I normally stay away from awards shows and Korean television in general, but last night I found myself at a condo in Gyeongju with eight Korean women who wanted to watch the SBS Music Awards.
The atmosphere was festive — samgyupsal, ramen and the usual smorgasbord of liquor that accompanies these kind of weekend getaways. So who was I to dictate what we watched on TV? Besides, Lee Hyori was co-hosting and wearing some kind of sexual baby bib (photo via PopSeoul) that was more than enough to keep my interest.
As far as I could tell, the program was more of a musical review (as in pop music medleys) than an awards program. But after some 2 1/2 hours of this stuff something happened that almost made me sick. I became so agitated I had to get up and walk out of the room.
This guy, Jung June-ha, was on a TV show called High Kick!, that, as far as these shows go was moderately tolerable. It was on for a few months, was all the rage, and then went off into the night. He’s also on one of the inane vaudeville-style comedy shows that pepper the airwaves in South Korea. No, let me rephrase that. He’s on THE inane vaudeville-style comedy show. Ultimate Challenge, the show beloved by nearly ALL Koreans — old, young, women, men, politicians, doctors, garbage-men, prisoners on death row — everyone.
But sometime toward the end of 거침없이 하이킥 aka High Kick! (in Korea shows often end after one season), a bar the Jung owns in Seoul (I believe in Apgujeong – a little like TriBeCa in NYC) was found to be a prostitute bar.
There was a lot of public shock and scorn, and since High Kick! was still popular, it made the nightly news. Of course, with so much to lose, the guy had to come out and deny he had any idea the women employed at his bar were selling their bodies.
Now, this all fits in with part of a Korean Agreed Fallacy that denies that 75% of the bars in Korea aren’t selling women in the first place. Right, the owner of the bar had no idea. Like he doesn’t go hang out there every night after he finishes shooting his stupid shows. As if a comedian in Korea owns 50 bars across the country and has no idea what any of them are up to. Especially the one he owns in the richest, hipest, most visible district in the country (outside of Kim Jong-il’s bedroom). Sure…no idea.
It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if the guy had just come out and said “Hey, I’m an f*ing pimp.” But he didn’t. He did quite the opposite. I saw a newsclip of him stumbling out of a van, going into some kind of police station, looking harried and dizzy, as if he’d just been told he had a month to live. Pure shock. Hair messed up. Red faced. Nearly blind by stress like Cliff the mailman.
I didn’t follow it closely, but the scandal disappeared. The guy said he had no idea. If I’m not mistaken it was played off as if the women had banded together and were selling themselves on the side unbeknownst to him. People let it go. I didn’t give it much thought after that. He was still on both shows. Still playing the same jerk with curly hair he always plays.
Back to Saturday night. At the end of the SBS Awards they decided to actually give out an award. Some generic “entertainers of the year” kind of thing. Of course, the comedy show that every Korean living and dead watches, the show that’s playing on at least six channels every day of the week, wins the award.
The guys on the show, who were sitting at a table practically on the stage, acted as though a martian had just climbed out of a wine glass and had chosen them to fly to the moon to try the newest vintage of moon wine. They sat there stunned, even the guy with the dyed blonde hair and goatee who I’d yet to ever see with his mouth shut, was silent. They all slowly stood up. Knees shaking and the rest. I understand…they have to show everyone that they haven’t been sitting there for the entire 2 1/2 hours planning their congratulatory evening at Pap Smear’s whore bar.
So they come up to the stage. One of them — the requisite short, funny-looking guy — walks to the mic and starts making like he’s going to cry. This seems a bit over the top to me, but whatever. I’ve seen worse. He starts talking about how tired he is, how hard they all work etc. The usual stuff Korean entertainers say in front of a camera. Then he starts crying. Not big sobs, but after he sat there and scrunched his face for a minute, little driblets came out. He stuck his head out to show everyone his tears, finished, and walked to the back.
Then the camera goes to tampon head who kind of pauses in the back, as if he’s unable to move – long enough so that the camera can zero in on the fact that he’s pausing in the back and is unable to move. He finally starts sauntering to the mic. He’s crying too. Fine. The show is almost over. He’s covering his face as he walks. He starts speaking in a very grave tone. Says something about how doing the show is a little annoying because he’s always tired. Everyone in the SBS audience and our Gyeongju condo (except me) laughs. He coughs. But then I notice something. He’s not crying! Not a hint of a tear. The video below leaves things a little digitized. Trust me, as opposed to the guy before, pimp daddy’s eyes are dry as a desert. Why? Because even HE can’t fake it that hard. Because he knows he’s a pimp and a hustler, and now he had to pretend like he has a soul. Guess what? He can’t! So what does he do? He puts his hands back up and keeps rubbing his eyes and hiding his face like the fowl that he is. He coughs into the mic and rubs his eyes some more. He makes crying sounds. Groaning a little. Says sorry. He CAN’T DO IT. He’s a pimp but because he’s an entertainer in Korea he has to pretend he’s this virtuous twat. But he can’t. So he stops. He starts talking normally for a bit so he can say his speel.
Then, as he starts to wind things down, and again, as if he almost forgot he’s supposed to be a sensitive pimp, he throws in a few coughs and eye rubs – strikes up the band again.
Like I said I had to leave the room. I can’t explain why it made me so angry. This isn’t a sociological exploration. It’s a rant. I’m usually pretty good about keeping a lid on that while living here. It’s totally counterproductive. There are too many foreigners in this country who walk around hating everything and everyone around them. I’m not that guy. If Korean entertainers and entertainment start driving me up the wall, then everything else will follow. I’ve sensed this since I moved here.
But like I said…it was the night Korean TV finally made me lose my sh*t.