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Celebrity activists

Posted July. 20, 2011 08:54,   


The U.S. home shopping channel QVC recently canceled a plan to promote “Prime Time,” a book authored by actress Jane Fonda, who actively campaigned against the Vietnam War. This is because of protests from viewers who criticize her for having engaged in the anti-war movement. Fonda was severely criticized by American veterans when a picture in which she smiles sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun of the Viet Cong was released. She later admitted her mistakes several times but never caved in to pressure in sticking to her opinion against war.

Celebrity activists have grabbed the spotlight again in Korea as actress Kim Yeo-jin staged a lone protest demanding the halving of college tuition. When she visited cleaning workers at Hongik University to support their protest, Kim received a good response in that she raised awareness in an area where media outlets did not focus. After she showed up at several protests, including a strike at Hanjin Heavy Industries and demonstrations on college tuitions, some satirically called her an actress who appears more on the news than in movies or TV dramas.

The major broadcast network MBC has issued a new regulation limiting the appearance of those who support or oppose a certain group on social issues on the network from making official comments or actions. Due to the regulation, Kim was removed from a panel on a radio program. In response, Seoul National University professor Cho Kuk and writers Gong Ji-young and Lee Oi-su announced that they will snub appearing on MBC, claiming the regulation infringes on freedom of expression. If a celebrity who sides with one party on a controversial issue appears on TV, viewers could misunderstand that MBC has an extreme opinion. This applies not only to celebrities but also to professors and doctors, so it is not discrimination against celebrities.

What celebrities say has a great impact on youths, who cannot yet discern what is right and wrong. When mad cow disease surfaced as a topic of social debate, certain celebrities made unscientific comments that made them appear in a bad light. Networks, which use public airwaves, should also utilize stricter standards in selecting celebrities unlike movies or performances that receive investment from individuals. Today, a “socialtainer” is a buzzword in Korea that refers to a celebrity activist. The term is not in an English dictionary. Hopefully, Korea will see true celebrity activists such as actor George Clooney, who visits Darfur, Sudan, to promote world peace, and not those who simply focus on domestic politics.

Editorial Writer Song Pyeong-in (pisong@donga.com)