Anyone who’s watched a variety show knows the set up: get the group together, get them talking and laughing, then pop the question “How would you rank the members of the group in looks?” Ouch. Nobody really wants to call the people you have to live with ugly, especially on national television. That’s why some will dodge the question, rank themselves last so that nobody else ends up getting ranked last, or fudge the parameters of “good looking” in an attempt to spare everyone’s feelings. I don’t blame them. That’s probably what I would do myself. But no producer or host really asks that question to hear a kumbaya session about how everyone is beautiful. They want a little bit of blood, and when the idols oblige, things get uncomfortable.
On a fairly recent episode of Strong Heart, about two months back, Super Junior was predictably asked to choose the ugliest member. And rather than all ragging on each other back and forth, good-naturedly, one person was singled out: Eunhyuk. Ryeowook, in particular, made some particularly cutting remarks, claiming that he was jealous of “everything but his face.” Of course, Eunhyuk laughed along as if it was all a big joke. But he seemed uncomfortable and not at all sad to see the topic change, there’s probably few people who could really blame him. This isn’t the first time that fellow group members have picked on his face, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. It’s got to take superior training in holding your tongue, to avoid lashing out defensively. Who can listen to people who are supposed to be your friends call you out as ugly, to wide laughter and applause, and not take at least a little bit of a hit in the self-esteem department? Isn’t criticism from the netizens enough? Who needs to hear your “brothers” attack you in the same way?
Even if the insults don’t necessarily come from within the group, they can still come from friends of the group. Just check out that little segment that SNSD did with Kim Shin-young, where she asked them to line up in order of relative attractiveness, then she went in and rearranged them. In general, this one was far more kindly than the Super Junior bit. Nobody was really ganging on one member, and the girls were playful with one another. However, Sunny‘s face when Kim Shin-young shuffled her all the way to last place was pretty telling. You could tell that the girl was genuinely hurt, but she took it in stride best as she could. Taeyeon was also uncomfortably outed as being unrecognizable without makeup. Neither could really get offended and defend herself, because that would be failing to play along with the game.
I do understand that there are cultural differences to take into account, and calling someone out on their physical appearance is hardly taboo in South Korea. @#!*% , my own mother will tell anyone who will listen about various imperfections of mine I’d rather not have broadcasted. The thing is, it’s super uncomfortable that the people the idols should be able to trust in the most are the ones outing them for the sake of some canned studio laughter. I get why the host might pick on the idols. I get why the studio audience might pick on the idols. What I don’t understand is why idols should have to rat out other idols. It’s one thing to share funny and potentially embarrassing stories, it’s entirely another to jump to outright insults. It adds on even more pressure and embarrassment in an already acutely image-conscious industry. They, of all people, should be able to understand this situation and trust in each other. However, it seems that there’s no such thing as trust in the industry. What does it matter to producers if colleagues and friends are putting each other on the hot seat? That means cattiness, gossip, and a more interesting program. It doesn’t make it the right thing to do, though, and my heart goes out to those performers who have to struggle to keep their self esteem out of the gutter, because of constant insults from all sides, including within the group.
What do you think about the variety show set-up? Do you think that fishing for insults has a detrimental effect on the self-esteem of idols and performers?