Ize Magazine: Redefining Yoo Ah In, The True Socialtainer
Ize Magazine chose the perfect timing to publish an article about Yoo Ah In, in the midst of South Korea’s political turbulence, and a day before he was absent from the Korean Culture And Arts Awards wherein he was honored the Prime Minister’s award.
While the idea of celebrities involving themselves in politics or social movements is familiar to many in the West, it is a relatively new phenomenon in the Korean entertainment industry. Though celebrities in Korea wield great influence over fans, their moves, words and actions are so closely monitored, that few celebs are willing to say anything remotely out of line, in fear of incurring the wrath of netizens, media and the government. But a few celebs have gone out of their way to promote social justice, or causes that are clearly near and dear to their hearts, justly earning the title of “socialtainer”.
In the long run, the meaning of socialtainers today may become so obscure that any celebrities’ sayings may be related to ‘socialtainers’ without any barriers. The inherent limitations of a Socialtainer consist of two things. One thing is about their appeal and stimulation toward the public, and another thing is that the socialtainers do not have enough knowledge, and are not careful about what they say in public and online. What is the stance that socialtainer should take and what kind of attitude should they have to be true socialtainers? The answer to this question may not be so simple, but it is one worth looking into.
Yoo Ah In always exercises his freedom of speech in his beliefs and moral codes, and in social political issues. His bold and straightforward remarks is uncommon in South Korea, therefore, people perceived him as a rebel [instead of “socialtainer”].
Yoo Ah In is still voicing out his political view through instagram (his own instagram, Studio Concrete and CCRT AEROSPACE instagram accounts). For example, the largest protest in the history of South Korea calling the President’s resignation took place on November 12. Protestors chanted “Haya”, which means “resign”, asking Park to resign from her position. In the same day, Yoo Ah In’s Studio Concrete and CCRT Aerospace instagrams posted the support for this rally.
Protestors chanting ‘Haya’ (resign) pic.twitter.com/radA7lBvuA
— Daniel Tudor 다니엘 튜더 (@danielrtudor) November 12, 2016
CCRT AEROSPACE posted its “Fragile” photo with caption: “handle with care OR Haya (resign)”
Yoo Ah In commented under Studio Concrete’s post [an ilustration by Jean Jullien titled “Public Speaking”]: “Handle with care or ㅎAYA”
Nov 17, Yoo Ah In posted two clips of American singer/songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” in his instagram. The first clip is about her opinion on an artist duty, and the second one is about freedom.
Last Saturday, Nov 19, Yoo Ah In walked the talk and took part in the mass rally, which garnered huge and positive attention. [Read about his participation and Simone’s clip transcripts here]
Now here’s Ize magazine article writing a very positive piece on Yoo Ah In’s activities and thoughts, that Yoo Ah In is not just the true “socialtainer”, but a role model in the freedom of speech and social-political awareness.
Translated by Mochilla & Sassy translators from Yoo Ah In International Fans Community
[Ize Magazine] Yoo Ah In Paving A New Path
Actor Yoo Ah In’s most recent work is the SBS “Six Flying Dragons”, which ended last March. But up until now, we still see/hear his name in the news. The news/stories about him are not coming from his popularity as an actor, or some actor’s “certified shots” [selfie] on SNS, or being chosen by teenagers in what so-called “popular actor” awards/polls. On Oct.6, Yoo Ah In’s fans club donated 6 million Won to the Beautiful Foundation for the birthday present to Yoo Ah In. On Oct.19, Studio Concrete, an artist group founded by Yoo Ah In, launched a new art project “Aerospace”. In the prologue episode, Yoo Ah In participates directly as a creative director. Of course, it’s a common thing when the fan clubs donate in the stars’ name, or entertainers launch any brand they are involved with in the design. But the difference is, Yoo Ah In fans club’s donation is going to the ‘New Kidz Yoo Ah In Fund’, a college funding within The Beautiful Foundation, which was established by Yoo Ah In himself in January 2015 to support children and youths well-being. So, the purpose of the donation is very clear. And through its many exhibitions, his STUDIO CONCRETE creates more favorable conditions and provides creative space for young artists within his group and outside Seoul to become the better artists. Even as an actor, he’s still actively engaged in such public activities.
Yoo Ah In’s non-acting activities didn’t happen just recently. Not only Yoo Ah In, there are many good entertainers who make donations and talk about community/social return. But what distinguishes him from them is the social responsibility and self-awareness. The entertainers charitable activities are public activities in their own right [because they are financial well-beings, so that they’re able to do charities], but in most cases, these activities fall into a mere “goodwill”, and are taken out of the [actual and potential] social issue context/circumstances.
In 2013, referring to the government’s plan on cutting the spending of school’s lunch program, Yoo Ah In said, “Even though I help children in my neighborhood, I’m fortunate enough that I’m still able to eat out a fat pork belly”, and added, “The act of giving, whether in good faith or not, is a light that illuminates the shadows of society.”
In return to the community, Yoo Ah In tries to point out the social shortcomings. Even more interesting is, that he doesn’t only define them in his own personal sense of justice. When he established the “New Kidz Fund” for the children, he wrote a letter and called them “the future generation”, and he criticized the situation, “children in financial difficulties, are not only put in the inequality conditions of the basic necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter, but also unequal reality in the education system led by capital logic”. He hoped, “the underprivileged children will not grow up driven to the margin of society’s dark corner. I want them to be the dignified hero of the future who have progressive and competitive differentiation.”
The two speeches above do not simply show the fact that Yoo Ah In is very concerned about the youth issues. The children’s lunch cost problem is not only a matter of school’s problem, but also of social inequality. And this inequality ultimately affects the future generation. He pointed the importance of engaging in a consistent ethical discussion to find the broad-based solution to the problem. We may have different view with Yoo Ah In’s own sense of justice as an individual, but we all agree that this is the public issue.
Yoo Ah In is often defined by having the rebellious and free-spirited image. Therefore, a new definition for him is in order. Director Ahn Pan-Seok, who has shot JTBC drama [Secret Love Affair] with him, has described Yoo Ah In as a person who “sees the world with his own eyes, thinks with his own mind, and expresses himself enthusiastically with his own mouth”.
This doesn’t fall within the realm of feelings or mood. It is close to the fundamental principle of autonomy [individuality]. It is the fundamental principle of individuality that one should act freely, yet also deem other autonomous individuals as appropriate/fit. [Note: one can live freely, but should also respect the individuality of others/respect their differences. That’s the essence of freedom]. Yoo Ah In is a celebrity who talks honestly about whom he supports politically and what kind of policies he supports. This is where he is distinguished from “socialtainers”. [Note: Socialtainer/소셜테이너 is the Korean language term for an entertainer or celebrity who is invested in social issues. The word is used heavily in South Korean media, especially in newspapers, and show business. So among celebrities who are known primarily for their work and advocacy for social justice, Yoo Ah In is a few ones who spoke honestly and very specifically-without sugarcoating about his political views]. As long as freedom of speech is allowed/possible for everyone, Yoo Ah In will try, using his own words, to protect/guard that fundamental principle of freedom.
Following the last presidential elections, novelist Gong Ji Young [famous for her work “The Crucible”, which film adaptation became a major hit] has commented [publicly]: “Despair doesn’t come from the dictator, but from our neighbors who are wildly enthusiastic for him/her”. Yoo Ah In has retorted, refuting her statement: “There’s no optionality when it comes to the president elect”.[Note: Yoo Ah In has tweeted that even though his candidate didn’t win the elections, just like the novelist. He has refuted her statement, even though they might be on the same team when it comes to candidates. The reason: to Yoo Ah In, freedom means having your own choice and being acceptant of people’s choices. Freedom, to him, doesn’t mean that one can exercise his/her rights, while condemning others for doing just the same. Freedom doesn’t mean looking down on others for having different opinions and values]. By saying that Gong Ji Young’s words are meant as an opposition to the dictator, that falls into the [the irony] of “performative contradiction”. [Note: a performative contradiction arises when the propositional content of a statement contradicts the presuppositions of asserting it. Explanation: the novelist asserts people’s rights to vote, yet she denies these rights when they don’t vote to the candidate she favored. Yoo Ah In is different from her in the sense that he respects people’s choices, even if they didn’t align with his thoughts and beliefs]. The novelist has denied the autonomy/individuality of people who exercised their rights to vote. She has condemned their votes for a dictator, when “voting” in fact is the greatest tool against dictatorship. Yoo Ah In’s point of view is fair/just. Freedom, that doesn’t respect the individuality of others, is merely a personal feelings/mood [it’s not actually freedom]. Often other “socialtainers” try to get up with Yoo Ah In [reach up to his level] by expressing their own beliefs. But in all honesty, those so-called commentary can be described as “meaningless”. If one doesn’t agonize over his/her ethical code, his/her views and remarks are only words. Their honest commentary, frankly speaking, becomes “just words” [they become a matter of semantics if no real and honest thinking has been involved]. If Yoo Ah In is an unusual young man in Korea, it is not because he is a bohemian who speaks frankly, but because he is honest and does not spit any words.
In that sense, Yoo Ah In is expanding the concept of ‘an actor is a public figure’, the concept that was used to violate entertainers’ freedom. In most cases, the concept ‘entertainers are public figures’ has been used to justify the harsher ethical standards to violate entertainer’s private life. In other words, it is a device to suppress their freedom. On the contrary, though Yoo Ah In never says that he is a public figure, but he enjoys the freedom [privilege given by his status] as a public figure by making public statements and actions. When he encouraged people to vote, he added it to the public context by saying, “to participate in the elections means to choose the people who will change our life, and that’s the most important thing.”
He speaks the language of individuality that puts his position in a public domain, through which he speaks up even more. To Yoo Ah In, it’s not a matter of what he should be doing as a public figure [he’s not doing what public figures are expected to do by society/just a formality; that it’s done only because it’s normally done by public figures, and that it will not have any real effect on the situation], In fact, he seems to be more concerned with what he, as a public figure, could experiment with to help the community [he is eager to find out and get involved in activities that will have real effect on the situation]. Moreover, his non-acting activities are actually significant/meaningful. What he does is rather special because he cracks (and challenges) the double standards of the Korean public and their harsh branding of entertainers, who express their political opinions as citizens, with the title “socialtainers”. Thus, Yoo Ah In is a role model.
He is expanding and paving the road for other people, who have not yet traveled, to come along. I hope he can do more and talk more often so that the road will become so wide for everyone to walk on.
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