Thursday, July 09, 2009

The nature of celebrity in Korea is #3. Canada has 30 million people, but who is the most famous person in Canada? Sidney Crosby? Wayne Gretzky? Celine Dion? Pierre Trudeau? Asked to name a very famous Canadian, Americans or Koreans I've met will name Celine Dion or draw a blank. Ask a Canadian the same question and it's not much easier. The best known name in Canada is perhaps the deceased hockey player with the chain of coffee shops. Living in Canada doesn't make you much better at naming famous Canadians.

Korea is much easier, although the coming diatribe is qualified by the fact that the most famous Korean outside of South Korea is Kim Jong Il. To North Koreans and the rest of the world, he is the first person you name if asked to name a Korean. That said, celebrities are everywhere and known by everyone in Korea. Canadian celebrities have their presence diluted by the fact that they participate in English-language pop culture, which includes Americans, Britons, Australians and so on.

Singers: Wonder Girls, Big Bang, Sonya Shidae, Super Junior, and so on. Athletes: Kim Yeon Ah, Park Ji Seong, Chan Ho Park (he played in America and got his names switched), Park Tae Hwan, and so on. Actors: Lee Min Ho and, well, I don't really watch Korean dramas. These people are known to everyone, including kindergarten students. A lot of younger children identify the activity with the athlete. Show them a swimmer and they'll say Park Tae Hwan, "not swimming".

These people are everywhere. The Wonder Girls, a popular singing group, advertise for a bakery. The boy band Big Bang pimps cell phones. Eighteen-year-old figure skater Kim Yeon Ah advertises cell phones, refrigerators, cars, milk, and apparently even a bank. She's so famous that even her Japanese rival Asada Mao is famous. Park Ji Seong the soccer player has a street named after him here in Suwon. The actor Lee Min Ho is a spokesman for Dunkin' Donuts, Pepsi, Cass beer, Levi's as well as cell phones. Son Dam Bi the singer advertises cell phones, some kind of juice and Lord knows what else.

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