Monday, March 4, 2013

Through the Looking Glass: The Park Shi Hoo Case on the Web

AGGGGHH! Due to a brain cell defect, your regularly scheduled Tuesday post arrives today. (Man, I should really learn how to use a calendar.)



Are we to believe this is the face Park Shi Hoo made
when he heard about the accusation?




I’ve thought a lot about whether I should write about the Park Shi Hoo news.

Surfers of dramaweb almost certainly already know more about this situation than they want to. But for those of us lucky enough to have missed the coverage, here’s a quick recap of every single piece of wholly trustworthy information that’s now available: last month, actor Park Shi Hoo was accused of rape after a night out with an entertainment-industry friend and a girl he knew.

As far as I can tell, beyond that it’s all hearsay and speculation. I’ve been keeping an eye on the big English-language news sites and their coverage of the story, and for every article touting some new piece of information about the case I can find two other articles that disprove everything it says.

I can’t even critically assess these conflicting reports: I have essentially no familiarity with the various Korean news outlets. If similar charges were leveled against an American star, I would have a better sense what was spurious and what deserved further consideration. No news outlet in the world is infallible, but when the New York Times reports something, I feel safe trusting them to get the facts right and present them in a reasonably objective manner. On the other hand, I wouldn’t even bother reading coverage of the same incident in Star magazine, a notorious supermarket tabloid. A lifetime spent consuming American news and culture has prepared me to understand the distinction between these sources. But Naver? Hankyung? Chosunilbo? I have literally no idea what their bent is or how trustworthy they might be.

And as someone who speaks only English, I’m at an even further remove the coverage. Relying on news that has been filtered through the English-language aggregators isn’t the best idea when it comes to actually understanding what’s going on.

Take Drama Fever’s blog. I’ve been reading it regularly ever since I first signed up as a member. Over that time its tone has changed considerably. In early 2011, it focused on posting news tidbits gleaned from sites like Dramabeans or Soompi. Later, it specialized in guest boggers. But since its infusion of venture capital money last fall, the Drama Fever blog has evolved into something of a supermarket tabloid of its own. And I’m not going to lie: I like its hodgepodge approach to celebrity gossip. I’ll happily watch videos of Korean cats getting their butts scratched, ogle photo galleries of handsome actors posted on their birthdays, and devour speculation about whether some girl group member I’ve never heard of is dating some boy group member I’ve never heard of.




The problem is that Drama Fever misinterpreted the significance of this story. Because it involves an actor, it is celebrity gossip. But we’re not talking about whether his hair is flattering here; we’re talking about whether he raped someone. Any discussion of the allegations should take into account their seriousness. But the articles Drama Fever has chosen to reblog, in combination with their packaging of them, do anything but.

Their blog’s coverage of the case has primarily involved breathless finger-pointing, reporting hearsay sources as fact, and positioning it as just another silly fandom rift. Its has been full of reporters “re-enacting” the scene (aka, going to the bar in question and drinking soju) and interviews with “friends” of the people involved (alleged victim A’s alleged friend B, to be specific). For a few memorable days early on in the story, they even posted a poll where readers could weigh in with their opinion on Park Shi Hoo’s guilt or innocence. Once blood was in the water, accusations of other crimes began to appear, ranging from fan exploitation to financial improprieties.  And I’m sure someone was pleased with him- or herself for coming up with cheeky a headline that played on the title of Park Shi Hoo’s most recent drama, but that doesn’t mean they should have used it. (“Cheongdamdong Malice,” in case you were wondering.)

That’s malicious, all right.

Ultimately, though, I’m unconvinced that we can really blame international news sites like Drama Fever for the deplorable coverage this story has received. In the vast majority of cases, they’re only translating what has been published in the Korean press. And while it seems particularly egregious this coverage isn’t all that different from what you might read in an American source like People magazine. If a similar case happened with an A-list American actor, you can be sure our entertainment news would also be full of interviews with the accused’s second grade teacher, drugstore cashier, and childhood next door neighbor. (“According to sources close to Beyonce...”)  But People would include these things in the context of a larger, fact-based article, which would take some of the sting off the ridiculous nature of their sources. 

No matter their home country, Internet news sites have been wringing as much drama from this case as they can possibly manage. CJ E&MenewsWorld even posted a vaguely accusatory article noting that Park Shi Hoo had been using a fake birth year so he would seem younger. At the bottom of the article, they add: “It became that (sic) Park Si Hoo was recently sued for rape by an aspiring celebrity on February 18. Park Si Hoo has denied all charges.” While unwritten, the presumed relationship between these two issues is fairly clear: wouldn’t someone who would lie about his age also lie about other things?

An article on Chosunilbo blunders into a similar problem: after an initial paragraph stating the facts of the case as they’re known, it wanders off to discuss a number of similar “alleged” incidents. The article closes by saying: “But police warned of the pitfalls facing aspiring entertainers. They tend to be wary when approaching agents, who have a reputation for being predatory and little better than pimps, ‘but they tend to let their guard down when they meet a star,’ according to one police officer.” This article seems awfully prejudiced against Park Shi Hoo, the “star” in this scenario.

Not that Park Shi Hoo is the only one being maligned by the press. Hancinema, apparently quoting from a Korean-language article posted at segye.com, provides a quote from the owner of the bar where Park Shi Hoo and the alleged victim met. “I wasn’t there at that moment to see it but I asked around my workers and looked at the CCTV. ‘A’ didn’t seem as drunk as she says she was. She got up from her seat and walked on her own and Park only escorted her in case she fell. She walked down the flight of stair without a problem.”  That may be true, but the problems with this comment are still legion: this is a man who makes money off Park Shi Hoo’s patronage, and presumably the patronage of other stars. He could be putting his livelihood at risk if he said pretty much anything else. The only reason for interviewing him in the first place is opportunistic journalism: all he has to offer is a tangental relationship to the case and a subjective opinion formed by watching a video that was probably taken at a lousy resolution and likely included no sound.

Citing an article posted at Sportseoul.com, a Dramafever post dated February 21 is titled “‘Why me?’ Netizens Attack Uninvolved Woman in Park Shi Hoo Case.” It turns out that the accuser’s name has been leaked in Korea (thankfully, I think we English-language speakers have been spared this detail), leading to reprisals against an unrelated woman with the same name. “On the 19th ‘B’s’ picture, full name, university, and major spread rapidly throughout the online community and social networking sites. Netizens pinpointed ‘B’ as the one pressing charges in the Park Shi Hoo case. Derogatory comments such as ‘She seems to be desperate to become a celebrity,’ ‘gold digger,’ ‘Don’t use Park Shi Hoo’ poured throughout the internet.” The article fairly accurately uses the phrase “witch hunt” to describe this turn of events.

And how about those “netizens”? Just like you and me, they have no particular knowledge or insight. Yet they’re quoted time and again in articles about this case (and, in fact, in most reporting about K-ent). Since when did the opinions of people utterly unrelated to the news of the day matter? You can find an idiot who will say anything on the Internet. (See?) Suffice it to say that there have been many disparaging comments about the accuser on various sites, and some of them have been reposted so often they’ve practically become memes.

We’ve got plenty of other things to think about on the character assassination front. A statement from Park Shi Hoo’s lawyer posted on Chosun.com and picked up by Drama Fever is just as guilty of attacking the (alleged) victim as any netizen comment. “While Trainee A claims to have been unconscious inside Park’s home for 13 hours, her recollection of even the smallest details that coincidentally work against Park should question her credibility.... Her actions to present have been questionable.” It may be part of his job to cast doubt on the accuser’s case, but shouldn’t he be saving it for the courtroom? I also suspect he’s been watching too much television. We’re talking about passing out from the use of controlled substances here, not drama-style amnesia.


“I sure look guilty, don’t I? That’s because I am, at least
according to the script of the movie this image was taken from.”

It’s also worth considering the image choices news sources have been making when posting information about this case. On this front, bloggers and the news media are damned by one of our readers’ expectations: every post needs a picture. It’s one thing to include file images of Park Shi Hoo at press conferences or other events with articles covering the case, but I’ve seen several sites that have used promotional stills from his work—including a menacing shot from a recent movie in which he played a serial killer, as seen in the above screen grab from Korean-language new site Newsmon. When the news was first being reported, the featured images tended to be just another opportunity to show cute Park Shi Hoo being cute. But Chosunilbro took another approach: their first article on the topic shows the accused making a Homer Simpson–style “D’oh, who me?” face. (See the top of this post.) As professional organizations, these sources should know better. The photos they choose to represent a story are just as important as the words.

I’m not sure that I like the alternative approach much better: utter silence. I respect sites like Dramabeans and Couch Kimchi for not covering this story at all. But the coverage of and responses to these accusations tell me an awful lot about life in Korea, which is a subject I’m interested in. I wouldn’t want a news site to be filtering and pre-treating Korean articles to jibe with my American sensibilities—that’s tantamount to translating “oppa” as “boy” in subtitles meant for an international audience. We’re smart people and able to critically assess the information, so why should a news site act as my nanny by not reporting the news as it’s consumed in Korea?

***




After I got over my initial shock at the allegations against Park Shi Hoo, I started thinking about the website Parksihoo4U. The people who created it care so much about this actor—both his work and his management-approved public persona as a clean-living, regular guy—that they built a website and community around him. So how do they deal with his alleged involvement in a rape case?

I'd like to think what they’re doing isn’t blindly accepting that Park Shi Hoo is innocent, just because he’s good-looking and famous. And they also shouldn’t be accepting that he’s guilty. His trial and conviction in the court of public opinion is just as much a miscarriage of justice as it would be if he really did commit rape and wasn’t punished for it.

The fan/idol relationship can be a weird, complicated thing. We identify with our chosen stars and rest some tiny corner of our identity on our relationship to them. The things I love are part of what makes me me— being a Kdrama fan is in my blood, just as it’s in other people’s blood to support Lance Armstrong or write Star Wars fanfiction. The lovely screenplay of the American movie Adaptation put it best: You are what you love, not what loves you.

When the objects of our love betray us—by being involved with doping or making a crappy set of prequels—it hurts, just as it would if someone we actually knew had betrayed us. And what happens when a beloved celebrity commits a terrible crime, like rape? We can still enjoy his roles, but what does that mean for our (utterly internal) connection with him as a human being?

I can’t help but feel that fandom is a bit of a sacred covenant. We support a celebrity’s creative endeavors and enable them to do what they do. This doesn’t mean we have any right to stalk them or nose into their private lives or demand that they remain celibate forever, trapped like butterflies pinned under glass. I think it is fair for us to ask one thing of our chosen stars, though: Don’t be a creep. And when our celebrity’s end of the deal isn’t upheld, our hearts are collateral damage.

There is and should be a barrier between the personal and professional lives of stars. Although I’m not innocent of crossing the line myself, I appreciate that we shouldn’t expect our stars to live for us any more than we should be living for them. Korea’s over-the-top saseng (personal life) fanhood isn’t something that’s good for anyone. But having a public persona is part and parcel of celebrity, and while Park Shi Hoo never asked anyone to create a website in his honor, he benefitted from it and from the adoration of his fans.

The only people who know what really happened that night are the ones who were involved—not you, not me, not whatever bottom-feeder the press is interviewing on the subject today. In a case like this, it’s possible that no one else will ever know; rape is hard to prove. Without a confession or concrete evidence, it all comes down to he-said, she-said.

There’s talk about television stations around the world backing out of airing Cheongdamdong Alice, all because of the unproven allegations against its star. His image has been so thoroughly tainted by the scandal that I’m not sure it could ever recover.

Whatever its outcome, this news about Park Shi Hoo just makes me incredibly sad. Sad that there are people who rape, sad that there are people who lie, and sad that it’s so hard to tell what’s true. No matter what, an innocent person’s life is going to be forever changed—whether that person is an unjustly accused Park Shi Hoo or a faceless girl who was horribly taken advantage of by someone our society led her to admire.

And then there are the fans, we who so readily hand our hearts over to complete strangers and hope for the best. Either way, our loss is a sad one, too.

20 comments:

  1. Amanda, I too am saddened by all this. In this day of papparazi and willing to do anything for a buck or 15 minutes of fame, even more sadly, it will only get worse.

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    1. Indeed. And I worry what this means for morality clauses in contracts. On the flip side of this incident is the Japanese girl-group member who shaved her head after getting caught dating a boy. All this flap about Park Shi Hoo is probably going to make the morality pendulum swing ever-further toward the puritanical, in spite of the special circumstances. This is rape, not a secret marriage between a dreamy young actor and "Korea's little sister." But it's also just another example of a star's personal life being dangerous to his image.

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  2. Great post. It's true that the reports out there are really varied and lots of them are based purely on hearsay.

    If you haven't checked out Koala's Playground for updates, you might be interested to do so.. She's a lawyer by profession, so her posts on the case are not only fair, but informed from a legal perspective.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! I hadn't been aware of Koala's profession, but I've been trying to keep up with her coverage of this story. Everything she has to say is totally sensible. I actually think a number of personal bloggers are taking a more balanced approach to this story than the press :b

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  4. Living in Seoul, I've witnessed a few occasions similar to ParkShiHoo's case. She/He got convicted due to substance abuse or tax evasion or anything, then proven to be innocent. However, in the mean time, the individual's reputation has already fallen to the ground. Who will pay back her/his life? Why those seemingly innocent people is so mean against a few targeted individuals? I just hope everyone keeps one thing in mind; no one is guilty until the verdict.

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    1. Unfortunately I think this sort of thing happens everywhere. The general public decides that someone is guilty for whatever reason, and they stick with that opinion whatever happens. It's also sort of like the reporting of the American school shootings at Columbine in the 1990s—all these "facts" that were initially reported were eventually disproven, but they're still part of our national myth about the tragedy. The perpetrators’ guilt was never in question, but lots of other things were.

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  5. Oh my gosh! This is one of the best, most literate, honest, intelligent blog post I've ever read. You brought in so many topics and sub-topics of this Park Shi Hoo issue and addressed them honestly and in a manner that was fair to both sides. Also, your comments about the dramafever blog were not mean-spirited but honest. And not at all self-rigtheous. I've always loved your blog but this post just totally ramped my love up to a whole nother level. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! I took a number of journalism classes when I was in school, which has made it painful for me to watch this three-ring circus develop around Park Shi Hoo. I'm still not sure if different approaches to journalism in the west and east play into the horrible nature of the coverage, or if all we're seeing is the worst that Korea's entertainment press has to offer. I just hope a final conclusion is reached soon, because the articles get worse and worse every passing day.

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  6. I've been watching the coverage with my eyes half-closed, afraid I'll see something that will either damn PSH forever or cause me to want to rage - either with the possible injustice of false accusations, or the idiocy of news 'sources' themselves. I appreciate your willingness to talk of the matter, and in such an intellent fashion.

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    1. This has been kind of a train wreck for me--I don't want to look, but I can't tear my eyes away.

      (Is it too shallow of me to admit that I wish this could have happened *after* I'd watched all of Park Shi Hoo's dramas, so I could still enjoy them? It's going to be hard to see him the same way.)

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    2. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who are going to find it hard to look at him the same way. Guilty or not. Insightful blog post btw, couldn't have said it better myself!

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  7. Thank you, Amanda, for sharing. If I had wanted to write about this case (I have decided I will not), I wish I would have written it as well as you have (is that even an English sentece?!)

    Personally, I was deeply troubled, even shaken by this news. But gradually, I have become really disgusted with it all (and I mean IT ALL, the potential deed, the potential lie, the media, the fans, the comments on the various blogs I'm following) that I no longer really (want to) care (though I also am sad about it). This is not my world. This is not related to me or the life I am leading. I may have liked PSH (as an actor) in the past, but my goodness, I am a mature woman who is fully capable of distinguishing between the image of an actor that I like and his "true" personality. We do not often have to actually think about the second - but if we are confronted with it, well ... let's not be too surprised that these people are people like everybody else, or maybe even criminals.

    Therefore, I am trying to remain as neutral as I can and just hope, sincerely, that it is at all possible to provide justice in this messy, messy case.

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    1. I completely agree about everything you said. I was surprised how upset I was about the news—I'm a grownup who should know better than to believe what I see on television. But it still feels awful to realize that someone I've invited into my mind could have done something like this. It also doesn't help that this is my first big scandal about a Korean celebrity. The news coverage is like watching a tennis game: "He's totally innocent!"—"He's a rapist!"—"Just kidding, she's a gold digger!"—"He even drugged her!"

      I hope justice is served, but it's hard to imagine how it could be, barring real, conclusive evidence—not somebody's text messages :b

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  8. I just read that Park Shi Hoo's mother met with the accuser's father the day after the alledged incident and has also met with her lawyer. If true, then it is certainly an example of what Korean mothers are like. And I thought in K-Dramas it was exaggerated. I guess not!!

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  9. Just found your blog. I know that this case is over but wanted to tell you that your article is like a breath of fresh air after having read the news on this case. I followed the different blogs listed on this page and just want you to know that your article is the most clear headed and adult of them all. I have added your blog to my favorites and look forward to reading more of your article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  10. I'm not his fan and will never be the ones, i'm just a big fan of his drama Family Honor.

    I've followed PSH case from the beginning and really want to know the final verdict because this is serious allegations, sexual assault not just a simple one night stand as many of his fans acclaimed. But in the end what i got just the biggest disappointment. We'll never know the truth and i really hate on how this case disclosed, just too easy and simple like that??? The two dropped all cases ??? Really really frustating...


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