Stars: Extraordinary to OrdinaryA look into the diversification of star personas
Kim Hwa-young  |
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승인 2008.10.28  17:08:51
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BEEP, BEEP! Beep, beep! To the sound of the abrupt early morning alarm, most people wake up still deeply immersed in sleep, with neither makeup nor neat hair. However, such a scene had been an exception to some: stars on TV. Stars were always portrayed with makeup, tidy hair, and dressy clothes even when they were pictured as having just gotten out of bed. Nonetheless, along with the popularity of reality programs, celebrities have started to show a diversity of natural everyday images, unlike the past when they only tried to maintain pretty or handsome images. They have not only conveyed the message that stars are also human beings just like the general public but also shattered the prevailing illusions regarding stars. Star personas evolved as society changed.

The new flow

   Various kinds of star personas are presented mostly in reality programs like 1 Night 2 DaysInfinity Challenge, We Got Married, and Here Comes the Family*, which have gained a lot of popularity these days. Stars like Seo In-young, Kim Gu-ra, Park Myung-soo, and Noh Hong-chul were already known for displaying their own distinct features. Lately, stars like Lee Hyo-lee, Lee Seung-gi, and Eun Ji-won have also stepped into the flow, while presenting characteristics disparate from their usual ones.

Such multifarious star personas have emerged as Korea became democratized in the 90’s; however, it is just now that these new star features are gaining more of the spotlight. “Around 2005, entertainment programs diverged from old-fashioned formats. The system changed from having a fixed format with different stars each time to fixed stars appearing in a variety of program scenarios, without a set format,” says Kim Yoo-kon (Producer/Director, Entertainment programs Dept., MBC). As a result, more distinct star characters were initiated in an entertainment program called The Great Challenge**. Then came Infinity Challenge, which set the creation of manifold star characters, followed by many other reality-based variety programs.

  General image of Lee Hyo-lee  


  Lee Hyo-lee's everyday image in Here Comes the Family  




The concept of characters, a constituent of soap operas or sitcoms, has newly expanded to entertainment programs. These intentionally fabricated characters, known as cast, used to be bestowed only to actors in soap operas or sitcoms, whereas in reality programs the characters are combined with the actual personalities of the stars. On shooting sites, unanticipated situations occur as a star’s real characteristics unfold. While watching these scenarios on TV, the viewers eventually begin to wonder, “How much of what I see is real?”, which is indeed the charm of reality-based shows. If the world of broadcast television seemed far apart from reality before, displaying a star’s true character, based on his or her personality, has become the current trend.


*In Korean: 1 Bak 2 Il, Muhan-dojeon, Uri Gyolhonhaetsoyo, and Family-ga Dduta

**In Korean: Daedanhan-dojeon

The underlying reasons

 One of the reasons behind the trend involves the active outflow of the public’s desire for cultural expression. This can be explained in a historical context. In the 1970s, when TV was propagated among the public in Korea, there were political restrictions, and accordingly, censorship of the media. This continued until the 1980s, but after the Pro-Democracy Movement in 1987, Korean society became democratized. Since then, the public’s desires, once suppressed by authorities, burst open. “Everyone has a desire to become the main character. This desire converged with the concept of individuality, which was emphasized in the media on the whole,” says Kim Chang-nam (Prof., Media & Communication, Sungkonghoe Univ.). The public’s craving for self-expression, and the strategy of TV media, were in accord with each other, resulting in the regularization of multiform star characters. Also, “The way that TV provides enjoyment as well as entertainment to the public appeals to their appetites. Generally, this feeling of satisfaction is aroused psychologically when people see the silly or faulty aspects of popular people. Once people see such images, they rethink their pre-set views of stars from an object of envy to being not much different from themselves,” explains Kim Chang-nam. Moreover, the mass media provides the feeling of belonging and homogeneity to contemporary people, who feel lonely at times. These star characters recently put an emphasis on showing natural human aspects. Regardless of being good or bad, these personas appeal more to the public, for people tend to feel familiar with such features.


  Lee Seung-gi  


  Lee Seung-gi in 1 Night 2 Days  





The Internet has played a vital role as well. As people’s access to sources of mass media increased, they became more aware of broadcasting and editing techniques. Furthermore, from numerous news articles and gossip, people hear about many celebrities’ actual behaviors, which differ from their apparent appearance. This led people to believe that stars who have seemingly nice characters are simply pretentious and hypocritical. Since people’s knowledge concerning both broadcasting system and information about stars have increased, producers preferred to make star personas as real as possible, based on the different personalities that stars possess.

   Another cause for this new flow is that the Korean society itself has become more open than in the past. This new desire for openness reflects how Korean society has become more diversified and commercial-based. In terms of diversification, people’s attention scope widened. If attention was centered only on the top stars before, secondary actors and stars are gradually receiving more attention these days. “In the past, people merely headed for the ideal model; on the other hand, now, people’s range of favorability has widened to even approve what was considered as alternative before,” says Kim Hun (Vice-director, Institute for Korea Cultural Strategy). “Presently, secondary stars like Park Myung-soo and Noh Hong-chul have become the best, at their own level, as an alternative to the top level,” continues Kim. To backup the fact that society has become more diversified and open, Kim Yoo-kon has experiences to share. “At the end of 2005, I cast Seo In-young as an MC for Over the Mountain, Across the Water in Exclamation Mark*. Even at that time, she was headstrong and materialistic, and people criticized her for being thoughtless, so I had to replace her with someone else shortly afterwards. Seo In-young has currently not changed much, but people do not denounce her anymore.” This proves that society has become more magnanimous and embraces more diverse values. The current society also became more profit-based, because people acknowledge stars being outspoken about their hedonistic desires on TV. Even just a few years ago, such behavior of stars was never broadcast because there was a tacit awareness to not show such desires to the entire society. In reference to this reality, Kim Ja-ha (Soph., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies) comments, “When I first saw Seo In-young and her materialistic behavior, I thought it would not be right to incite consumption. Yet, as time went by, I realized that we came to accept spending behavior patterns without hesitation.” In a capitalistic society, it is apparent that people earn money in order to fulfill not only their needs but also their wants. The societal atmosphere has changed into one where people approve of such behavior, and do not reproach others for revealing such desires.

*In Korean: San-numgo Mul-gunno in Neuggimpyo 


Seo In-young


Possible consequences

   TV is a trendy media that captures a glimpse of the changes in society and presents it to those who are not yet aware of these current trends. It eventually affects the constituents of society, and, in the same context, entertainment programs and miscellaneous star characters are influential as well. The multi-faceted star personas reflect the openness of Korean society, and the change in people’s attitude in acknowledging their desires, including that of either expression or materialism. Viewers see such features of diverse star characters on TV, which display societal change, and put these characteristics into practice themselves. This brings about more change, which the TV grasps and broadcasts again, forming a continuous cycle of mutually influential relationships between TV and the public.

   In the current era, diverse cultural content is evaluated by popularity as well as the wealth that ensues. Therefore, there is a need to evaluate the values that entertainment characters convey when broadcast on TV. “An entertainer who spreads negative and disorderly values may evade criticism, simply for the reason that he or she is funny. However, positive culture still exists and is morally desirable,” says Kim Hun. In an interview held by MNET this August, asking Seo In-young whether she thought of a certain image to personify in reality-based variety programs, she said, “No. I am not good at planning something intentionally. Silly, negative images are all parts of me. Even if I don’t know when they will come back to me as abuse, it is just me.” As the quotation confirms, “In the process of embracing more diverse star personas, undesirable traits inevitably occur. This is why viewers should monitor TV; however, fixing the borders of what is good and bad is very tricky. In this confusion of values, people become more distant in acquiring ways to make the right judgment. Reading books is one way, but many people are reading fewer books due to an abundance of other media resources. Due to these reasons, the gap between people’s inferences and proper judgment widens, so it reverts to evaluating people by wealth,” says Kim Hun. Thus, the more unorthodox elements are accepted in society, the more discreet decisions are required.


Points to reconsider

   There is a need to take a close look at whether the star characters have indeed evolved or not. On the surface, the situation may seem as if there are many different star personas, but, intrinsically, they lack cultural depth. A case in point that shows a lack of cultural depth could be found in the current café culture of Korea. “Recently, people use Starbucks and similar enterprises, while tea houses have disappeared. Although it looks as if there are many types of chatting places like Starbucks, Hollys Coffee, and Angel-in-us Coffee, these are in fact the same sort of venue. Instead of looking at this change in chatting places as a mere phenomenon, people should think about how to create unique chatting sites and furthermore the entire chatting culture,” says Lee Sang-yong (Prof., Dept. of Cultural Theory and Criticism, Yonsei Univ.). Likewise, current reality programs, though they are apparently different and diverse, are actually strikingly similar. This question equally applies to star personas. At a glance, they seem to cover many different aspects, but are analogous in reality. “In the current state of flux, various star personas are gaining popularity by fandom or the enthusiastic opinion of the majority. This popularity lacks in-depth contemplation on how to create Korea’s own mass media identity; it is a one-dimensional culture,” says Lee.

  1 Night 2 Days  


  Infinity Challenge  

  We Got Married  


  Here Comes the Family  

In Korea, both the press and the entertainment programs are evaluated with one criterion: how they influence educational, informative, and ethical standards. The more advanced a country, the more distinct the separation between the press and entertainment programs. “Entertainment programs and soap operas profit from their content; thus, it is inappropriate to evaluate content with simple press standards. Just as we consider movies as content, we should look at entertainment programs by themselves,” says Kim Yoo-kon.


*           *         *

The currently inflated cultural phenomenon of star personas is favorable in that it mirrors how open current Korean society has become. Broadcast characters look diverse on the surface; yet, as a matter of fact, only similar fragmentations of stars’ behaviors in everyday affairs are shown. However ideal it might seem, more emphasis should be put on each star’s individual, disparate originality from the inside, in order to bring about the true multidimensional diversification of star characters. The need for deep introspection is relevant to individuals of the public in general, because many people these days often tend to look up to attributes that others possess. In today’s world, individuality is highly valued. Why not take a thorough look into our unique identities and form special characters of our own?





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