Jang Dong-min, T-ara and when the misogyny of the Korean entertainment industry all gets too much

As woman, no, a person, who cares about gender issues and women’s rights, you have to learn to take a step back on a fairly regular basis if you want to actually enjoy Korean entertainment.

I like to think I have become pretty skilled at this over the years and have learned to channel my thoughts into productive criticism of the industry and understanding of people and cultures that are different from me and mine.

But sometimes it all gets too much and today is one of those days.

Jang Dong-min has been saying horrific sexist, violent things about women for a long time and getting away with it. Praised for it even. It’s just his character. He’s quirky. He’s just a bit angry. It’s all fine.

jang dong min

What a cad!

 

Today, a new low was struck, even for him, when it emerged that, on top of the other terrible things that have already been uncovered, he and fellow comedians Yoo Se-yoon and Yoo Sang-moo mocked people with physical and mental disabilities and joked about using drugs and handcuffs to rape women. This came just a day after news broke about Jang Dong-min being sued by the survivor of a tragic building collapse who was offended by his mockery of her.

Realising that perhaps, even for their brand of nasty humour, they had taken it too far (and likely fearing for their jobs – Jang Dong-min has already been suspended from his radio show) they arranged a press conference to apologise. In a slightly theatrical manner, they made statements and bowed to the crowd of journalists. Jang said:

“I know whatever I say is not going to be enough. I interacted closely with my listeners while making the program. I wanted to talk closer to them. My words became harsher as I was only thinking about making them laugh, and I began to look for more shocking things to say. I didn’t know that those words would be hurtful to some. I was only thinking about being funny. I apologize for my careless behaviours. I want to apologize to the people and their families who were hurt by what we have said.”

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This apology is symptomatic of a larger issue. That he didn’t realise it would be hurtful says a lot as does his assertion that his statements were driven by the desires of his audience. Their popularity is clearly driven by a nasty desire for humour which mocks and belittles groups considered to be weak, or at least weaker than a bunch of 30-something male comedians.

But what really got me today wasn’t that, it was the difference between the comments on the articles about this and articles about Eunjung from T-ara’s upcoming appearance on MNET’s 4 Things Show.

While most of the comments about Jang Dong-min were negative, many of them were oddly passive. It was an inevitability, a mishap, a misguided step into territories unsuitable for public broadcast:

[+9,379, -1,012] Not his fan or anti but I feel like he was a time bomb waiting to explode with the way he talks. Even if not through ‘Sixth Man’, he would’ve exploded sooner or later.

[+7,548, -678] It’s going to be hard for the three of them to be able to say anything on TV for a while…

[+6,694, -724] Did they really not think that their old controversial statements would get them into a scandal?

Others were willing to fully accept the apology as soon as it was uttered:

[+6,757, -1,348] They still have a future ahead of them. Just take this as an opportunity to further develop themselves and improve. Understand that celebrities are the establishment and use your influence to help those who need it with your promotions.

[+5,573, -3,347] Sigh, why are people being so harsh on them even after they apologized

[+851, -60] Just don’t repeat your mistake and make sure to reflect over it…

[+803, -81] Apology accepted~ don’t do that next time!!

Meanwhile, Eunjung spoke briefly, and fairly reasonably, about T-ara’s bullying scandal which is now nearly 3 years old and the response was the same as it has always been:

[+29,571, -2,854] Why does it look like she’s putting on a show to me

[+26,179, -1,622] It’s best to stay quiet sometimes

[+21,805, -1,980] The tears of an alligator ㅋㅋ

[+11,822, -1,314] Is she trying to copy Yewon tsk tsk

[+3,652, -208] No one’s going to still care when they talk about it in 10 years ㅋㅋ

No one really knows what happened with the T-ara scandal and we never will. Maybe the group were bullying Hwayoung. Maybe they had a bad week. Maybe, as Eunjung and Hyomin argued pretty convincingly, there were a series of misunderstandings and bad decisions that were made that the group now regret.

One of the only things we do know is that their company Core Contents Media under the management of former CEO Kim Kwang Soo was a terrible place to work, even by K-pop standards. The group were overworked every day of the year, made to perform with serious injuries, at points starved and pitted against each other in a public forum by their CEO.

In that environment it might be a little understandable that the group would behave unreasonably and perhaps even a little cruelly towards each other, even though that might not make it right. But understanding is not something that is often afforded to young female celebrities.

A young woman in the limelight is always doing something wrong. Suzy’s too stupid, Yewon’s too rude, Nana’s too friendly, Hyorin and Soyu aren’t friendly enough, Ailee can’t be a victim because she took her clothes off once, Hara and Seungyeon have bad attitudes, Taeyeon’s sly… the list goes on and on.

Meanwhile Jang Dong-min’s apology starts gaining acceptance as soon as it leaves his mouth and other male celebrities can commit serious violent crimes up to and including killing a pedestrian and trying to hide the body and still return to screen.

Watching the Korean entertainment industry feels like a constant game to see which young woman is going to be mercilessly torn to pieces next. While entertainment industries around the world engage in this, in Korea it’s almost a bloodsport. And it’s not just in Korea itself, international fans of K-pop and Korean dramas can be just as bad.

Women on Korean TV are often construed as liars – girl group songs are full of lyrics that aren’t about sex, even though they clearly are; drama leads who have spent episodes pining over a man suddenly don’t want to kiss them; mothers-in-law are almost universally evil and so it goes on. It might not be surprising, then, that there is a fascination with tearing young women down at every opportunity. They deserve it after all.

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  • shar

    Very interesting read!

    • http://beyondhallyu.com/ Lizzie (beyondhallyu)

      Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  • http://www.orionsramblings.net/ Orion

    Very good read and very true. And yes, international fans are no better. I am sick and tired of the word ‘sponsor’ coming up every time a horrible actress is cast in something. Nobody ever assumes all the male actors who suck would have a sponsor a.k.a sugar-daddy that gets them their roles.

    Oppapologism is not uncommon with actual crimes or disrespectful acts and words either. From k-fans to i-fans to the content we view or listen itself, you can find the misogyny everywhere. Even if there are thankfully many who are better than that. Works, fans, artists. Let us hope those will increase.

    • http://beyondhallyu.com/ Lizzie (beyondhallyu)

      It’s a tricky one because these things almost definitely exist but people take an odd glee in asserting that that must be the reason for their success.

      Indeed. It’s been nice to see some more progressive dramas (cable, especially) in the last year or two.

      • http://www.orionsramblings.net/ Orion

        Oh I have read up on it. The percentage of female entertainers asked to do that is huge, but if Jang Ja Yeon’s story taught us anything, it’s that these women can be more victimized than perfectly willing and happy to sell their body for hope and gigs.

        Also, realistically, powerful people have all the girls they need. They can’t make miracles happen and if they have any business sense, would not do it for one girl. It usually seems to be lower level folks who make a breakthrough that way and that makes sense.

        So when something like this, a societal problem, is used as a way to diss a woman for her acting skills (along with my second favorite, “she is ugly”), it just shows how nasty the commenter is and how big a part of that problem.

  • http://atkmagazine.com/ Cindy Zimmer

    Interesting read! While it’s true for a lot of societies, the pressure (and negativity) seems to be way more pronounced in the Korean entertainment industry towards women.

  • goldengluvsk2

    kinda late but awesome read…! I thought for a long time that the public were merciless, especially with idols, but there are things that even male idols can do without getting a single negative comment… they can talk about porn on public broadcast! others say they smoke or quit smoking and its okay! How many female anything -actresses, idols, reporters, athletes, etc.- can say something like that without being called names? This “understanding” is selective and its so infuriating how T-ara after all this time and the Survivor-like environment they were back then with their crappy CEO cant seem to get a break…

    • MeMyselfandI

      don’t make this out to be a sexism issue. This is an issue that was brought back up thanks to the media play of Star Empire so they can get their pathetic talentless twit on Infinite Challenge. T-ara was misunderstood, but still garnered success – Baek Ji Young had a sex scandal – super popular, very famous – Uhm Jung Hwa was noted as being overly sexual in a conservative culture – she’s the goddess icon incarnate. Don’t make this into something it’s not. He’s being punished a second time for something he already repented for, so if you do not know the whole story on what was said, and why he said it, you really should go do some Googling because you have much to read to educate yourself

  • Atoli

    It makes me kind of sad to realize that I needed this article to truly understand how horrible many of the things are that Jang Dongmin has said in all kinds of programs. Because the gender issue is so overplayed (especially on the internet) all the time, even women get annoyed by it. But we should never forget that there’s an actual reason why the topic is there in the first place; because such different treatment still exists.

    Woha, I feel kind of brainwashed now x,x
    Laughing at his rape jokes and thinking to myself that women complaining about similar behaviour and talk in korean pop culture in general should just suck it up instead of overdramatizing every little thing is exactly what leads to a culture in which young women can be pushed to such crazy extremes because they try to keep up with the impossible expectations thrown at them by fans.

  • Atoli

    It makes me kind of sad to realize that I needed this article to truly understand how horrible many of the things are that Jang Dongmin has said in all kinds of programs. Because the gender issue is so overplayed (especially on the internet) all the time, even women get annoyed by it. But we should never forget that there’s an actual reason why the topic is there in the first place; because such different treatment still exists.

    Woha, I feel kind of brainwashed now x,x
    Laughing at his rape jokes and thinking to myself that women complaining about similar behaviour and talk in korean pop culture in general should just suck it up instead of overdramatizing every little thing is exactly what leads to a culture in which young women can be pushed to such crazy extremes because they try to keep up with the impossible expectations thrown at them by fans.

  • MeMyselfandI

    I am saddened to read that many of you are too idiotic to see the underlying issue. First, allow me to point out that this already resolved “scandal” was well over a year ago, and comes back into the media spotlight just as he was about to be announced as the 6th man on Infinite Challenge – obviously set up by the “why the hell was he even considered” Kwanghee from Star Empire, a company notorious for media play. Second, yes, his comments were over the line – but that’s his character. Kind of like how Jerry Seinfeld prances around pretending to be a comedian, when he’s not even funny. Or Yoo Jae Suk acts like nothing bothers him, when it’s all an act for the camera/microphones. Many of these celebrities are completely different people behind closed doors and with close friends. Except Kwanghee – he’s still a talentless hack no matter how you slice it. 3rd, why the lawsuit all of a sudden? This issue was already resolved and apologized for. Now, he has to apologize again? I don’t condone the things he said – which falls along the same lines as what Park Myung Soo has been infamous for saying for years. But many of you support less than outstanding citizens (i.e. Justina Bieber, Drake, Lil Wayne, Kobe Bryant, etc.) so before any of you have the audacity to cast the first stone, first look at those you look up to or find entertaining and see how squeaky clean they are – matter of fact – look in the damn mirror and see that you, yourself are far from perfect

  • legal is fun

    So happy i found this website!