Recently, there have been heated discussions about celebrities’ inability to understand even the very basics of Korean history. On Aug. 14, Tiffany Hwang, a member of the well-known Korean idol group Girl’s Generation, received bitter comments after she posted the Japanese war flag, or rising sun flag, just a day before Korea’s National Liberation Day. Seolhyun Kim and Jimin Shin of the girl group AOA were also attacked with harsh criticism after they failed to recognize the face of the famous Korean independence activist An Jung-geun. Why have these surfaced as such big issues? Many feel that being a celebrity comes with a burden and with responsibilities. As public figures, celebrities have to watch their every action and step with caution. Insensitivity to their national history could be dangerous for celebrities who depend on the love and support of their audience.
These celebrity history scandals are often centered on provocative topics, since being ignorant about Korean history clashes with the sentiment of the country. Shin Chae-ho, a historian and activist from the late 19th to the early 20th century, once said that there is no prominent future for the people who have forgotten the history of their country. He provides a rationale behind the need to study and acknowledge history. History is an important aspect of any culture; without our past, we would not have a present. The inhumane treatment Koreans received during the period of Japanese occupation certainly is the past, but its essence endures in our national character: forgive but never forget. Celebrities should not be exempted from this consciousness just because they pursue a special field.
Compared to the basic responsibilities given to celebrities, historical consciousness may seem like a heavy load. Nonetheless, celebrities are cultural representatives of our country. They played a significant part in spreading the “Korean Wave”, otherwise known as “Hallyu”, so it would seem hypocritical if the driving forces behind this wave had no knowledge of fundamental Korean history. As people who stand for our country, it is important for celebrities to not consider being oblivious to history as such a trivial matter.
Nevertheless, there is a definite line between constructive criticism and blatant bashing. Everybody makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. People can’t be judged solely based on their blunders, so continuously bombarding celebrities with malicious comments is unnecessary. Still, celebrities should be conscious of the big role they play in society and take on the obligations that follow. It doesn’t seem very sensible to make learning history a prerequisite for becoming a celebrity, but what can reasonably be done is raising awareness and setting standards for responsibilities. As for the rising sun controversy, some people see the flag as merely an aesthetically pleasing design, which is why the filter was on Snapchat in the first place. It’s true: celebrities already deal with a bundle of duties, but the historical element should be taken into consideration nevertheless. They should be held more accountable, since they are, in fact, both public and cultural figures.