Dancing With the Stars, Human Survival: THE CHALLENGER, MIRACLE AUDITION, Immortal Classic series 2: Singing the Legend, Band Survival TOP Band, Owing Homes: House Dream, Survival I Am Singer, Kim Yu-na’s Kiss and Cry, Great Birth season 2, K-POP Star, Diet Survival BigsTORY, Hit the S Style, Style Battle Royale TOP CEO season 3, OPERA STAR 2011, Challenge! Top Model Korea season 2, KOREA’S GOT TALENT, YES CHEF season 2, Super Star K3, GLOBAL SUPER IDOL, Super Rookie, Project RUNWAY KOREA season 3
Do you know what all these have in common? These are the names of recently or presently broadcast audition survival shows in Korea. TV stations sometimes produce audition survival shows for selecting the best singer, fashion designer, actor, announcer or model. At times, they search for the most talented person or check the virtues of potential global leaders. Of course, these programs can be very controversial in Korean society. Some argue that these programs infringe on one’s right to view other kinds of programs such as dramas or sports, because so many audition shows are broadcast Monday to Sunday. In contrast, some dismiss these opinions because audition survival shows like MBC Riverside Song Festival or Campus Song Festival have existed since the 1950s and modern audition survival shows go through the process of progressively changing what Korean society wants. As well, these shows create many controversial issues but there are a few reasons why these programs are becoming a social trend. In this article, we will talk about these reasons.
Society Feels Sick
In recent years, we can easily identify several examples of social irrationality and irregularity in Korean society. For example, in September of 2010, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s daughter was appointed as an administrator in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT). So many people threw out accusations of nepotism, after the Minister of MOFAT granted this favor to his daughter. Especially, in the case of special recruitment, an administrator is usually selected through tests and interviews. However, during the minister daughter’s interview, two of the five judges were top officials of MOFAT and they conveniently favored her. After the public became aware of this, the minister of MOFAT resigned. Building off this momentum, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) conducted a special inspection of MOFAT. It turned out that through MOFAT’s special recruitment system, selected administrators included not only a diplomat’s child but also a senior diplomat friend’s children, despite their respective grade short-comings. They also appointed like-minded judges, so they were publicly denounced.
On August 22, the Korea Land & Housing Corporation (LH) suspended the hiring of new recruits and let go of 783 employees, due to restructuring plans, yet one employee found regular employment. This one employee was eventually identified as a nephew of the wife of the chairman of the ruling Grand National Party. Therefore Internet users started to refer to him as ‘God’s nephew.’* According to the Employment Trend Survey by National Statistical Office (NSO) on July 2011, unemployed youths made up 7.6 percent of the total number of unemployed workers, which are about 33,000 people.
These situations, however, do not only occur in the public sector. We can easily find similar examples in the private sector. As for this part, I want to quote parts of Gyeong-Cheol Park’s speech during an MBC Special on July 29, 2011.
“It is very simple when we focus not on phenomenon but on essence. Society is composed of monopolies and oligopolies. We cannot talk about the whole story so we will only talk about the opportunity issue. Look at the family-controlled conglomerates (chaebol). At one conglomerate, the oldest daughter runs an advertising agency, and happens to be in charge of all advertising for the conglomerate. She even handles overseas advertisements. In an instant, her agency became the first or second most successful advertising agency in the domestic advertising market and she became even wealthier than she already was. However, because of this nepotism-laden process, someone who dreams of succeeding in advertising and conquering the advertisement market has lost their opportunity because of the oldest daughter.
The second-oldest daughter also happened to have incorporated Capital Company and monopolized about 85 percent of installments. Also, the son took over the consignment business of the conglomerate alone and became richer as well. If all major companies did such things, then young people who dream about running start-up companies will simply have to settle for being subordinates for a large company. They will also lose hope and have fewer opportunities. All this is because of monopoly structure of which even now we still cannot fully recognize its huge damaging consequences.”
Of course, we do not talk about the equality of opportunity. However, it is an obvious fact that a young person’s dream, which could include establishing a global advertisement agency and becoming an advertising man, has been shattered into pieces. Also young people’s freedom of career choice, which is supposedly specified by law, is violated.
Is this a social phenomenon? According to the Organization of Law Consumers 2010 Reporter, about 42 percent of Koreans think it is disadvantageous if you have to observe the law and 81 percent of Koreans agree with the saying: ‘All mighty is the dollar.’ In fact, there are reasons behind this public attitude. First off, the Prosecutor General who administers these things, himself has committed crimes such as false resident registration, evasion of military service and illegal speculation in real estate. Because of this, if the Prosecutor General punished the nation for these crimes, it would be the same as ‘the pot calling the kettle black.’ In other words, it would be very hypocritical. Likewise, the leadership of today’s society has no morals and nations think ‘All mighty is the dollar.’
Within such a social atmosphere, audition survival shows have gained popularity once again. Of course audition survival shows existed in the past. Unlike in the past, audition survival shows use specific criteria to select a winner. Before shows are broadcast, they announce their evaluation methods to candidates and viewers. Shows these days prepare rules for participating viewers and explain methods they can use to pick a winner, such as via text message voting. Therefore, everybody is fanatical about audition survival shows and these shows have the public’s confidence that they are fair.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Audition Survival Shows
Audition survival shows have two main advantages. First, you cannot predict the result so you can enjoy many dramatic moments. Before audition survival shows begin, show producers choose among contestants who have applied to appear on a show. Then throughout the show, the contestants are praised by judges and viewers. During this process, contestants are evaluated on their abilities, so it is difficult to predict the results. Consquently, viewers can expect dramatic results so they go crazy over audition survival shows.
Through the shows, viewers can easily empathize with the contestants. For example, the final of Superstar K2 last year’s very popular audition survival program was contested between Huh Gak, who was a ventilator repairman, and John Park who was a former American Idol Top 24 performer. Most people ended up voting for Huh Gak because they related better to a winner who was more similar to themselves.
Of course, these shows do have some disadvantages. Firstly, these shows are aimed at the general public so their actions could be criticized by their peers. Viewers only make a decision based on what they see on TV. As a result, viewing a contestant’s slight actions such as stubbornly sticking to an opinion can be misleading to the public, who may come to see him as being selfish. Contestants can also be harshly criticized by the public and wounded deeply. Therefore, this needs to be modified.
Finally, these shows make viewers be familiar with the Winner-Takes-All type of society. Most Korean audition survival shows have a Winner-Takes-All structure. So only the winner takes all the benefits and the spotlight. And it implies that it is okay to select a winner in this excessively competitive society. Society also tends to take excessive competition for granted and this causes social conflict.
Wish for Audition Survival Shows
Do you know what the term ‘noblesse oblige’ means? The origin of this term dates back to the Hundred Years’ War. During that time, the French city of Calais had held up against attacks from the British Army for about one year. However, they could no longer hold off the constant attacks and they eventually had to surrender. The Calais delegation begged King Edward Ⅲ for mercy. Edward Ⅲ then suggested conditions for surrender. Part of his conditions was that six Calais citizens must be hanged. Calais citizens were obviously in a state of shock upon hearing this news because who would volunteer to die.
However just then, Eustache de St Pierre, the richest citizen of Calais, volunteered to die. Then, five other rich and noble citizens such as the mayor, a merchant, and a lawyer volunteered to die. They were more concerned about the citizens of Calais than themselves. The next day, before their execution, their lives were spared due to the pleas of Edward Ⅲ’s pregnant wife. This is coming up now as a ‘noblesse oblige’ which implies that those of higher status should fulfill the moral obligation.
Nowadays, a book titled ‘Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?’ is popular in Korea. This book is famous worldwide, but it surprisingly caused a lot of enthusiasm in Korea. Some analysts blamed its popularity on Koreans not being able to experience ‘Justice’ or ‘leadership in Korean society and therefore, they cannot fulfill their noblesse oblige.’
Conscious of this social mood, audition survival shows are taking the spotlight. Anyone can participate in these programs and they can be chosen as a winner under fair standards. Therefore, these shows should focus on their advantages, which are that they consistently pick out talented people, but they must also solve their disadvantages. If they do this, audition survival programs would receive more public confidence from viewers. However, Korean society could also develop into a fair and just society without audition survival shows. I for one wish for that kind of society.
*In Korea, The top 30 public institutions’ average annual salary is 83,600,000 (U.S $ 75,417) in 2011. And it is higher than fair-to-middling company salary. So many Korean compare public institution to ‘God-given corporation,’ ‘God’s office,’ ‘it is difficult to enter public institution even God.’ And this incident was referred to as ‘God’s nephew.’