Former 2PM leader
By Han Sang-hee
It has been a week since Jae-beom, from JYP Entertainment's boy group 2PM, left the country amid criticism on comments posted about Korea on MySpace four years ago.
The top boy group is still leaderless, and the controversy and pleas regarding his return have not weathered.
Everything happened in a flash, and people are scratching their heads as to the reasons for this outcome, pointing to the widespread nationalism many Koreans have toward famous figures whenever they make a mistake.
Koreans are quite sensitive to what they see as inappropriate remarks and acts by stars and public figures. If the remarks are negative toward Korea, the situation becomes a bigger issue.
Many local and foreign celebrities and VIPs, both local and foreign, have become victims of their off-the-cuff remarks, and Internet users, or netizens, have bashed them online even before the news hit the stands.
``People tend to have a sentiment of seeking to bring down a successful figure. This time, it was Jae-beom. This sentiment has been snowballing as the situation escalated following wide media coverage,'' Hwang Sang-min, a psychology professor at Yonsei University, said during SBS the ``Current News Debate.''
This may be understood as a type of patriotism, but sometimes the love for the country can go overboard to the extent where it becomes an excessive emotion, rather than a tolerant characteristic.
Jae-beom is a third-generation Korean-American.
Many Koreans generally interpret things from the perspective of nationality.
When the Virginia Tech shooting spree took place in 2007, Koreans generally felt sorry for the incident as the shooter was a Korean-American. But the U.S. media interpreted the tragedy as the making of a deranged student.
Many netizens have, in fact, expressed their anger at Jae-beom by writing that he should go back home to the U.S. if he didn't like Korea.
In similar light, young Korean-American males who have to decide on their citizenship experience a dilemma.
``When I tell people that I'm American, they tend to think I chose my citizenship to skip military service,'' said a 25-year-old Korean-American, identified as a Hwang. ``It was my choice, but it is inevitable to feel a bit uncomfortable when mentioning the fact that I chose to be an American instead of a Korean. We know Koreans are sensitive to this issue, and we understand that this can make some people a target.''
In the book ``Toward Citizen of The World,'' writer and veteran journalist Ko Cheol-jong points out that Koreans have warm hearts, but lack forgiveness and tolerance.
``If the Korean public turns its back on you, it is difficult for you to spring back up again. For foreigners who know this Korean sentiment, the Korean `jeong' can seem a bit scary,'' he writes.
Fans, Media and Internet
If nationalism was one of the backdrops, the fans and the media were the tools that spread the news.
``Local fans these days are very collective and they know how to use the Internet. The media are sometimes slower than the fans, but it's true that the overwhelming information and comments posted online can sometimes be a big burden for both the public figure and Internet users,'' an entertainment agency executive told The Korea Times.
Many point out that sensational media coverage and headlines are responsible for fanning the knee-jerk emotional backlash.
According to the MBC program ``PD Notebook'' on Sept. 15, the number of articles regarding Jae-beom's comments posted on the Internet was approximately 90 on Sept. 5, but currently stands at more than 6,400.
``Instead of trying to seek truth, sometimes it is more important to know what others are thinking. The public leaned toward the massive reports and opinions and that is why the public sentiment turned ugly against him so quickly without seeing the whole picture,'' professor Hwang said.
``It's a double edged sword,'' said another Korean-American identified by her last name Min, who added that it was disturbing to see fans being polarized in such a short period.
The past week was a hard one, not only Jae-beom, but also his fans, friends and his agency, which has been under the radar for being too ignorant about the case.
The agency and Park Jin-young, commonly known as JYP, posted a comment Thursday evening on the fans' demands that Jae-beom should return.
``I have been carefully monitoring the criticism toward Jae-beom, the comments about bringing him back and also the tolerance about giving him another chance. Jae-beom has not changed his mind and he is still too sorry and ashamed of standing on stage,'' Park said he wanted to respect the singer's opinion and he believed his role was to help him when he says he wants to return to the stage.
``I apologize for not being more attentive to protecting the artists who belong to the agency, and I promise we will do our best to avoid any further incidents like this in the future. The (remaining) six members of 2PM will continue their activities as scheduled,'' Park wrote.