S. Korean entertainment agencies lack programs for education and human rights awareness

Posted on : 2019-03-23 20:40 KST Modified on : 2019-03-23 20:40 KST
Teenage artists are mainly taught etiquette to avoid public censure and controversy
Big Bang member Seungri and singer Jung Joon-young
Big Bang member Seungri and singer Jung Joon-young

Entertainment agencies are being singled out for blame in the wake of major sexual crime scandals involving Big Bang member Seungri and singer Jung Joon-young. With artists spending most of their day with the agencies while being groomed as trainees from a young age, the businesses should be providing an educational role in lieu of the performers’ families or schools – but most are more or less entirely lacking in programs to install an awareness of human rights and sensitivity with regard to gender. The “character education” curricula that the agencies do provide are more along the lines of etiquette training to avoid public censure.

The Hankyoreh’s recent investigation of education programs at 10 of South Korea’s entertainment agencies – including major businesses like YG Entertainment – found seven of them to be providing character education for performers in training. Employees explained that education in areas outside of singing and dancing was instituted around 2010 as K-pop grew in stature and entertainers’ activities began coming under closer scrutiny. The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) also began providing basic cultural education for teenage artists in training at all agencies around a decade ago. A total of 18 categories are provided to the agencies – including sex-related issues and methods of approaching press interviews – and visiting lecturers are sent to give talks on the chosen areas.

But in most cases, the character education the trainees receive is focused on how to avoid rubbing the public the wrong way. The agencies were tight-lipped, insisting they could not reveal specifics about their educational programs “at such a sensitive moment.” But the content was said to focus mainly on etiquette and manners.

“Their focus is on warning against things that could cause controversy for entertainers, with things like giving courteous greetings and other etiquette, how to respond to fans, and how to use social networking services,” explained one agency.

Some of the content comes across as high-handed, including measures to intensify scrutiny of daily activities – rather than addressing more fundamental issues – when a fellow performer becomes involved in a scandal.

“After the recent situations with Jung Joon-young and Seungri, we’ve instructed [performers] to avoid going out drinking as much as possible and explained about how to manage group mobile chat rooms,” said an official at another entertainment agency. Some agencies instruct performers to use the messaging service Telegram instead of KakaoTalk.

Performers taught to avoid controversial subjects like feminism and gender

But amid the more practical focus of the education, evidence of programs to instill awareness of human rights was in short supply. At a time when gender issues have become more important than ever, at least one agency has been “teaching [performers] never to talk about things like ‘feminism’ and ‘gender,’ which they say leads to controversy.”

“I was shocked at how the people in the Jung Joon-young’s group chat room were circulating illegal footage and didn’t even seem to recognize that it was wrong to disparage women,” said popular culture critic Jeong Deok-hyeon.

“The problem is that even though times have changes and people’s perspectives have changed, there’s no education being given on the sexual awareness sensitivity and understanding of human rights to suit that,” Jeong suggested.

Some argue that the need for education is even greater after trainees have “graduated” and made their debut.

“You face more temptations after you debut and start gaining popularity,” explained a fourth entertainment agency. Once a debut has been set, performers travel around in company-provided cars and are assigned three or four staff members including a coordinator and hair and makeup specialists – all of whom treat the performer like a star.

“There’s a kind of ‘pride competition’ among agencies where they make a big deal of assigning as many staffers to new artists as possible, which ends up leading the performers succumbing to sense of privilege,” said an official at a fifth entertainment agency.

This sense of privilege is what leads in turn to artists like Jung Joon-young and Seungri objectifying women, engaging in mockery and hateful behavior, and even becoming indifferent to illegal behavior amid their popularity and wealth. This is why entertainers with greater popular influence are seen as being in need of even more scrupulous education.

“A veteran like Seungri who entered the entertainment industry in his late teens has lived his life according to the pleasures shared by the business world, without ever having an opportunity for a proper education,” said Jeong Deok-hyeon.

By Nam Ji-eun, staff reporters

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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