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Alcohol flowing freely on Korean TV

As programs spotlighting alcohol abound on Korean television, concerned viewers are questioning whether there are too many portrayals of uninhibited drinking on the small screen.

On Aug. 26, K-pop girl group Mamamoo’s Wheein alarmed viewers by drinking during an online live-streaming and cursing in English.

The next day, “I Live Alone” showed singer Tony An’s friends revealing his drinking habits. An had been discovered numerous times sprawled next to the door to his home or on his bedroom floor covered in mysterious red liquid, they testified.

In the KBS travel reality show “Battle Trip,” singer Sung Si-kyung, renowned for his copious drinking, talked about chugging dozens of boilermakers, a Korean staple cocktail of beer mixed with hard liquor such as whisky or soju.

On travel reality show “2 Days and 1 Night,” actor Cha Tae-hyeon confessed having woken up to find himself stuffed in a trash can after a booze-filled night on several occasions.

A scene from “Life Bar” (tvN)
A scene from “Life Bar” (tvN)

A scene from “Life Bar” (tvN)
A scene from “Life Bar” (tvN)

According to the Korea Health Promotion Institute, depictions of drinking on television rose 14. 1 percent in 2016 compared to 2014.

Alcohol acts as the central theme in several shows currently on air.

“Life Bar,” a talk show that started last December on tvN, features celebrities gabbing over booze-related anecdotes and life lessons while consuming drinks of the guest’s choice. There is a five-drinks maximum rule.

“There doesn’t have to be a reason when it comes to having a drink,” the show’s introduction says. “When you’re at home enjoying a drink alone and watching (the show), you feel as if you were drinking together with the cast.”

“Yolo Life,” which kicked off in July on SkyTV, features celebrities traveling, drinking and embracing the “you-only-live-once” credo.

“Even people who previously disliked drinking will become fond of drinking when they watch our show,” producer Seo Soo-min said. “I felt, for men, friends would be people with whom you share that first drink.”

A scene from “Yolo Life” (SkyTV)
A scene from “Yolo Life” (SkyTV)

A scene from “Yolo Life” (SkyTV)
A scene from “Yolo Life” (SkyTV)

There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to drinking scenes on television, according to the Korea Communications Standards Commission. Its regulations stipulate that “alcohol consumption, smoking, speculative acts and extravagant spending” need to be expressed with prudence so as not to “romanticize or encourage” said acts. A nine-member consultative body rules on the appropriateness of each show based on these guidelines.

Public consensus is an important factor in the body’s decisions. Because there is a widespread perception that alcohol is a necessary for relieving stress and socializing, its consumption or humorous portrayal of drunkenness is rarely judged “inappropriate” for air, an official at the commission said.

On Sept. 1, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Health Promotion Institute launched a body consisting of television writers, producers, viewers, academics and standards enforcers to discuss the impact of alcohol-related television programming.

“It’s necessary to talk about the negative effects of inappropriate depictions of drinking in the media,” said Kim Young-wook, professor at the KAIST Moon Soul Graduate School of Future Strategy. “It will lead to a slow but gradual improvement.”

By Rumy Doo (

Korea Herald daum