“Hello Counselor” is a KBS-run program that brings attention to regular people and their life stories. The show debuted in November 2010 and features hosts Shin Dong-yup, Lee Young-ja and comedy duo Cultwo. Every week, they invite different singers, actors and comedians on the show.
How Does It Work?
The main purpose of the show is to give counseling and conflict mediation. Out of the hundreds of concerns that pour in, the production staff select three and invite those individuals to the show. The individuals then appear on stage with the MCs and celebrities to share their concerns. The individual’s family members, friends, colleagues, or those involved also appear to add another perspective to the story.
The stories range from tumultuous family relationships, uncontrollable habits and addictions, deep-rooted insecurities about one’s appearance, to struggles with expectations and prejudices. While listening to these stories, the hosts sympathize with the guests and ask questions to understand the context of the problem. From there, they attempt to mediate the problem by providing plans of action. If an individual is struggling with a relationship, the other party will also appear on the show and the two will try and come to a peaceful negotiation.
What makes the show interesting is the variety of people who appear on the show. People from all over the country, of all ages, gender and ethnicity are welcome. For instance, the episode that aired on Nov. 13 featured an middle school student, a newlywed couple and a mother. The types of concerns are also varied; the middle school student talked about the embarrassment he felt from his mother explicit sex education and the mother talked about her son’s irresponsible spending habits. In both stories, the mother of the middle school student and the “irresponsible” son came out to tell their accounts of the story. After listening to both sides, it is oftentimes clear that the concern runs deeper and cannot simply be “fixed” by giving light advice like, “That’s wrong, why don’t you stop?”
Is the Show Effective?
Unfortunately, the advice given on the show reinforces deeply-rooted societal roles and expectations. If a young student comes out on a show because of insecurities about their appearance, they are fed with “reassuring” messages like, “You’re pretty! Don’t worry,” or “You have your own charm!” If a wife reveals she suffers abuse from her husband, the husband is scolded for not being a “dutiful” husband.
The MCs and post-production editing do a considerably good job at giving a voice to both parties and mitigating hateful tensions towards the “perpetrator”. However, their advice is often one-sided and fails to give a sense of agency to those involved. It relies on others’ expectations to fix the problem, saying, “Look! You’re beautiful because we all think you’re beautiful” or “You shouldn’t act like that because normal husbands aren’t like that”.
In some ways, it can be reassuring to feel like others have your “back”. It can feel empowering to have another person validate your concerns. In that sense, “Hello Counselor” definitely does serve as a space where people can vent out their frustrations and anger. However, it is questionable whether or not the show is truly providing the right kind of solution/conflict mediation or just adding oil to the fire.
Venting or Counseling?
It is also important to note that although the show provides a space where people can share their concerns, it certainly isn’t a “safe space”. During the show, the guest and the “perpetrator” tell their stories in front of an audience. Depending on the “severity” of the problem, the audience usually cheers or boos, which can instill fear or shame in either party (usually the “perpetrator”) while sharing their story. In the end, the concern is also evaluated or voted on by the audience in terms of whether or not they think it is a valid or “worthy” concern. The number of votes is then displayed on the screen.
In other words, the show makes it appear as if a concern is only a concern if it provokes an emotional audience reaction and manages to collect an enough amount of votes. The vote count is used to “shock” the “perpetrator” and make them realize the severity of the problem. Again, relying on others’ expectations to fuel change.
Unfortunately, saying “Over a hundred people think your actions are wrong,” or “Ninety people sympathize with you,” ultimately removes the problem from the guests’ hands. One’s personal problems or concerns are valid, whether people think so or not.
Using majority opinion and power in numbers to make someone change is the same as shaming someone into changing. If that wasn’t enough, the “perpetrators” who appear on the show are usually bombarded with hateful comments after the broadcast.
Therefore, calling “Hello Counselor” a “counseling” show is inaccurate and a huge misrepresentation of the show. In reality, the show mostly serves to reinforce societal pressure under the false guise of counseling.
By Janet Kang