Is Yu-na victim of own success?
By Kim Ji-soo
Is it the envy or something deeper that is triggering the Kim Yu-na sniping? Perhaps Kim is a victim of her own success.
The Korean star figure skater was criticized for her beer commercial and accused of putting on a “show” when she did teaching practice. Kim is a senior at the physical education department of Korea University.
These criticisms seem to be unfair for an athlete who won the country’s first figure skating gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics, successfully promoted the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games and staged ice shows in Korea.
“People respond differently when heroic icons from the public domain move over to the commercial domain. Once these heroes become a commercial commodity, they tend to resent it and ponder how it will affect them,” said Pak Soon-yong, a professor of anthropology and education at Yonsei University in Seoul. “They tend to see them as facilitating the commercial system.
“In the United States, the public is tolerant of sports stars promoting cereals and other products, i.e., of earning gains through their commercial identity,” said Pak. “But in conformist Korea, people are wary of standouts.”
The 22-year-old has appeared in a slew of commercials whose earnings are reportedly in the tens of billions of won.
Kim is not the only sports star to appear in commercials. Former Major Leaguer Park Chan-ho is rapping in one commercial and flashing his broad smile in another.
“The image of Park and that of Kim is different,” said Song Jae-ryong, professor of sociology at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
Park, at 39, has played 17 years in the United States and briefly played in the Japanese professional league before joining the Hanwha Eagles, a Korean pro team.
“People do not necessarily see it as being odd that he makes money through other ways. But the image or perhaps our wish regarding Yu-na is that she is pure,” Song said. And naturally, the public expectation is that she will largely stay that way.
Even as Korea enjoys a booming economy, Koreans’ perception toward wealth remains bifurcated. People dream of owning a standard two or three-bedroom apartment in Gangnam, and desire to drive a swanky car, yet aboveboard, they express distrust and wariness.
“It’s part of our history, the masses have a collective memory of having led a harsh life under rich landowners and gentry,” said Song. The lack of trust in how the rich got wealthy continues in much of contemporary Korea.
Song added that Yu-na is more of a celebrity.
“Here, we expect celebrities or public figures to be role models with high moral standards,” he said, adding that the commotion will likely continue in Korea, which is different from, say, Western countries.