Seungri scandal is not a K-pop scandal but systemic in Korea

By Nadine Kam I

You can’t call yourself a K-pop fan without having heard about the Seungri (Lee Seung-hyun) and spycam sex scandals.

To make a long story short, the youngest member of Big Bang is being investigated for charges of incidents of prostitution, drug use and bribery that took place in a nightclub, Burning Sun, where he claimed to be a publicity director, although it has been reported he is a part owner.

Due to the investigation, he recently announced his retirement from the entertainment industry, and has severed his ties with Big Bang and the agency that represented him, YG entertainment.

As if all of this wasn’t sordid enough, the investigation also ensnared other entertainers accused of drugging and raping women, as well as employing spycams to capture other sexual encounters without the womens’ knowledge.

Seungri in better days, on left, with fellow members of Big Bang
before they enlisted in the South Korean military for mandatory service.

What I hate most about all of this is that the whole scandal is being framed in the media as a K-pop sex scandal. It is certainly not limited to a single industry but instead puts a spotlight on depraved, misogynistic conduct that permeates South Korean society. The scandal is widening to include investigations into police bribery and collusion among high-ranking politicians and businessmen.

Meanwhile, everyone acts shocked, when prostitution is part of the art of the deal, standard business practice throughout Asia, if not the world, as the matter of what happened with our own United States president in a Russian hotel room is among topics of investigations at home.

It may be most visible when public figures get caught, but while tongues wag, let’s not forget it happens throughout society. Consider the prevalence of sex travel adventures set up for those who can afford to pay for boys or girls, or whatever their fetish may be, outside the watchful eyes of their own societies.

It happens wherever there is an imbalance of power between men and women, and where the rich and poor meet, as long as there are people willing to do anything for a shot at fame and money, and people willing to pay.

These are typical Hollywood casting couch stories, and would likely be more pervasive in the United States if we had the same technology as Korea. It can affect anyone as perpetrators in Korea record footage on their phones using selfie sticks up stairwells or held close to the ground to record up women’s skirts, or from cameras installed in bathrooms. Footage is then uploaded and shared on social media and porn sites.

The kind of incidents reported are every day occurrences and Seungri and his friends just happen to have been famous, and caught. They make easy scapegoats and gossip fodder. Among the fallen are actor Jung Joon-young who was let go from several productions, Choi Jong-Hoon of the group FT Island (charged with police bribery after a drunk driving incident from 2016, revealed in chatroom conversations) and Yong Jun-hyung, a rapper the K-pop group Highlight, who both announced their retirement from show business. Lee Jong Hyun of CNBLUE was also part of the shared video network, but is currently serving in the South Korean military.

It’s all the more disrespectful when considering Jung, who admitted to making videos involving 10 women in 10 months, is a star who could probably get a woman anytime without resorting to drugs and rape, making all this seem just like a game to him and his friends.

In the past, the investigation might have ended with only Seungri and his friends taking the fall, but this has wider ramifications for Korean society. For one thing, it has reignited a #MeToo movement that started last year yet amounted to little change about workplace sexual harassment of women.

Little has changed in the way business is conducted in South Korea a decade after actress Jang Ja-Yeon committed suicide following years of sexual abuse.

The investigations have also sparked a “Justice for Jang Ja-yeon” campaign 10 years after the actress took her life after writing a 7-page suicide note detailing being pimped out by her agent to 31 entertainment executives, politicians, CEOs and journalists. None of their names were ever released and her agent was sentenced only to one year in prison. Although Jang had gone to the police and prosecutors several times over the years, it was always her word against that of powerful men, so her allegations went nowhere. It’s worth noting that three other actresses from her company also are reported to have committed suicide attributed to depression.

The industry did not change following Jang’s posthumous revelations, but citizens are now demanding the names be revealed, and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in reopened her case on March 18. We can only hope that in this time of greater transparency that justice is served, that the powerful can no longer buy their way out of trouble, and that the men in South Korea heed the warning that enough is enough.

Then try repeating the message stateside. But as I said, human depravity is limitless and has been with us since the beginning of time. Things may quiet down for a while, but Seungris abound, likely even living next door.

The timeline:

Jang Ja-Yeon:

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