A couple of weeks ago SBS’ long-running entertainment variety show “Running Man” officially introduced a new loveline — an on-screen romance — between two members. While entertaining, it is also disquieting to see people forced into a romantic construct that is not of their making.
Lovelines, the real or faux on-screen romances on Korean entertainment programs, are exploited by both cast members and producers to jump-start interest, provide fan service, and to open a slew of possible entertaining moments notable enough to wind up in the news and trend on search engines.
This kind of entertainment goldmine is especially viable if the participants are attractive and eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. One network, in particular, has become proficient in honing in on popular would-be couples and banking in on the fan-led fantasies.
SBS is behind the massively popular “Monday Couple” of rapper Gary and actress Song Ji-hyo born during the first years of “Running Man” and later capitalized on the viable connection between Kim Jong-kook and singer Hong Jin-young on “My Little Old Boy.”
Just a few weeks ago, the network officiated the loveline between permanent cast members Song Ji-hyo and Kim Jong-kook (the same one on “My Little Old Boy”). In doing so the networks answered the prayers of a dedicated subgroup of the show’s fans who refer to the couple as “Spartace,” a combination of their “Running Man” nicknames “Sparta” and “Ace.”
Admittedly, the episode first episode where the cast, guests, and staff seemed conspired to play up every one of their interactions was very entertaining. More than the embarrassing reactions of the Song and Kim was the ingenuity of the cast in finding ways to tease the two — including an impromptu rendition of Kim’s song “One Man.”
The most recent episode of “Running Man,” the cast was divided into two groups where they had to find and eat a cheaper dish of food than the opposing team. While simple in concept, the dynamics of each team was unique enough that laughs came easily, especially from the team that had the show’s new loveline couple in a group with Haha and Yang Se-chan.
In fact, the episode was so entertaining I decided to watch it again. During the second watch through, the interactions and reactions of the members took on a new somewhat disquieting light.
As the cast members (especially Haha and Yang who deserve an award for their work) and crew continued to bank in on the loveline between Kim and Song, it became clear that while the two took the teasing in good humor that it also made them uncomfortable.
With Kim and Song having been colleagues and friends for close to a decade, the loveline appears to have created a shift on the show that the two may not have been fully prepared for. This is unlike the loveline between Kim Jong-kook and Hong Jin-young on “My Little Old Boy” and occasionally on “Running Man” where the two are placed in clearly constructed situations and understanding their relationship dynamics when on set.
Whether they do have any romantic feelings for each other or are just friends, is it okay to profit from their discomfort that may have repercussions even when the cameras are off?
This issue is connected to the broader topic of fan-service. In fictional works, it is when non-plot affecting elements are added to please the audience. In K-pop, it is when celebrities engage in behavior that is not normal for them for their fans. This can include but is not limited to such acts of physical intimacy like holding hands, hugging, and cheek kissing.
While fans of shows and groups may enjoy and even find these kinds of interactions and lovelines exciting and satisfying, it can also lead to unforeseen consequences — especially if those involved don’t enjoy it themselves.
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