It has been the Korean drama nobody could have seen coming. Ever since its early beginnings at the turn of the year, when a 28-year-old man submitted a request for help from the presidential Blue House for being assaulted at a club called Burning Sun, the latest Hallyu saga has blown onto the world stage in epic proportions.
Wilder than any K-drama series I’ve watched – and I’ve watched a lot – the story of Burning Sun has every kind of plot twist and drama device. Scandal. Sabotage. Sex. Secret chatrooms. And every day, it gets worse. More famous names surface. Another celebrity bows out of the entertainment industry.
On the hit list so far, at the time of writing: Seungri of Big Bang, who’s one of the directors of Burning Sun, Jung Joon Young of 2D1N/Superstar K, Yong Junhyung of Highlight (formerly known as Beast), Choi Jonghoon of F.T. Island and Lee Jonghyun of CNBLUE.
And that’s not counting Cha Tae Hyun and Kim Jun Ho, who participated in illegal overseas gambling while filming 2D1N, related news that also broke during investigations, or the other high-profile men in the Seungri-Jung Joon Young KakaoTalk chatrooms, where videos of women being drugged and raped or unknowingly filmed during sex were shared.
In the name of money, power, sex and fame, women have been exploited, assaulted and even sold. And as shown by their chat logs revealed so far by the media, the men allegedly involved have had much fun at their expense. But with the avalanche of public revelation that has hit news pages in the recent weeks, it seems that the reckoning is finally here.
Four have already stepped down from their hugely successful K-pop careers. TV programmes are racing to erase the evidence of their association with the disgraced. 2D1N, which has aired since 2007, has been suspended after losing 3 cast members to this case. A senior superintendent officer is under investigation for corruption and collusion.
Not since Descendants of the Sun has the world been quite so riveted by a Korean blockbuster. And from the looks of the comments section on every new development, the decades-long illusion of the perfect oppa might just have burnt to the ground with this one.
DESCENDANTS OF THE BURNING SUN
At which point does a little spark become the flame that consumes an entire forest? How does a candle in an inner room eventually reduce a house to ashes?
These men had everything you could want: Good looks, talent, wealth, influence. For those of us who fall short of that standard, they had “made it in life” – reached peak human. And that’s how we easily look at others, especially leaders, public figures and visibly accomplished individuals.
In this recent upheaval of public perception, it must push us to reckon with our private lives.
But hidden in private conversations and business negotiations, now thrown open for the world to see, something had gone very wrong somewhere. Was it greed, lust or plain ego that drove these friends to darker deeds and the outright criminal? Had the immensity of fame in an image-conscious country like South Korea created such a shadow for the double life to thrive?
We might never know what transpired within the hearts of the men involved, but of this we can be sure: It all comes to light one day.
You and I may not be celebrities in any right, but since time immemorial there has always been the public and private self. And in this recent upheaval of public perception, where some of our beloved stars have, in a matter of days, become somewhat the scum of the earth, it must push us to reckon with our private lives.
It’s not just about not doing anything really illegal (we do live in an age of torrents and file sharing). This is taking a good look at your life and asking yourself the tough questions: What am I involved in that I don’t want anyone to find out? What character traits or habits do I keep hidden because people will reject me or shame me if they knew?
Because, believe it or not, you know when something is wrong. It’s called a conscience. Neuroscientists might call it the pre-frontal cortex, or the braking system of the brain. Found at the front of your brain, it keeps the limbic system, or reward centre, in check. That means it’s the voice of reason that tells you to stop and think, even when something is bringing you pleasure, especially when it’s not good for you.
Ignore that voice long enough, and decisions will be increasingly made by the reward centre. This is how addictive behaviour is wired into the brain. The braking system, notably the connectors between the pre-frontal cortex and reward centre, wears out. You know such activity is inherently bad for you, but you just can’t stop. That’s addiction.
The men in one of the main chat groups started by Jung Joon Young clearly knew it was wrong. One remarked that the girl in one of the illicit videos filmed by another member was not conscious, as she had been drugged, and he casually replied, “So what if she is?” In 2016, the group had also sought advice from a lawyer regarding the videos in their chat after Jung Jun Young was reported by his ex-girlfriend.
But no one did anything to shut down the party or simply leave the conversation. So by now it would seem, in the famous words of Rihanna, that these guys have probably only been sorry they got caught.
GET WOKE AND OUT OF THE FIRE
If you’ve found yourself living in a cycle of shame, fear and control because of something you’re doing that isn’t sitting well with your conscience, we need to break this. Don’t push those feelings aside until you grow numb to the voice of reason: Remember, it all comes to light one day.
This vicious circle that keeps us from walking in true freedom has been here since Day 1, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, knowing deep inside that it was wrong. First, the shame hit. They knew they’d messed up. Then, the fear. What if God found out? And finally, control – they went into hiding, believing this could mitigate their error.
Anything buried in darkness has the propensity to grow into something much larger than we can control.
We know how the story goes. How it always goes. Shame, fear and control only burrow us deeper into the problem and tighten the chains around us. Anything buried in darkness has the propensity to grow into something much larger than we can control. There’s no happy ending there.
It’s like being in a house that has caught fire. You can try to lock it away in the room it’s started in and continue business as usual, but that’s not how the secret life works in the long run. Any control you think you have is an illusion. In reality, it controls you – your actions, your decisions and your emotions.
And your house will be ultimately razed to the ground.
Whatever you’re struggling with or still hiding today, we hope you have the courage to bring it into the light. Tell a trusted friend who can help you. Seek professional counselling. Don’t be afraid to leave the party when the house is on fire. I know I did.
And if you have friends whose houses have caught fire, take a page out of Yong Junhyung’s book. The rapper and songwriter chose to leave his boyband after admitting that Jung Joon Young had sent him one of the hidden cam videos. He wasn’t part of the sordid chatrooms, but had watched the video and made inappropriate comments about it.
But worse still, Yong said in his public apologies, he thought it was “not a big deal” and did not stop Jung Joon Young. In choosing to be a “silent observer”, his actions might have indirectly led to more victims.
We were made to live in community. We need each other to watch our blindspots and call us out when we’re treading on dangerous ground, not reinforce our wrongdoings. That’s what true friendship is, so that we are free to pursue our best selves and have the happy ending we all deserve.