Letter of (Almost) Resignation: Final Confessions, Part II
For almost 7 years, under contract, the members of JYJ suffered injustices and indignities, of which the lawsuit hearings barely scratched the surface most likely. However, if the status quo in the Korean pop music industry is allowed to continue, the greatest victims will be Korean citizens and Korean law…and, by extension, the Korean State and Government.
If the 20th century was the century of economic development, the 21st is rapidly shaping up to be that of human development. In the present century, countries will not be competing with simple capital but with human capital. Invariably, the States and economies that thrive will be those that manage to attract the brightest and most creative minds and manage to cultivate people’s innovation, ideas and youthful energies. The goal will no longer be to make a quick buck, but to achieve sustainability (ie, to keep consistently making a quick buck) whilst maintaining competitiveness. The Korean Government is well aware of this, and has been promoting the rhetoric of “global leader” and ‘Korea’s global leadership’ ever since its hosting of the G20 Summit. Yet, the current Korean pop industry model runs on a system that exploits Korea’s young and promising talents, throwing them to the curb in 5-6 year cycles before they’re able to fulfil their creative potential (or after draining them of their youth, vitality and earnings). It is a system that uses them as bargaining chips instead of acknowledging them as creative agents. How is Korea going to compete in the new economic world order if we allow our most competitive assets to be killed off like this? We are already facing the loss of our youth through population decline and suicide. We can’t afford to further lose them through such a ridiculous, anti-competition and anti-free market arrangement as well.
The entertainment cartels, KFPCAI, KEPA and now the recently formed United Asia Management (UAM) included, that SM prefers to work through (for fear of being caught red-handed by the Korean court in violating court orders, it seems), are ticking time bombs for Korean free market capitalism and threaten the Republic of Korea’s credibility as a modern capitalist democracy. Using public (citizen taxpayers’) money, these cartels work to directly destroy free competition in the music market. Basic economics dictates that the compromise of free competition triggers a domino effect that ultimately leads to a lack of innovation and the collapse of the system. Moreover, unlike the indie and folk music scenes, whose sounds and business models are built on an appeal to authenticity that hasn’t really changed since the 1960s, the charm of pop music is in its rapid reinventions. Isn’t this at least half the fun of following pop music…to witness how and how quickly artists incorporate different musical and aesthetic influences? What will become of K pop if the economic incentives to innovate erode away thanks to established oligopolies and the Korean Government’s short-sighted mercantilist support of them? (Such mercantilist policies may be justified where the market is not fully developed and its main players are in a position where they are forced to do more catch-up than innovation, as was the case for Korea just after the Korean War, but in a fully developed country and a market like Korea’s pop music market such policies can only have detrimental consequences.)
In the long run, these cartels will be devastating to Korea’s arts and culture industry and may very well spell the death of the Korean Wave.
Not that they care. SM and its cartel cronies have essentially set up a kingdom of their own behind everyone’s back and are more than happy to sit smugly on the throne as Emperor and Overlord in flagrant disregard of the authority of the Korean State and Justice System. This is being clearly and willingly demonstrated by SM itself in its ruthless pursuit of JYJ. It was also demonstrated by the outrageous statement of the KFPCAI that it “forgives/pardons” Jay Park and authorises his media appearances, as if it had a power over Jay Park that only the Korean State has the authority to claim[i]! Korean citizens haven’t seen such an ugly face since the last military dictatorship.
Through JYJ, Korean citizens are finally waking up to see that despite the fact that Korean public media runs happily on Koreans’ tax contributions, it actually answers instead to a coterie of Scheming Morons who denigrate Art to a Slot Machine, treat young artists—Korea’s competitive assets and citizens—like Sideshow Monkeys, because their Small Minds can’t possibly conceive of a healthier working relationship, and mock the Korean State and her citizens and courts, thinking that, despite being in and taking full advantage of Korea’s jurisdiction, Korean law doesn’t apply to them in the treasonous separate kingdom they have set up. The company even takes the occasion of a charity ceremony as a golden opportunity to show off its control over its young charges and hold them like so many hostages over the Korean public’s head![ii] In all my years working in civil society, I have rarely seen such an abuse and perversion of its values, nor such disrespect toward the Korean public and our precious young talents. As such, I consider SM Entertainment to be a company that hates Korea and Koreans.
What the Korean Government must understand is that the likes of SM Entertainment, KFPCAI, KMP Holdings, UAM and KEPA are NOT its friends and should never be elevated to the level of Government partners either. These barely legitimate entities themselves have made it clear that they stand against everything that the Korean Government hopes to achieve for modern-day Korea as well as the values and ambitions it promoted at the G20 Summit. These cartels and entertainment companies even stand against our President, Lee Myeong Bak, who committed himself and his Government to a “fair and transparent society”[iii]. But most important of all, they have dared to challenge and violate a jealously guarded prerogative of the Modern State (mutatis mutandis the Republic of Korea) since its inception: the authority to enact laws and be obeyed. This translates into the Korean State’s exclusive authority to have the final say over the lot of its citizens and those in its jurisdiction (including legal persons like SM Entertainment) through its laws—laws that SM, KFPCAI, KEPA, etc. themselves have taken full advantage of and profited handsomely from.
Here then is the true meaning of ungratefulness: Taking full advantage of Korea’s laws, the freedom and privileges offered by the country’s identity as a developed democracy, and the trust and long-suffering patience of her people, only to secretly undermine it all in a way that ultimately throws Korea’s economic viability into uncertainty, compromises the quality of our cultural products and seeks to usurp the sovereignty of the Korean State…all under the lie that this is beneficial for the Korean Wave.
If the Korean Government is serious in its commitment and duty to serve the Korean State and if it doesn’t want to see our national sovereignty become discredited in the eyes of the vast international audience that follows the JYJ v. SM lawsuit, it will discipline SM…and it will discipline SM hard, preferably making an example out of it for all who dare to usurp the Korean State’s authority and abuse her citizens with impunity.
Considering that I myself voted for this Government and look forward to voting for its able members again the next time round too, I look forward to NOT being disappointed.
If the company’s insidious violations of the court’s orders weren’t enough, what is the Korean public to make of SM’s suspicious behaviour in court, namely its continued failure, in spite of official orders, to disclose all relevant accounting and financial documents? According to numerous accounts of the last hearing[iv], SM once again failed to produce all requested records in the courtroom, bringing only a portion of the accounting books.
Given that SM’s behaviour suggests that it is hiding something, what could it be? Given that the information the company did decide to reveal in court was most likely cherry-picked but still managed to be scandalous and horrifying, what wasn’t revealed could only be much worse.
Having established the propensity of the SM business model to “invest” capital it technically doesn’t have or qualify for into a training system with extremely high risk and high maintenance costs but relatively low likelihood of returns (not the favourite choice of words of most legitimate capital-loaning banks), the relevant question might not be Are loan sharks involved? but How many? And how many on the company’s pay(back)roll would pique the interests of at least one department of the International Criminal Police? In my line of work, where the loan sharks are, activity recognised as an international crime carrying transnational jurisdiction is never far off. Moreover, I find it interesting that the internationally reputed and respected Time Magazine came within a hair of making the same conclusions in its 2002 article around the time Korean entertainment slave contracts first became an issue[v].
It is clearly in the company’s best interests to comply with the orders of the Korean State.
And such a company dares speak on the topic of moral character! Such a company dares to assert that it is the face of the Korean Wave and even that it pioneered the Korean Wave![vi]
[iv]http://gall.dcinside.com/list.php?id=dongbang&no=1485386&page=5&recommend=1&recommend=1&bbs=; See also https://thejyjfiles.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/comprehensive-account-of-jyj-vs-sm-march-15-2011-court-hearing/
[vi] Russell, Mark James. Pop goes Korea. Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA: 2008, p. 156
Written by: Jimmie of TheJYJFiles