Friday, October 31, 2014

Appealing To Tradition Is Bullshit: Part 1

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." 

- Albert Einstein. 

By now, I am sure that the majority of people have heard this quote before. However, many people live by the creed of doing the same thing over in the same manner because "that's the way it's always been done." In life, there are things we have to put up with, but there's a breaking point for everyone. At what point should one simply accept one's circumstances - which are worsening by the day - just because that's the way it has always been done? Korean netizens and international netizens who wish to resemble their kimchi brethren, as much as possible, are at it again in regards to the drama industry's working conditions. These netizens use the appeal to tradition, and victim blaming while acknowledging what they are supporting is blasphemous - I'm attempting to figure out why they do that.

It's no big secret that the working conditions actors endure are inhumane: twenty-two-hour workdays are very common once a drama enters live shooting. For an apparent "first-world country," South Korea still uses third-world labor laws in sectors of their economy, for example there are many instances of actors not getting paid. In one example (of many), the cast of "The Great Seer" walked out after not getting paid for 18 episodes of filming. That's three months minimum of filming. Most employers pay bi-weekly in America, so there's no way that I would work two-and-a-half months for free. I would have walked off much earlier, because as workers we exchange our commitment to work to an employer for pay. If one side of the agreement is broken, further service should not be required from the party receiving the short end of the stick. The industry is broken if someone doesn't know whether he or she will get paid.

In addition to the ambiguity of receiving a paycheck, the actors and staff are worked to the bone. Han Ye Seul's "Spy Myung Wol" incident happened in August 2011. That should have been impetus for change, right? On the contrary. The following month, actress Song Ji Hyo fainted during the filming of "Gye Baek" and a couple days later was readmitted to the hospital due to dyspnoea. Did Song Ji Hyo receive ample time to recover? No - she was filming later that week. This is a common occurrence, as Gong Hyo Jin was involved in a car accident this summer and delayed physical therapy to continue filming her drama "It's Okay, It's Love." Koreans see it as noble when someone works through an injury, ignoring the welfare of the individual, for the "greater good". It's mindboggling how actors are essentially required to sacrifice their health for the sake of filming.

Why do dramas not pay people and force people to work through injuries? The live shooting system is the number one culprit. The common arguments for the live shooting system are that costs are reduced (as less days for filming are required) and the scripts can be changed at whim to respond to ratings. However, this is a flawed premise to start with as Japan's big-budget dramas have small budgets compared to the average Korean drama and are pre-produced. If Japan can do it, why can't Korea?

Although one Korean actor can make more than the entire budget of a Japanese drama, which some see as problematic, Korean dramas can afford the higher salaries as Korea exports its dramas, which leads to profit coming in the form of a larger audience. Production companies attain large sums of money from TV stations abroad to air dramas. However, the working conditions for Korean actors continue to be poor and detrimental to their health. Which is ironic, as Japan is able to provide good working conditions for its actors by having an insular system in which they ignore the fact that the rest of the world exists (like they do for just about everything). Neighboring countries to Korea also have better filming conditions - there's definitely room for improvement when it comes to the K-drama industry.

If a better way to do something currently exists, shouldn't one adopt that method? According to Korean netizens, the answer is "no" because of their obsession with tradition. Korean netizens have acknowledged over and over how bad the conditions are, always mentioning that "the conditions for the crew are worse." But, if the conditions are bad and there are alternative ways to improve the process, why continue shaming one person who wanted to go against conventional wisdom? Why appeal to tradition when the current way of doing something is wrong?

A common answer to the previously mentioned question is that "everyone has to go through some hardship in their profession". That is true - to an extent. Take my field of accounting as an example: currently I am preparing to enter graduate school, so I have to take the GMAT exam to get into the master's program. I am studying for that exam while taking four upper level accounting courses and doing additional training for my internship which starts in January. After that, I will work the internship and take one class in the spring. At the moment, I am attempting to get a second internship and will be trying to get an officer position in my fraternity. Then there's the summer in which I will be trying to secure another internship, and if not, I will start studying for the CPA exam, which is essentially a requirement to be a public accountant. Starting next fall, I will be doing a master's program in one year (the majority of master's programs are two years), while studying for the CPA exam, doing my duties as a graduate assistant (if I get this position, which requires a high score on the GMAT), attending fraternity meetings (and possibly more responsibilities if I obtain an officer position), networking with professionals, all the while trying to secure a job upon graduation. The most common route is to start off in public accounting: an industry known for its high turnover as accountants will typically work 70-90 hours a week during busy season. Everyone has obstacles and less-than-ideal conditions to overcome.

While it is true that conditions aren't ideal in every field, it doesn't mean that the way things have always been are done is correct. For public accountants, most stay three-to-five years and bolt to private accounting, in which the workload is 50 hours a week. Public accounting is what accountants "calmly accept" as a stepping stone to a more lucrative position in private accounting. We know public accounting isn't the ideal job for life, but the hours are long to give us more training. It's similar to why medical interns work so many hours in a couple of years so that they can receive as much experience as possible. However, for most of us, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we know that if we put up with our conditions for a short period of time, then conditions improve in the future. In accounting, public accounting firms know that the current conditions aren't ideal, which is why these firms offer flex hours and reduced hours during the slower season. They are doing whatever is possible to improve the situation for public accountants. That is why we put up with the system, as it is improving and the benefits exceed the hardships in the end. Ideally, that's how every industry should be working.

However, we don't see the Korean drama industry improving when the means are available to do so. Now that we have debunked that appeal to tradition logical fallacy in this article, the next one will investigate why netizens are so adamant to adhere to poor logic.


  1. That's quite a long read.... But really, why else would the korean actors and actresses, even idols try so hard to break through the Japanese and Chinese market?

    "For an apparent "first-world country," South Korea still uses third-world labor laws in sectors of their economy"

    More like "first-world country" with 3rd world mindsets. Where else in the world this whole "netizens opinions matter most" exist?

    1. Most try to enter the Chinese market because the pay is much better. I've read the conditions are worse, but I would have no idea as I'm basing this off of second-hand information. The only people who try to break into Japan are people already wildly popular there using a drama series to get some Japanese CFs like Kim Tae Hee did. Kim Tae Hee can make more money in one Korean drama than she could in about 4 or 5 Japanese dramas combined.

    2. Kim so hyun and Jun ji hyun had recent spats with k-netz concerning some mineral water in china. You're right about Kim Tae Hee but I can't recall a drama of her's which was a hit in countries like Japan or China. Then again, I'm one of the person who thinks k-dramas should never exist in this god given world...

      Then again, like i said, the money in Japan and China are hard to resist. You don't see kpop idols try so hard in those countries like they could have been in other asian countries, like say Thailand..

  2. Why do companies even care about netizen opinions?

    1. I think the most prevalent theory has to do with Korea being the most wired country in the world. With everyone so interconnected, I guess Internet comments are treated with more credibility.

  3. I saw a comment on that Han Yeseul article that staff conditions are even worse, is that true?

    1. It depends. If you think working more hours but doing less strenuous work is worse, yes. The staff routinely doesn't get paid or receives late payments, just like the actors.

  4. My Blank Ji fainting :(
    That was the last time I went full fanboy-rage-mode on the internet.
    Had Hyomin also fainted during filming, I'd turn into Hulk.
    It still irritates me everytime I remember it.

    Question though, is it the same poor working conditions for movies?
    Because some of the biggest names like Song Kang Ho, Choi Min Sik, Lee Jung Jae, Hwang Jung Min almost never do drama.

    1. Movies have much better conditions. 2-3 months to film a 2 hour movie vs filming 16-20 60-minute episodes in 2-3 months.


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