Posted : 2011-11-24 16:54
Updated : 2011-11-24 16:54

Land of concerts

By Lee Chang-sup

Foreigners may question why many Korean concerts have no singers, musicians, orchestras or choirs. They soon realize that in Korea, concert sometimes means lecture, meeting, talk show, comedy program or promotion, not musical event. Concert has become a buzz word here. IT mogul Ahn Cheol-soo is probably the first Korean who transformed a lecture into a concert-like communication forum.

He has become the No.1 national celebrity who would be the President if the presidential election were to be held today. He earned fame after his informal, interactive, casual lecture-like “Youth Concert.” The dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology crisscrossed the country for the concerts. He compiled lectures and published books, which became instant best-sellers. He has now suspended the Youth Concert as he has become the focus of media attention.

The KBS 2 Gag Concert, which airs every Sunday night, is a comedy program. Even seniors must watch it if they want to know what’s going on in society. Senior executives would become outcasts during their Monday lunch chatting with juniors unless they watched Gag Concert the previous night. They may not win the hearts of juniors unless they use jargon used in the show. Many jokes and trendy words pop up during the program.

The Gag Concert’s popularity is attributable to its satirizing of the President, politicians and social ills in a paradoxical, amusing and foolish way. One episode satirizes the government’s time-consuming formality and lack of seriousness in tackling a crisis.

Rep. Kang Yong-seok of the governing Grand National Party filed a libel suit against Gag Concert comedians. He contended they berated the lawmakers and the National Assembly. His threat backfired, however; in fact, the lawmaker faces litigation and a loss of his National Assembly seat for his sexist remarks at a gathering with university students.

Why are these two musician-less concerts popular? They take a light touch to the serious events and misery people on the street feel. They do not impose any one fixed perception or dogma on audiences. They try to sympathize with the audiences and viewers through communication, not a one-way lecture. The otherwise sleepy lectures and infantile comedies become lively and humorous.

Koreans love something entertaining, sympathetic, exciting, pungent, provocative, stimulating, sensational and spicy. They shun seriousness and heavy topics. Especially young people, accustomed to two-way communication through Twitter and Facebook, love to share ideas and to sympathize with each other. Viewers want to escape from their sometimes heart-less, soulless and dry daily lives, and economic hardships such as unemployment and income polarization. This also reflects their cynicism toward the current winner-takes-all society. To paraphrase American sociology professor John Huer’s statement in his book, American Paradise. The Gag Concert is the epitome of hidden ironies, contradictions, illusions, delusions, paradoxes, dilemmas and absurdities in Korean life.

As the Youth Concert and Gag Concert have become popular, many advertisers have adopted the concept in marketing. Authors held autograph concerts to promote their books. Ramen maker Nongshim held a marketing event, called Sharing-Love Concert. It donated 23,000 boxes of ramen to the needy through the promotional event disguised as a concert.

Cheil Industries, a fashion subsidiary of the Samsung group, held Talk Concert in Busan for its promotion.

These promotional events seldom have any musician, choir, musical band, or orchestra on the scene, however.

The governing Grand National Party has the nickname, the Grand No-Communication Party. Its Chairman Hong Joon-pyo tried to mimic Ahn’s Youth Concert but it backfired.

During his awkward, paternalistic and authoritarian one-way lecture to 30 students in Seoul, he could not hide his fits of emotion and derided his party opponents who challenged his leadership. He said, ``I am the president of the Korea Taekwondo Association. I want to chop, kick and beat these sons of bitches detractors. His abusive vulgar statements immediately became the No. 1 real-time key word on portal sites. Despite his retraction, he drew jeers from social networks.

Rep. Park Geun-hye, the undisputable presidential candidate of the GNP, took a belated move to communicate with college students. She is mimicking what Ahn has done so far.

Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, feels frustration as his approval rating as a possible presidential candidate, is in the single-digit range. He has yet to realize his popularity is dependent on his communication skills, not on his anti-FTA stance.

He and other presidential hopefuls must change their communication skills if they want to command popularity from the young voters.

There is worry about the Youth Concert and Gag Concert, however. They are sometimes provocative, cynical and critical, but seldom provide a solution. They rely on sentimentalism and sympathy, not on rationalism or logic. They satirize even issues that need deep and serious thought. They fantasize real-world topics like movies.

What is the purpose of a concert? Making lecturers stars, or giving hope and consolation to the young.

Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. His email address is
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