In the fast-paced, tireless machine that is the Korean entertainment industry, or any given entertainment industry, we know celebrities only by what they show us. Our bases for judgment rest solely on the roles they play, the acts they perform, and the selves they show on screen. They’re paid to show us their best, and to win our love and attention by doing so. And more often than not, they succeed. We get to “know them well”; we fall for the characters they play and for their countless quirks and talents. But when those same idols and actors make mistakes, when they show behavior that contradicts our knowledge of them, all hell breaks loose. Fans who profess to love them jump to deny their faults and defend their image with a naïve and fiery certainty. Even their agencies may rush to cover up for them. Only when incidents like Park Si-hoo’s recent fiasco roll around are they forced to face the truth: stars are human, too. But to what extent are celebrities responsible for keeping their work lives and private lives in parallel? And how are we, as fans, supposed perceive and respond to such situations?
On the latest episode of SBS’ Thank You, HaHa shared about an occasion when he unintentionally made a child fan of his cry. While smoking with a few friends after work at a shop, a child at the scene started crying, shouting out, “Haroro is smoking!” Out of the goodness of his heart, and probably his newfound sense of paternal duty, he felt responsible. Now, the cuteness and bittersweet vibes of this scenario aside, how responsible is HaHa, actually? Having some down time in a fairly private setting seems to be an irrefutable freedom. But at the same time, a child’s happy impression of Haroro—Running Man’s resident jester, the quirky, kid-friendly Iron Man—just became greatly questionable. That complicates things.
I can’t help but be reminded of when Onew was caught on a “date” with Jungah earlier in the year (and smoking electronic cigarettes, at that!). When celebrities are spotted together like that, on what grounds is it considered a “dating scandal”? Is it taboo for them to have normal relationships? Is it wrong for them to smoke, too? Taken out of immediate context, these questions seem unreasonable and their answers obvious. But when the news breaks out, there’s a part of us that wants to say “Oh no he didn’t!” But yes he did. And as fans, we should learn to understand, and to give these fellow humans room to breathe and grow. After all, nobody asked for squeaky-clean superhumans, just conscientious ones.
On the idols’ side, a certain degree of reflection is called for. In the game of stardom, the rewards are great, but the stakes are even greater. They should tread with caution, not only because there is such a terrible demand for perfection, but also to protect themselves and their fans. Living a high-profile life in a relatively conservative country like Korea that still lives and breathes Confucian ideals means that moral correctness is a necessary step to maintain fame and fortune. Moreover, the pressure of so many eyes weighing down on their every move, and the blind love that so many viewers have for their oppas and unnis should be compelling enough for idols to remind themselves that they carry more responsibility than the average human does. I don’t think any of them signed up to be role models for the thousands who’ve come to love them, but in a somewhat unfortunate way, that duty came in the package deal of stardom.