang Ho-dong announced his “tentative retirement,” he has been keeping a low profile. He mostly stays home with his family and doesn’t pick up calls except from his manager and close friends. When his friends want to have dinner with him, he invites them to his residence. Kang is afraid of being seen in public. Friends worry he may be developing a social anxiety disorder.
Kang said that having been a champion Korean wrestler, he thought he was strong. But a scandal over tax evasion has taught him that he has vulnerabilities. Kang has all the reasons to feel wrongfully accused, and the tax evasion allegation was the top story on the news. But he is trying to learn from the experience and become more mature.
But society is not leaving him alone. Yesterday, a sinister tweet that included a play on words that suggested the death of Kang shocked the community. It went too far. Moreover, the Grand National Party stirred up public opinion by leaking a rumor that Kang would join the party. It didn’t even give him a heads up in advance.
The chairman of the party made him a figure of fun by saying, “We would have to bring in Kang Ho-dong to fight off any substandard challenger.” He showed no respect for Kang as an entertainer or as an individual. Everyone who knows Kang says he has no intention of getting involved in politics.
The constant harassment of Kang gives the impression that the entire society is becoming one big variety show. If you think the “Youth Concert” events, a lecture series attended by young people, were the driving force of Ahn Cheol-soo’s phenomenal popularity, you should think harder. Those lectures only reached a limited number of people over a limited time and in finite spaces. Not many people became his supporter after reading his book, even though it was a best seller.
The most crucial factor in Ahn’s rise was his appearance as a hard interviewer on MBC television’s “Mureuppak Dosa” in 2009. The viewer ratings for the episode was 16.6 percent. After two years, the episode had an unprecedented number of online replays, magnifying Ahn’s reputation. You can easily find shorter, edited versions of the show, and cable channels play reruns constantly.
On the show, Ahn, who graduated from Seoul National University College of Medicine, confessed that he was an average student in elementary school. After being compared to Bill Gates, he humbly said he was uncomfortable with such praise and that the size of his business was completely different.
This televised sincerity and modesty became the foundation of the Ahn syndrome. Stock analyst and surgeon Park Kyung-chul and writer Lee Oi-soo also rose to celebrity status after appearing on “Mureuppak Dosa.” Viewers empathized with the personal stories of the nonentertainers. And now they are more famous in cyberspace than their native fields.
As the Grand National Party clings to Kang, it reveals its nervousness over an entertainment-obsessed society. The ruling party is also anxious to find some kind of counter to the hottest political parody of our time, the podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda” (“I’m a Petty-Minded Creep”).
However, the conservatives cannot match the liberals when it comes to politics of emotion or rhetoric. Instead, they should find values by defending the boundary of our society. Most of all, the ruling party needs to shake off the high-handed attitude that they know better than the young generation; that they have “been there, done that.”
The Grand National Party’s courtship of Kang is a reflection of its anxiety. The ruling party should leave him alone and let him rest. The line has to be drawn so that entertainers are in charge of entertainment and politicians are responsible for politics.
Kang shines as a star when he can be himself. We need to quietly watch how he attains his dream of remaining a television personality who gives hope to the people. I am looking forward to his return around early next year.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Chul-ho