pop vulture


They don’t care about you, they only treat you as entertainment.” – Ang Dalawang Mrs Reyes (Philippines/2017)

Entertainment. Popcorn. Punching bag. Piñata.

If you want to feel bitter better about your life, just read Korean entertainment translation sites, especially that particular one which thrives on negativity for the clicks and Google revenues. (Although you’d certainly feel bitter if the subject is someone you care about.)

Why “feel better”? Because it might make you realize that your life is not as bad compared to these Korean netizens who sound so miserable and almost always angry in their comments. There’s just too much angst. And a lot of popcorn to pass around.

Whenever I read Knetz’ comments, I always wonder if life is that hard in South Korea that they have to use celebrities as their virtual punching bags.  There is always something to criticize (or bash in netizen lingo), even seemingly harmless, mundane things that one can normally overlook.

A friend worked in Seoul for a few years and some of her stories in the workplace and daily life gave me the impression that the environment is toxic. The drama Misaeng must have made a lot of Koreans squirm. I suppose the more developed a place is, with all the tall, modern buildings and infrastructure, the colder it is. As a Baz Luhrmann song, Everybody’s Free, says: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.” She left Seoul not only before it hardened her heart but to avoid a meltdown. When I visited her a few times myself, I’d always joke that I want to get my money back. The lack of good-looking oppas on the streets and subways unlike what you see in Korean dramas aside, the toxic vibe can sometimes be palpable in the air. (A word on the oppas: It’s one thing to be well-dressed and another thing to look like Won Bin in rags.)

Or maybe, that is where some of the problem lies: Korean dramas have set the bar too high that Koreans themselves feel so miserable because reality does not quite meet the expectations. In K-drama, poor people are beautiful, wear the latest fashion and use the newest smartphone. And even if they can’t, there would always be a rich friend, a rich long-lost relative, a rich oppa, or a credit card to save them. Sure, there are the gritty films that reflect the other side of the paradigm but they make the rounds of artsy international film festivals, not free streaming websites that supposedly present the “real Korea.”

So imagine if you live in Korea but your reality does not match that supposed utopia projected on a TV screen. Maybe you’d start to resent those pretty and handsome faces who earn millions of won by just smiling for a cf selling cheap, metal-laden cosmetics or doing a dumb drama, who wear the latest in fashion trends thanks to sponsors, who travel across the world, who get special treatment in restaurants, airports, universities and even the military. And then there’s you who has to endure a toxic boss who makes you buy his espresso and photocopy thick documents every day, eat cup noodles for a year and live in a shoebox of an apartment you share with others just so you can buy a signature bag, work a second job in a convenience store just so you can pay the rent, get bullied by sunbaes at work or school…a life that can be a Korean drama itself, except the happy, glorious ending does not depend on a scriptwriter’s imagination but on fate, luck and a reality that sucks. Anyone in those shoes would feel really resentful and miserable.

Consider these numbers:

  • In 2015, South Korea had 28.4 suicides per 100,000 population, the fourth-highest among 183 countries surveyed, and the top among OECD countries, even higher than Japan, according to WHO’s annual survey.
  • In 2016, 90% of those who committed suicide had mental conditions such as depression or anxiety, according to this article. This problem was spotlighted when a K-pop singer, who has been suffering from depression, committed suicide last year.

Unfortunately, like in most Asian societies, mental illness is largely ignored, glossed over or swept under the rug in Korea. While there has been widespread sympathy and sadness over the K-pop singer’s death, there is still a lack of understanding about mental illness that when another celebrity currently serving in the military was reported to have been transferred to another unit due to a mental disorder, there was an avalanche of unsympathetic and highly critical comments. Looking at the two cases, both dealing with mental health, gives the impression that Knetz are schizophrenic. Granted that those who comment on articles are different, but one can still gauge the pulse of netizens based on top and most upvoted comments.

In a country, which is home to some of the world’s biggest IT firms including Samsung and has an almost 100 percent internet penetration rate (92.7 percent as of 2016), it may be faster to sound off one’s opinion on the internet instead of in face-to-face dialogues. Or being anonymous on the internet gives them the courage to say things that they can’t in real life and allows them to be resentful without showing their real face.

There are two very sensitive issues that any Korean celebrity should carefully tread: special treatment of any kind and, if you’re a male, avoiding military service. The first case has been highlighted by the public outcry over the daughter of an adviser of Korea’s first female president (now incarcerated) who allegedly received preferential treatment from a university. The second affects every Korean male, who has to enlist in the military for two years more or less. Both issues, education and army, affect the regular Korean so they would naturally have very strong opinions on anything that would have to do with those, more than they would over other entertainment news like misbehavior, dating, break-up, disbandment, airport fashion, acting controversies, and the like. In fact, those who would comment on these other issues would either be fans or antis, or those who have an interest on anything Korean entertainment, not your regular Kim-ssi or Park-ssi.

Celebrities, obviously, are easy targets. They are considered public property and their lives for everyone to gawk at. And in an industry that thrives on scandals and any form of publicity including the bad ones, they’re fair game–for the paparazzi, fans and society at large.

Any given scandal would always drive the RTs and website hits up, as well as keep the comments section alive like a typical market place. These days, people no longer gossip by the village well like they did in the old times, or by the water cooler in the office or in cafes. They gossip in comment sections of gossip websites.

But they’re not interested because they’re “concerned” or they “care” (the disclaimers ranging from “I’m not a hater but…” to “I’m a fan of…but…” are popcorn themselves). In fact, a lot of those who actually comment on these so-called scandals are passerby entertainment pundits who just want to have their opinion known even if they don’t really know the root of the matter. (The beauty of the internet is everyone has freedom of speech, including those who are dumb.) Or maybe they have just been waiting on the sides for something to happen to celebrities they don’t like, and like vultures, they’d promptly fly over to feast on the carcass. Schadenfreude at its best.

Indeed, they’re not really concerned nor do they care. This is just a form of entertainment for them, something that they probably pass the time with during coffee breaks or when they need a distraction from their miserable lives.

This is not saying that some of the criticisms are undeserved. There are cases or scandals where the negative comments are justified such as those about the #metoo movement or those celebrities who have committed grave crimes from sexual assault to drink-driving to drugs. Negative feedback also serve as a parameter for advertisers, producers, networks on who to hire. Negative comments can make or break a career, this is also why we hear rumors that agencies themselves hire “netizens” to make sure that comments will be positive for their talents’ news and negative ones are downvoted. Fandoms of course do the work too, but a well-oiled machinery of an agency is much more efficient. This is how important public feedback is, no matter if we just dismiss them as “just an opinion” when they do not agree with ours.

I used to enjoy reading the comments in gossip websites. They used to be fun until they became so vitriolic that now, it has become more of an exercise on armchair psychology. The comments can be taken as a reflection on how diverse the world is, but they can also be symptomatic on how opinions are often shaped: not by upbringing or culture, but by fake news, compromise bias or schadenfreude. This can be dangerous because like vultures that flock to and feast on dead bodies, pop vultures are quick to flock to and feast on scandals that could kill people or careers. Sometimes, it does look like someone beating a piñata until the guts are spilled.


But then again, I’m also a pop vulture myself. I prey on netizens’ comments. I really don’t care about how miserable they probably are. They are merely a form of entertainment.

© Orange Jasmine Purple Yam (blogging since 2001). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the contents in this site without permission from the author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Orange Jasmine Purple Yam with appropriate link to the original content.


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