Outside The Stage

The life of a performer may be all glitz and glamour on the stage, but sometimes they can be the most poorly abused people in any occupation. I’ve recently gotten quite interested in an article I found. There’re variants of what happened written in different newspapers, but this is the gist of it.

http://www.jpopasia.com/news/akb48s-minami-minegishi-demoted-to-trainee-shaves-head-as-punishment-for-scandal::12951.html

There is a lot that can be said from this piece of news. I’m writing a Sociology term paper about it, and I could go on about why there is such rampant gender inequality existing in Japan (you don’t see Alan Shirahama being demoted, do you?) and about the otaku sub-culture of middle-aged men who are fanatical about their devotion to pop idols like AKB48. You could talk about why Japanese entertainers have to be restricted in their personal lives. Hollywood would defend that the private lives of celebrities should be distinct from their public identities. But really, it’s not just Japan.

The worst types of entertainer abuse seem to come from Korea, and it’s far more than restricting their romantic lives or demotions. Trainees are worked to death practising dance techniques, learning to do splits, for hours and hours. It’s literally training work all day and then a bit of sleep at night before going again. They cannot leave because their companies make sure that they always remain in debt. This debt accumulates, naturally, once they’re famous. The company insists that they have to pay it back for all the clothing, training and publicity spent on them. It’s no shock to hear of Korean stars being overworked so much they’re ill and almost dying. When they go to perform in their hometown, they’re not allowed to go home to visit their families. No matter how much they earn from sold-out concerts, only a pittance goes to them, perhaps more miserable than a blue-collar worker. Their only perk is getting to wear skintight clothes and having insane fans chase them day in and day out. I’m not kidding about the latter point at all.

There’s a word in the Korean entertainment industry for rabid fans: sasaeng. Sasaeng fans are capable of all manner of stalker activity, such as hacking into Twitter accounts, breaking into dormitories and stealing stuff, attempting to kidnap, blocking the path of vehicles, stalking, slapping (just so he could remember her better) and sending their own menstrual pads, among others. There is little wonder that Korean entertainers are so often driven to suicide by stresses from their own companies and these unsupportive, uncaring fans. What is so great about having a public image, I wonder?

Anne Tyler wrote a book once where the female protagonist did sorta act impulsively and caught the attention of the male protagonist, who was the singer of an indie band. It’s called A Slipping-Down Life, and you can imagine it didn’t entirely end well. It isn’t my favourite book because I think her writing style was still very immature at the time, but it’s still worth a read.

I hope that the industry treats its celebs much better in the future, because at the rate this is going, the entertainment industry is just giving us all a clear sign of how degenerate our society has become.

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