Does celebrity mean that you can’t be an individual? On the contrary, it is the one factor that defines and elevates a person to an artist.
Earlier this month, the rookie actress arrived at the airport to head off to France for the acclaimed Cannes Film Festival. Her most recent film Burning by auteur director Lee Chang-dong had been nominated to compete at the festival. As a result, the director and cast, who included Yoo Ah-in and Steven Yeun, would be attending the event as promoters of the film, actors, and default representatives of South Korea.
While Jeon Jong-seo had likely prepped herself for her upcoming schedule in France, she was completely unprepared for the cameras and reporters who showed up to record the departure of the stars. Hair disheveled and barefaced, the actress is photographed shielding her face and occasionally giving the prying camerapersons, who followed her into the airport, what looked to be an annoyed look.
Unfortunately for Jeon, her actions resulted in a substantial media-lead backlash where many reporters fired on the actress for what was perceived to be rude behavior and treatment of the media. Following the incident, the actress attempted to clarify her actions and prevent further repercussions. In one interview, Jeon explained that she had been dealing with personal matters that day. “I cried a lot for personal reasons. While crying heavily, my picture was taken on the spot.”
More she questions which, the media or her, were “right” in this situation but admits she did make a mistake that day. However, while she makes this admission, Jeon insists that it was for a good reason. Further, she also commented that as a rookie actor she is not used to heavy media attention and was unsure how to react.
Her reasoning is pretty understandable. Who would want to have their picture taken while emotionally distressed? Moreover, how many of us are used to a horde of cameras and reporters taking our picture and following us around an airport?
Notwithstanding admitting some fault, Shin Na-ra, a writer from the Korean news outlet TV Report found her apology lacking and her behavior pretentions. In an opinion piece, Shin writes that Jeon is attempting to hold herself to a different standard from other celebrities with her attitude.
Shin explains that for many stars, their departure schedule including arrival time, flight number, and even their gate are announced to reporters in advanced. Sometimes this is just for publicity’s sake while at other times, celebrity wants to be photographed to advertise sponsored clothing.
Due to celebrity departures normally being public events, the reporter goes on to argue that the “departure of Jeon Jong-seo is by no means a personal schedule,” for the simple fact that she is an actress heading off to an important event. “As an actress who was invited to a festival (Cannes), she went abroad with a face representing Korean movies,” Shin writes. As such, ” more courtesy was needed” from the actress towards the waiting media.
However, in an official statement from her agency MY COMPANY, the actress has no sponsored products on that day, and as such, she had a closed itinerary. This means that the agency did not release information regarding her departure to reporters in advance. However, because it was announced that the cast would be leaving that day some information was published to the media by chance.
Notwithstanding the agency’s statement, according to the TV Report writer, it doesn’t matter if celebrity schedules are public or private. As soon as an entertainer is in front of a camera they “can no longer be just an individual,” and must be mindful of their actions. In front of the camera Shin asserts that Jeon “has to be an actress” and must “manage facial expressions and speech.” Lastly, the reporter writes that these expectations and rules are part of the life of a celebrity and that if she “wants to continue [her] acting career in the future, [she] should follow basic etiquette first.”
Comments responding to the article condemn and argue that the author is unreasonable. In the top ranking comment, a netizen writes that the article “is too threatening” and that “actors are human” too. Beneath the first post, a netizen writes that “I agree with the actress that her actions are not wrong” and told Shin to get straight to the point and say that they are upset that a “new actress would dare to ignore the reporter.”
Like the first two, the rest of the comments iterate that Jeon, although an actress and celebrity, is a human. As such, she is inclined to make mistakes, feel emotions, and most of all not be perfect. What these responses highlight are the unrealistic and dehumanizing standards that the media, and some fans, hold celebrities to in Korean society.
The idolization of celebrities in South Korea has resulted in a standard of perfection that no one can realistically reach. Their looks, behavior, actions, and treatment of others are all scrutinized for fault. Not only that, but they are expected to bear this standard without complaint. In return, they can continue as a celebrity without trouble.
Earlier Shin wrote that as a celebrity Jeon Jong-seo cannot be an individual and that in front of any camera she must be an actress who manages her expression and speech. As a result, she discounted whether the media attention is expected (welcomed) or not. Moreover, by expecting her to always be an actress or “in character,” there is a demand that she separate herself from identity and humanity. If Jeon wanted to continue acting, Shin implies that she needs to learn how to do this.
While there are documented phases of celebrity, including some developing a chasm between the “celebrity self” and the “authentic self,” this is not to be idealized nor really necessary to survive as a star.
The mentality presented in the article greatly contrasts with how entertainers are treated by western media where the individuality of the star is exalted. More than anything else, celebrities are examined not for how well they submit to societal expectations, but how well they can stand out from them as artists. This is true for actors and particularly prevalent for musicians.
Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Drake, Panic! At The Disco, Taylor Swift. Looking at these artists, there is a clear and distinct image that comes to mind. Their image and reputation are created based on them being first and foremost individuals and the expression of that individuality in their work.
Additionally, while many hope that celebrities will be role models who use their elevated platform for good, this has never negated the fact that they are human. Even though this hope does exist, it is accepted that stars can choose to rebel against such expectations.
There is a budding movement among South Korean entertainers who are taking risks to be individuals in the spotlight through supporting different causes or being open about their opinions and feelings. While some may find their actions controversial, their space to do so should be honored.
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.