A Cosmetic(s) Discourse, Part I:
The Eighth Cardinal Sin = Breaking up a Boyband
Ever since the beginning of the lawsuit, and perhaps before as well, SM Entertainment has insisted that the sole reason Dong Bang Shin Ki members Kim Jaejoong, Kim Junsu and Park Yoochun were suing the company was because of their involvement, in the capacity of investors, in an obscure cosmetics company. The three members filed a lawsuit, SM claimed, in order to pursue their ‘greed for wealth’ hand-in-hand with this cosmetics company. As readers are by now aware, not long after, all sorts of rumours elaborating on, and catering to, SM’s interpretation of events has spread through the Internet in a manner a speck too organised for it to have been mere coincidence. A group of anti-JYJ fans who came to be known collectively as the “Hotel Girls” forcefully insisted that these rumours were “facts” by also providing photos, video-clips, links to websites (that look like they’ve been put together after a lark in the park and a night class in web-design at the local community college) and other “evidence” allegedly corroborating their claims. By now we all know where that ended up in the case of Korea…it involved a lot of kow-towing, officially recorded confessions and blubbering apologies on the part of at least 15 Hotel Girls.
The purpose of this article and those that follow is not to definitively dispel nor confirm these “facts”—or labour through separating fact from fiction—about the cosmetics business and JYJ’s involvement in the business. There are better sites and Internet platforms run by more experienced and knowledgeable people doing just that. In any case, what I find more disturbing is the discourse that buttresses the “facts”, or rather distortions and fabrications thereof, championed by the Hotel Girls. Hence, the purpose of these articles, of which this is the first part, is to expose this discourse in the hopes of neutralising its poisonous effects.
The Blame Game…Also a 9:1 Ratio
As similar conflicts around the world between management companies and their contracted artists have shown[i], there are usually a variety of reasons that bring singers to abandon their management: breakdown in mutual trust, lack of transparency in profit distributions, unequal assignment of rights and responsibilities between the parties, misunderstanding of contract terms, etc. Usually, it’s not unreasonable to say that both sides can be held culpable for the deterioration of the relationship. However, in the case of JYJ and SM, the cosmetics discourse would have us believe that all the blame must be laid on the members of JYJ and little, if any at all, can be accounted to SM.
The reasoning goes something like this: The cosmetics business was the reason for the breakup of Dong Bang Shin Ki. The members of JYJ were involved in the cosmetics business. Therefore, JYJ necessarily caused the breakup of Dong Bang Shin Ki, for which they must take full responsibility.
Not only is this faulty logic, falling into the elementary error of mistaking correlation for cause-and-effect, the argument itself comes across as so shallow and immature that it’s…well…cosmetic. Yet, it is a central idea in the discourse, because it is instrumental in sweeping all the blame on to the members of JYJ for splitting up Dong Bang Shin Ki so that none goes to SM Entertainment or its shady business practices. Once that’s done, it’s much easier to dress the trio up as criminals and place a bulls’ eye on their chests for target practice by public opinion. The cosmetics company itself, unfortunately for Crebeau and its employees, merely serves as an excuse—a vehicle—to actualise the real motive, which is the destruction of JYJ.
Of course, the breakup of one of the most beloved bands in Asia is no laughing matter. It has caused each member of the band no small amount of unhealthy emotions. Their fans, who have invested all kinds of emotions and affections of their own into the group, would have also have gone through enormous stress due to the split. It’s only natural given the level of attachment that long-time fans of the original Dong Bang Shin Ki have to their idols. But the histrionic hysteria and attacks against the three that this discourse was designed to inspire and does inspire are enough to convince anyone that Jaejoong, Yoochun and Junsu have committed an unspeakable sin against humanity.
This author handles cases dealing with refugees and human trafficking; this author has colleagues who’ve counselled gang rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, the slightest notion even, that the members of JYJ deserve a place further up front in the line to hell—past the human traffickers, rapists, genocide instigators or even writers of unfair contracts and shady accountants—for causing the breakup of an idol group is so ridiculous that it makes any sane person wonder whatever was the point of education or the evolution of the human noggin.
But perhaps these analogies are too much for the sensitivities of those who have not seen this side of reality. Very well…let us dilute the focus down to our provincial and immediate context—lawsuit, allegations of unfair contract, allegations of greed via cosmetic company, breakup of a world-class group. Even so, the discourse frames the breakup of a boyband as a crime. More specifically, the crime of breaking up a boyband—and one at the peak of its popularity no less—is portrayed as being more offensive than the fact that its members were suffering from indignities brought upon them by a contract and related business practices so antagonistic to principles of universal social progress that they endanger South Korea’s international commitments. At face value, this position is too absurd for most decent and clear-thinking people to accept. However, the discourse is able to sell this claim through a rather clever embellishment in its argumentation.
Brand > Human Being
In practically all SM-approved statements issued to the public that point to the cosmetics business as the culprit for the lawsuit, there is an emphasis on Dong Bang Shin Ki’s “brand”. In other words, the cosmetics discourse appeals to the “brand value” of Dong Bang Shin Ki, promoting the idea that the “brand” must not be compromised, even if the integrity and rights of the individuals who give it any meaning are compromised on a daily basis. This obsession to preserve the brand or image of Dong Bang Shin Ki at the expense of the individuals that comprise it is rather ironic, given that SM owns neither the brand nor the individuals that give it significance.[ii] Legal research conducted by Korean Dong Bang Shin Ki fans further reveals that by Korean law, SM Entertainment is not even allowed to patent or “brand” the stage names of the five members[iii]. Consequently, whatever claim or decision SM wants to make using this “brand” argument is always going to amount to a non sequitur.
Furthermore, the discourse elevates the protection of the Dong Bang Shin Ki brand as something noble and on a morally higher plane than the actions of the JYJ members, who are caricatured as greedy, money-hungry and selfish for their investments in a cosmetics company. Yet, in reality, this line of reasoning, which abuses people’s emotional attachment to a national brand, veils a nefarious double standard. It is essentially saying that the ‘greed for wealth’ through personal investment should be condemned to the bottom of Dante’s Inferno, but the greed for ‘the honour of being the top Korean national brand’ makes one a saint. However, in reality, the logical processes of both overlap since both operate on and promote the same self-centred value system. SM itself is well aware of this. SM Entertainment personally invested (what many suspect is not theirs to invest[iv]) in building the Dong Bang Shin Ki brand so that it could make money—i.e., satisfy a ‘greed for wealth’—with the rising value of that brand. Effectively, the promotion and protection of a brand and the pursuit for personal wealth are part and parcel of the same rationale with the same objective of benefitting the self. And yet, the cosmetics discourse would like to make us all think that one has the higher moral ground over the other, so that those who’ve bought into the discourse and feel like they’ve been robbed of a plaything through Dong Bang Shin Ki’s split can claim a righteous anger that is in fact a self-centred tantrum.
I Dumb, You Dumb, We all Da-Da-Da-Dumb
As such, the discourse is designed to appeal to those still stuck at stage one or two of Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development[v] as well as those who are susceptible to stage one and two type thinking because of the emotional stress from seeing their favourite group split. In his seminal 1958 dissertation, “The Development of Modes of Thinking and Choices in Years 10 to 16”[vi], world-renowned psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg posits that the moral development of human beings has six identifiable stages, with each stage representing a more advanced degree of moral reasoning and ethical behaviour than the preceding stage. Stages one and two, often referred to as the “pre-conventional level of moral reasoning” are characterised by egocentrism, a lack of “recognition that others’ points of view are different from one’s own”[vii], and self-interest. The moral reasoning of stage one takes an action as being morally wrong if it is met with punishment or persecution—‘JYJ are getting blocked and shunned by the major TV channels and music shows? Well, they deserve it for filing the lawsuit’—and that of stage two defines a behaviour as right if it aligns with one’s personal interests and brings personal benefits.
The cosmetics discourse pushed by representatives of SM thus criminalises the breaking up of a boyband because it is only when that boyband is together and under SM’s full control that SM is able to satisfy its self-interest. The Hotel Girls champion the cosmetics discourse because, whether they are conscious of it or not, Dong Bang Shin Ki was nothing more to them than a vehicle to satisfy personal interests or emotional needs; the split of the group brought about by the lawsuit has made these people feel robbed and somehow wronged, and the cosmetics discourse allows them to vent their angst without looking like the psychologically and morally underdeveloped subjects that they are. Regardless of the embellishments provided by “facts”, the concept of “brand value” or morally indignant accusations against the members of JYJ or Crebeau, the central idea of the cosmetics discourse—the crime brought up by the lawsuit is not the unfair contract but the breaking up of a boyband—corresponds to the intellectual and moral capacity of a 10-year old.
But what if it wasn’t JYJ’s involvement in the cosmetics business that brought about the current split? What if it doesn’t make sense, either legally nor logically, that in 21st century Korea (or in any developed modern democracy with relatively transparent and stable financial institutions and laws), a small-to-medium-sized cosmetics business, no matter how “shady”, could cause the breakup of an idol group?
Written by: Jimmie of TheJYJFiles
Shared by: TheJYJFiles
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[vi] Kohlberg, Lawrence (1958). “The Development of Modes of Thinking and Choices in Years 10 to 16”. Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Chicago.