[Kim Hoo-ran] ‘Hangover’ is an uneasy mirror

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 25, 2014 - 20:46
  • Updated : Jul 3, 2014 - 11:07
The latest music video from singer Psy released earlier this month has failed to garner as much attention as his previous hits “Gangnam Style” (2012) and “Gentleman” (2013), which have so far recorded more than 2 billion and 700 million views on YouTube, respectively.

The response to the “Hangover” music video featuring U.S. rapper Snoop Dogg has been lukewarm, with fans and critics alike disappointed with the lackluster song. Interestingly, some people take issue with the music video for portraying Koreans as drunkards.

The five-minute video, in fact, is a quick introduction to the so-called drinking culture of Korea. It begins with Psy waking up on the floor with soju and beer bottles all around him and then throwing up in the toilet ― apparently from the previous night’s binge ― only to start another day of drinking all over again. And what a lot of drinking that day involves. The music video shows Psy toppling a domino chain of shot glasses and the two artists drinking soju at a Chinese restaurant, singing and drinking in noraebang, and drinking yet more alcohol at an eatery (grilled shellfish restaurant), where a drunken brawl breaks out.

Ever a nation obsessed with how others perceive us, many Koreans say, “What will people think of us?” Some claim that Psy damaged Korea’s image abroad by portraying Korea’s heavy-drinking culture.

However, what Psy shows in the music video is not too far from the truth. Koreans do drink. According to “Health at a Glance 2013,” a report released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare last year, the per capita alcohol consumption for Koreans over the age of 15 stood at 8.9 liters per year. This is roughly equivalent to 123.6 bottles of soju or 365 glasses of draft beer.

The economic loss stemming from all that drinking is a staggering 2.3 billion won ($2.25 million) each year, according to the government. This includes alcohol-related diseases, family problems, loss in productivity and various accidents.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is set to introduce a bill at the end of this month that restricts drinking and selling alcohol in public places. Restricted places will include beaches, parks and hospitals. The failure to pass a similar bill in 2012 ― due mostly to the strong resistance from college students who protested the banning of alcohol on campus ― is a reflection of how vehemently Koreans feel about the right to drink.

The current bill has been modified to allow drinking and selling of alcohol on campuses for 10 days with permission from the college president, rather than banning drinking outright during events or festivals organized by the college or student organizations.

According police figures, 37.9 percent of murders, 38.5 percent of rapes and 35.5 percent of domestic violence cases are either directly or indirectly related to drinking. Yet, Korean society is far too lenient about drinking. An example of the society’s lax attitude toward drinking is the routine reduction of sentences for criminals who claim to have been inebriated.

The court has been handing out reduced sentences to those who commit crimes while intoxicated, viewing them as not in full control of their faculties. It was only last year that sex crimes became exempt from the practice with the passage of the special law on sexual violence. Indeed, it is said that Korea is the only country in the world, along with Japan, to reduce sentences for crimes committed while intoxicated.

When college freshmen die of alcohol poisoning from binge drinking at initiation ceremonies each spring, there are a lot of tut-tuts. Yet, the situation is not rectified. People don’t seem to think twice about having a few drinks with dinner and driving home. Drunk driving accounts for 1,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries every year. It is high time that people think about responsible drinking.

The Health Ministry’s plan to extend the current ban on alcohol advertisements on TV and radio from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to include IPTV and DMB, and to ban alcohol advertisements in public transportation and outdoor ads is a step in the right direction, along with banning alcohol in public places.

Businesses can also play a crucial role in encouraging responsible drinking by putting an end to the notorious hoesik culture of colleagues getting drunk together, which still remains the norm in many companies.

People vomiting on the streets, aided by fellow revelers who pat them on the back, is a common sight. In the vicinities of Gangnam Subway Station, Konkuk University Subway Station, Itaewon-dong and the Hongdae area, people stagger in the streets in the morning hours, their heads reeling from drinking all night. This is the uncomfortable truth reflected in Psy’s “Hangover” music video.

By Kim Hoo-ran

The writer is a senior writer of The Korea Herald. She can be reached at khooran@heraldcorp.com. ― Ed.