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Bouncing back from controversy: An analysis of 44 cases reveals the influence of public sentiment

Mar 21,2017
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Actor Uhm Tae-woong, who was fined 1 million won ($890) on charges of soliciting prostitution last November, recently began filming for his latest project. Last month, multi-entertainer Park Yoo-chun’s movie “Lucid Dream” hit the theaters while a lawsuit involving an alleged rape was still ongoing. Celebrities who were embroiled in sex scandals last year are all readying their return to entertainment, but if they are able to reclaim their stardom has yet to be seen. Celebrities thrive on the attention of people, and to them, it’s not actual laws that matter - it’s the law of public sentiment they need to abide by.

JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, looked into and analyzed 44 cases of celebrities who committed crimes and made a return to the industry over the past 11 years (2006-16). Along with this analysis, JoongAng Ilbo also looked carefully into the true nature of “law of public sentiment.”



The harshest crime

The public was the strictest when it came to crimes related to military service. Celebrities needed 37.3 months on average to come back after being embroiled in a scandal - making the issue of military service the greatest social faux pas. After that, sex scandals (29.8 months), gambling (16.1), illegal drug use (12.7) and driving under the influence (4.7) all made the list.

The most notable case regarding military service is rapper MC Mong, who was kicked off of TV programs after being embroiled in controversy, after suspicions of intentional tooth extraction to exempt himself from military duties arose. On the charge of intentional tooth extraction he was ruled innocent for lack of evidence, but was ruled guilty of dishonestly applying for civil service examinations to delay his military duty. He returned to music in November of 2014 with the single “Miss Me or Diss Me,” four years and two months after the controversy.

The standard for sex scandals is very strict as well. Park Si-hoo, who was cleared of sexual assault charges in February of 2013, finally returned to acting with the OCN drama “Neighborhood Hero” in January. However, other celebrities who went through sex scandals are making much quicker returns, with Jung Joon-young (not guilty), Lee Jin-wook (not guilty), and Uhm Tae-woong all preparing for comebacks. “The public sentiment regarding sex scandals, not including sexual assaults, has become much more tolerant as the public views this as [part of the] private lives of celebrities,” said Bae Guk-nam, the nation’s top showbiz columnist.

The crime that the public was most lenient on was driving under the influence, as most celebrities came back within half a year. Comedian Yoo Se-yoon came back after only three months, and actor Um Ki-joon (2011) and Kim Ji-soo (2010) only released apologies.



How stars make their return

Celebrities who have been in trouble mostly used paid cable television networks to stage a comeback rather than terrestrial TV channels. Unlike KBS and MBC, which regulates celebrities through a judging committee, most cable channels do not have strict regulations regarding appearances on its shows.

Comedy programs on cable channel tvN have become “comeback stages” for celebrity criminals. Comedians Lee Soo-geun, Yang Se-hyeong and Yoo Se-yoon who were all arrested for gambling or driving under the influence, returned to television on shows like SNL Korea and Comedy Big League. However, their returns were met with some criticism at the time, as some saw their performances as “alleviating the seriousness of their crimes.”

Some choose to make a comeback through detours - not returning to their original field of work, but through other fields. Actor Yoon Je-moon, who was caught last May driving under the influence, returned in December of the same year through a role in a play. Singers Se7en and Ju Ji-hoon, who committed crimes regarding military service and illegal drug use, respectively, returned to action through musicals, while Lee Soo, Gill and MC Mong made a return by releasing new music.

“TV shows have the characteristic of public goods, with high ethical standards. It also is a burden to some due to a spontaneous reaction in the form of viewer ratings,” said pop culture critic Kim Seong-su. “Movies and performances, on the other hand, are consumed mostly by fans, the reason why many choose to come back through these outlets after their controversies.”



The river of no return

How celebrities respond to controversies also has a huge effect on public sentiment. Lying, understandably, is the worst method of response. When reports of singer Shin Jung-hwan’s illegal overseas gambling surfaced in September of 2010, Shin postponed entrance to Korea and rejected all notions of the report. He also released a photo, saying “I’m currently in the hospital due to dengue fever,” but it turned out to be false. Shin has yet to make a comeback.

MC Mong’s question in an online portal asking “If I extract my tooth am I exempt from my military duty?” was dug up by netizens and his reputation took a big hit while being branded a liar, and disappeared from television altogether. “Politicians lie a lot, but the public are angered by celebrities’ lies much more,” analyzed culture columnist Ha Jae-keun,

BY NOH JIN-HO [kim.jungkyoon@joongang.co.kr]