By Yoon Won-sup
When American politics scholar David Schultz coined the term ``politainer'' in 1999, he meant a hybrid of a politician and an entertainer will represent the image politics in the media-dominating era because he predicted politicians' image will matter much more than their policies thanks to the media's influence.
The politainer is defined as a politician who is or was an entertainer, or a politician who makes extensive use of the entertainment media, particularly during a campaign, according to the online dictionary Word Spy. Here in Korea the word also covers entertainers who join a political campaign.
Schultz's prediction was valid in the 2002 presidential election and seems to be relevant in the 2007 election too as lots of entertains began openly supporting certain candidates.
Actors Moon Sung-keun and Myung Gye-nam were the perfect examples of Korean politainers who successfully played an important role in gaining support for then candidate Roh Moo-hyun during the 2002 presidential race.
They made rare speeches as actors in an aggressive way for Roh, which sometimes went under fire from the opposition.
Myung once said during a campaign, ``Entertainers who support the New Millennium Democratic Party (Roh ran for the presidency on its ticket) are entertainers of sense but entertainers who support the Grand National Party (GNP) are those of nonsense.''
Politainers in 2007
Who are the politainers in the 2007 election?
Presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak of the conservative opposition GNP is on top of the politainer ranking.
So far, some 80 entertainers declared their support for the former Seoul mayor. Well-known entertainers among them are actors such as Baek Il-sup, 63; Yu In-chon, 56; Lee Duk-hwa, 55; Chung Hung-chae, 44 and MC Lee Sang-yong, 63.
Those entertainers joined Lee's camp since Lee was competing with former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye to become the party's standard-bearer several months ago.
For example, Chung appeared in public more than 10 times whenever Lee made speeches.
But the entertainers were cautious about their support of Lee because it reflected negatively on their entertainment careers.
They say that they are supporting Lee not because they want something in return but because they think Lee is the right person to become President.
Yu once told reporters that he supports Lee because of his personal relations with the former Hyundai CEO. But Yu made it clear that he didn't want his support for Lee to be interpreted as politainer activities.
Female entertainers supporting Lee include actress Eum Aeng-ran, 73; Sa Mi-ja, 67; and Yeo Un-gye, 67.
Some of Lee's politainers spoke out so much against other candidates that they came under media spotlight.
About two weeks ago, Baek said, ``Independent candidate Lee Hoi-chang deserves beating up to the death. Lee Hoi-chang should be careful when walking in the street at night because he may be beaten up.''
Though Baek regretted saying that, his remarks brought huge controversy of whether it is appropriate for entertainers to support or oppose a certain politician.
Meanwhile, few entertainers declared their support for other candidates.
``No entertainer has yet declared their support for Chung Dong-young, candidate of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP). But we plan to ask for some help from entertainers who personally know Chung,'' a UNDP official said. ``But we can't tell the names of the entertainers now.''
Probably one backer in the official's mind is singer Cho Young-nam, 62 because he, longtime friend of Chung, already showed up to sing a song during a ceremony of Chung's book release in May. But Cho reportedly refused to join the Chung's camp.
History of Politainers in Korea
The first politainer in Korea was actor Hong Seong-wu who became lawmaker in 1978 as the first entertainer-turned-politician and served three terms. Lee Dae-yeop, movie star in the 1950s-1970s, also served as lawmaker three times beginning in 1981.
The politainer politics calumniated at the 14th National Assembly from 1992 to 1996 when four famous entertainers took the Assembly seats.
They were actors Lee Soon-jae and Choi Young-han (nicknamed Choi Bul-am), actress Kang Bu-ja and comedian Lee Joo-il.
However, recent politainers are short-lived compared with other politicians as all failed to serve as lawmakers twice since 1990s.
Though the number of entertainer-turned-politicians is relatively small, the number of entertains who openly express their preference toward politicians keeps increasing.
Why are entertainers entering the political scene? The No. 1 reason is that they are effective in campaigns thanks to their popularity.
A renowned entertainers' appearance in a campaign draws attention from voters and can lead to an improved image of the politician.
There have been many examples of how well and bad entertainers were made use of during campaigns.
Actor Chung Han-young, who served as lawmaker from 1996 to 2000, repeatedly said in interviews with news media that Lee Hoi-chang failed to win the two presidential elections in 1997 and 2002 because he didn't know how to use entertainers for his campaign.
For example, pop group DJ DOC's campaign song for then candidate Kim Dae-jung in 1997 was a success while the former prime minister didn't have such singers, according to Chung.
Not only politicians but also entertainers also make use of politainer activities.
It is because entertainers may get benefits if a candidate they support is elected President. The first minister of culture and tourism under Roh administration was movie director Lee Chang-dong, who was member of a supporters' group of Roh, dubbed ``nosamo,'' during the campaign in 2002.
But entertainers can also experience the opposite scenario as seen in the case of singer Kim Hung-kuk, 48.
Kim baked Chung Mong-joon, independent candidate for the 2002 presidential election who later gave up the run and declared his support for Roh.
But when Chung canceled his support for Roh a day before the Dec. 19, 2002 election, Kim also suffered criticism due to the sudden change in Chung's support.
The singer returned to the entertainment scene six months after the election.