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Celebrity campaigning gets mixed reactions

Well-known faces such as hallyu star Lee Young-ae and veteran singer Tae Jin-ah joined last-minute campaign efforts this week for Wednesday’s general election, drawing mixed reactions from voters.

On Monday, actress Lee Young-ae, known for her role in the famous TV drama “Dae Jang Geum,” took part in ruling Saenuri Party’s Rep. Chung Jin-seok’s canvassing in South Chungcheong Province. Rep. Chung is an uncle of Lee’s husband, Chung Ho-young.
Actress Lee Young-ae joins a campaign in support of ruling Saenuri Party’s candidate Rep. Chung Jin-seok on Monday. (Yonhap)
Actress Lee Young-ae joins a campaign in support of ruling Saenuri Party’s candidate Rep. Chung Jin-seok on Monday. (Yonhap)
“I have known Rep. Chung for a long time and he is a sincere and honest man. I hope you all support him,” said Lee to potential voters.

Trot singer Tae Jin-ah made an appearance at a mini concert on Sunday during a campaign to garner votes for Rep. Park Duk-hyum of the Saenuri Party in North Chungcheong Province.

Actor Song Il-guk also stepped in to help his mother Rep. Kim Eul-dong of the Saenuri Party, a second-term lawmaker who is running for a position in Seoul’s southeastern Songpa-C district.

Political parties have traditionally aimed to share in the popularity of well-established social influencers to maximize stumping.

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new in Korea, although until the 1970s, TV stars’ participation in politics usually served as a means for the iron-fisted government to expand their propaganda.

With democratization, more voluntary forms of political involvement by entertainers were seen, with stars using their status to voice out on various social issues.

More recently, with the advent of social media, more celebrities have begun to voice their political views. The rise of such “politainers” -- celebrities who freely participate in political and social issues -- include singer Lee Hyo-ri, an animal rights advocator who also supports laborers, and Kim Jang-hoon, a vocal campaigner for the Dokdo Islets.

Their political participation, however, has also sometimes garnered backlash, as they were often scrutinized for their “biased” views by those opposed, or for slips of the tongue.

An actor, who has been featured in 10 or more TV dramas and commercials, told The Korea Herald that expressing his political preference always comes with caution.

“I am very concerned about my image as an actor and how my preference may influence my choice of works in the future,” said the actor, who wished to remain anonymous.

While celebrities are raising their voices in political issues with risk, stars such as TV show host Kim Je-dong have allegedly faced trouble for having expressed political preferences. In 2015, Kim participated in a one-man protest against the government’s publishing of state-authored Korean history textbooks for middle and high school students.

Singer Kim Jang-hoon also confessed to local media that he has experienced disadvantages in performing on stage because he took part in campaigns for the Dokdo Islets and Sewol ferry accident.

Experts say despite different reactions to stars’ involvement in the political scene, the role of celebrities in political issues will continue.

“Politicians and entertainers have one thing in common: they live by their social images,” said professor of media communications Song Hae-ryong from Sungkyunkwan University.

“Celebrities will always get involved in politics and they will always have the opportunity to influence public opinion,” he added.

But the changes that their actions may bring are generally difficult to measure.

“Stars may have far-reaching power, especially in the political scene, because the general public considers politics as something difficult and an issue that they are not involved in,” professor of psychology Lee Taek-kwang from Kyunghee University told The Korea Herald.

“But celebrities’ political participation can be viewed as populism unless their endorsement brings practical change to policies and current political circles,” added Lee.

By Kim Da-sol (