South Korea’s Cancel Culture

by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

Cancel culture has been a buzzword for quite some time now but just recently, the buzzing sound became really loud when a rising star from South Korea became involved in a scandal and got “canceled.”

I am rarely bothered by the personal lives of celebrities but this one really affected me and many Korean drama lovers whose hearts have been captured by this celebrity named Kim Seon-ho.

Kim Seon-ho started as a theater actor before appearing on screen. He rose to fame with the 2020 K-drama series Start-Up where he played as the second lead. He broke many hearts over “second lead syndrome” as many were rooting for him instead of the main lead.

He was finally given a chance to take the lead role as Shin Min-ah’s co-star this 2021 with Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha which aired on TvN (Korean cable channel) and Netflix.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha was a story about a dentist who moved from the city to a seaside village and a handyman who is loved by the community but haunted by a dark past. It’s a romantic comedy that tackles relevant issues about marriage, pregnancy, family and so much more.

The makers of the drama meant it to be a ‘healing drama’ and it definitely delivered. The show’s eight-week run gave its viewers comfort, feel-good vibes and a roller-coaster of emotions. It became a hit that it has made the top 10 on Netflix in more than 20 countries.

But just right after the airing of its last episode, a scandal surrounding Kim Seon-ho broke out.

An anonymous post on a local social media platform circulated claiming that Kim forced her to take an abortion. It was later identified that the poster was his ex-girlfriend who was a weather forecaster and an influencer.

She also described the actor as one who was greedy for money and very different from what the public perceived him to be. Kim Seon-ho later issued an apology letter for his careless and inconsiderate actions.

Brands being endorsed by Kim one by one took down their ads and commercials. His face has been removed from their social media platforms. He has been removed from a famous show where he was a regular.

His future projects, including two movies he will be starring in, have been put to a halt. He also faces a hefty penalty for breaching his advertising contracts – for being involved in a scandal.

In other words, he has been canceled overnight.

This is not the first time this happened in South Korea. Many celebrities, mostly starting and rising ones, have been canceled because of exposure and allegations of their misconduct either done in the present or even in the past. And many have a hard time going back.

The South Korean media industry is highly competitive and vicious. It holds a high standard for everyone who wants to remain on the playing field. A simple scandal – verified or not, a tarnishing of reputation can destroy one’s career.

This is a very stark contrast to Hollywood and the Philippine show business where actors and actresses can continue with their careers despite getting involved in nasty scandals.

According to an article by South China Morning Post, a sociology professor Song Jae-ryong explained why brands, corporations and the public are so quick to distance themselves from celebrity scandals:

“Celebrities stand out and draw the public’s attention, people tend to be less tolerant of any perceived moral or ethical misconduct. They market a certain image to raise their value, they are met with bigger criticism when the image is outed as a fake, so people could become angrier, and they express their opinions strongly.”

I think there is nothing wrong with holding people of influence to high standards and being accountable for their actions, but to be judged wrongly and ruined big time for being human who makes mistakes can be fatal. This led to many Korean celebrities committing suicide.

My friends and I who have learned to love Kim Seon-ho for his charm, excellent acting, cute dimples and warm smile, are very sad that we will not be able to see him for a while unless a miracle happens to allow him to bounce back quickly.

But more than the fans and viewers losing the chance to see him on screen, I am more concerned about his mental and emotional health who worked hard for several years just to gain his well-deserved attention only to lose it overnight over a scandal/unverified anonymous post about a ‘mistake’ he has done in the past.

This goes true for all the celebrities who have been canceled and misjudged.

As for Kim Seon-ho, several reports came out a few days later invalidating the claims of the ex-girlfriend. Though the actor remains mum about the issue, friends came out to share the other side of the story.

Kim Seon-ho has been receiving overwhelming support from fans – Koreans and foreigners alike. Many are standing by him, fighting for him and still rooting for him. Many are hopeful he bounces back from this fall because he is truly deserving.

We are all broken people. No one is perfect. We all have dark pasts. We all have made mistakes we deeply regret. But our past doesn’t have to dictate our present and define our future. Just like what a dear friend of mine said:

“Normal people like us can move on without a trace of our past mistakes. Celebrities don’t have that luxury. But they are humans too. They make mistakes. A life is a life. But don’t we all need grace? Don’t we all need God? Extend grace if you can. If you can’t, maybe you should throw the first stone?”

I hope that we learn to cancel cancel culture. No one deserves to be canceled. What one needs is a second chance. We all do.

Read More Personal Reflections:
The Race Begins
Binge-watching K-drama: Finding Respite from the Pandemic

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