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The Dokdo dilemma for Korean stars

Posted August. 27, 2012 06:14,   


The Korean girl group Kara is under fire for saying nothing about the Dokdo islets, which Japan claims as its territory. When the group was at a concert to promote their fifth EP "Pandora" Wednesday, a reporter asked, `That would you say if asked about Dokdo in Japan?" Kara members were at a loss for words and a moderator intervened by saying, "Please ask questions about their activities in Korea." Since the incident, online media outlets have covered stories with headlines such as "Dokdo means nothing to Kara, the top celebrity in Japan?" and "Kara, was it hard to say Dokdo belongs to Korea?"

Unlike Kara, Korean actor Song Il-guk grew popular thanks to Dokdo, especially when Japan`s deputy foreign minister blasted him for swimming near the islets, saying, "We won`t be allowed into Japan." Song joined the ranks of top Korean stars in Japan through the hit drama "Jumong" but going swimming near Dokdo indefinitely delayed the airing of another drama, "Man Called God," in Japan. Another Korean actor, Ju-won, is considered a hero after appearing in the hit drama "Bridal Mask," which is about Koreans protesting Japanese colonial rule, as opposed to other Korean actors who were reluctant to join the drama.

Japanese fans are praised Kara for saying nothing about Dokdo, with one saying, "That made me think about Kara again," and another saying, "It was wise for them to do so." After actor Song swam around Dokdo, certain Japanese news outlets criticized him, with one saying, "We seemed to have been reluctant to say no to his close friend (and Korean singer) Kim Jang-hoon." Kim is an outspoken and aggressive proponent of Korea`s sovereignty over Dokdo. Others are screening the mindset of Korean celebrities in the wake of the Dokdo dispute, objecting to a video clip in which the pop group Girls` Generation sings "Dokdo is our land" in a rehearsal of an Olympic Stadium concert long ago and a phrase that Korean actor Bae Yong-joon wrote in March 2005 on his website: "Dokdo is the territory of the Republic of Korea."

Kara is a global star that makes more money abroad than at home. Korean fans are proud of the group when it tops Japan¡¯s Oricon Chart as if winning an Olympic medal. But how ironic that such fans throw stones at Kara for not answering a sensitive question for Japanese fans. Just as the Olympics bans political expression, cultural exchanges should remain non-political to allow room for reconciliation. Kara`s leader Gyuri said, "Please understand that we intend to promote Korea." There is more than one way of being patriotic.

Ass`t Culture Desk Editor Lee Jin-yeong (ecolee@donga.com)