Is Pressure on South Korea’s Celebrities Leading them to Suicide?, Sunday November 22, 2009 Korea
Nov 22 2009, 12:46 AM
Group: Elite Admins
Joined: 31-October 06
Member No.: 127
Source: MTV IGGY
(1) Here is Daul Kim on a happier day, backstage at the Spring '09 collection of Alexander McQueen.
(2) Korean actress Choi Jin-Sil on the red carpet.
(3) Actress Jang Ja-Yeon one month before her death.
Is Pressure on South Korea’s Celebrities Leading them to Suicide?
Newspapers all over the world write up stories when celebrities commit suicide. We can’t help wondering why those we idolize most — the world’s wealthiest, most beautiful, most talented — would take their own lives. Don’t they have it all? Don’t we want to be them? And won’t we show up anyway tomorrow to audition for JYP – the Korean management firm that trains and manages K-Pop bands, Korean TV stars, and even models?
Though it is not uncommon for celebrities to take their own lives, in South Korea more than anywhere else it has become a trend, and the blogs are buzzing at the recent death of a Korean runway model. Is caused by the country’s demanding entertainment industry, the voracious appetite of its fans, or the plain truth that Korea’s stars face the pressure of also being their country’s ambassadors — as the small country has had so many entertainers reach the international spotlight?
On November 19, model Daul Kim was found hanged in her Paris apartment.
A 5′10″ statuesque beauty who had modeled for Chanel and Topshop and had traveled the world, she found herself gradually becoming an icon for her country, the ambassador for the beauty of Korean women. According to the AP:
In an Oct. 30 entry on her blog, Kim wrote she was “mad depressed and overworked,” and in another entry said “the more i gain the more lonely it is … i know i’m like a ghost.” … Bloggers in South Korea mourned her death, speculating she felt the pressure of high-fashion modeling and a loss of identity.
Kim is also the ninth Korean celebrity to commit suicide over the past two years — joining a list that includes actors, actresses, and even the country’s past president. But though many reasons can lead one to feel desperate enough to take one’s own life, in suicide notes, many of these celebrities cited the pressure of the spotlight.
Last September, TV star Ahn Jae-hwan killed himself, supposedly after rising debts, and soon afterward Korea’s “national sweetheart” Choi Jin-sil committed suicide.
According to Korean entertainment columnist Park Soo Na, one of the reasons could be Jin-sil’s status as a single mother, a woman forging her own path. “Korean society does not like strong women, and thinks single moms have a personality disorder,” she said.
On March 7th this year, soap star Jang Ja-yeon left a seven-page suicide letter behind at her death, accusing 10 TV producers, newspaper CEOs, her talent agent and other entertainment execs of sexual exploitation.
The Guardian mused about whether the source of her struggle wasn’t the “slave contracts” Korea’s celebrities are subjected to.
Whereas some garage bands can have a year of sloppy practice sessions and get signed to Virgin records, Korea’s pop and film stars are intensely trained, supervised, and toured around to celeb functions by a coordinated network of agents, managers, publicists and execs.
In his special behind-the-scenes feature on the world of K-Pop, Edward Chun explained how Korea’s music stars go through intense training. “Ten to 12-hour work days, seven days a week – that is the life of a K-pop star-in-training,” he wrote..........
I asked the group to describe a typical day, and Kevin(UKISS)...filled me in: two hours of exercise in the morning, four hours of dance and choreography classes, two hours of vocal training, and two additional hours for review and language studies. This was their 24-7 schedule – and is in addition to busy days on the road touring, appearing on television programs, or recording music…. I asked them if they felt that their company controlled their private lives. “Being an entertainer, to be honest, especially teenagers who think it’s a glamorous thing – it’s only on-stage or on television,” said Alexander. “Behind the scenes, we put in lot of effort. We are also worried and get stressed about how we can keep being popular, and how to keep our fame and be a successful star.”
K-Pop Star Isak told Chun every detail of her training regimen, including how the management kept tabs on the talent’s love life:
“[T]hey were afraid that we would sneak out. They would put in a house phone for us, and we couldn’t call from our cell phones. We had to call from our house phone to our manager as soon as we walk[ed] in the door [to inform them] that we came in.” Isak also recalled the strict no-dating policy at the time: “No dating,” she said. “You get caught, you pay consequences.” I asked her what the consequences were. “I was threatened that if I didn’t break up with my boyfriend then I would be either cut from SM or not [be] able to debut.”
But it isn’t only the management that doesn’t allow South Korean celebrities to have complete, happy lives. It’s also (gulp!) the fans. In the West, stars that do few interviews with the media and try their best to lead completely private lives are thought of as artistic savants who need their space. Think of Daniel Day Lewis, the American actor who at the height of his career moved to Florence to learn the practice of cobbling shoes, and returned five years later, telling reporters he wouldn’t speak of it: “It was a period of my life that I had a right to without any intervention of that kind.” He went on to win multiple Academy Awards.
In Korea, the lead band-member of pop group 2PM is on hiatus — whether at the bidding of the management or his own inclination — and the fans won’t stop their protests, going so far as to boycott the record and broadcast a sign to the singer via low-flying airplane. That’s a tough crowd to face.
With the eleventh highest suicide rate in the world, Korea’s rate could also, of course, be linked to the country’s averse relationship with psychiatry. “Koreans are very secretive about psychiatric problems,” Lee Myung Soo, a psychiatrist at the Seoul Metropolitan Mental Health Centre, told Time Magazine.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, please reach out. Call LifeLine, where operators are standing by to talk to you about whatever you need to talk about. It works in whatever country you are in, and is completely free and confidential. The phone numbers are available here.
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