‘Song for you’ sent the wrong message

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‘Song for you’ sent the wrong message

“A Song for You,” a controversial variety program on SBS, concluded on Sept. 26. The three-part series followed a group of students at an alternative high school being guided by singers Lee Seung-cheol and Eom Jeong-hwa to compete in an international choral festival. The show featured students who bullied and harassed others, and viewers were concerned that their unapologetic attitude would hurt the feelings of the victims once again.

The final part of the show focused on changes in the students. In interviews, several said, “I don’t do bad things any more,” and “I say I am sorry to those I had bullied, and I am afraid the bad deeds that I committed will happen to me.”

In the competition, teachers and parents cried, and Eom Jeong-hwa embraced the students. The program also showed how these students were studying hard alongside general-education students.

Social networks responded at once. Many were impressed and moved, while critics insisted that the ending didn’t change what the miscreants did.

The program seems to have been inspired by El Sistema, an orchestra project for underprivileged youth in Venezuela, a model of music education that gave children, some with five juvenile convictions, a new meaning of life through music.

Where did “A Song for You” go wrong? In the first and second parts, the camera mainly followed the struggling stars dealing with the children without explaining their backgrounds. The program also used games the students played and the overnight trip they took as entertainment devices. The focus was on the competition, not the music. Rather than highlighting the students’ internal transformation through music, it concentrated on missions, challenges and the outcome. During the overnight trip, Eom Jeong-hwa told the students they could smoke.

A female student said, “It’s going to be on television? I will take them out if you turn off the camera.”

Eom responded, “The camera should be on,” followed by a subtitle, “We are on the air.”

Then the camera was turned off for a short yet crucial moment. Rather than communicating with the children or trying to improve their behavior, the show’s entertainment value was prioritized. The producers aired a student’s controversial remark - “I buried other kids in the ground” - not to glamorize his behavior but to maximize the dramatic impact. The program did not begin with a focus on school violence; it used these problem students to make a “moving story of the underdog.”

The program is over, and those who were on the show suffered the biggest damage. They certainly had made mistakes in the past, but they effectively made it public that they were “gangsters.” They lacked communication with the world, and through the choir project they began to get back into society. But they lost their chance again because the program failed to connect with Koreans.

Young students said, “I don’t have dreams.”

The world branded them “losers and delinquents.” This is not “a song for you” but “a scarlet letter for you.”

*The author is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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