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Season 14 | Episode 3

I Hart K-Pop

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First, we peer back at the moment when poking into the private lives of political figures became standard practice in the American media. In 1987, Gary Hart was a young charismatic Democrat, poised to win his party’s nomination and possibly the presidency. Many of us know the story of what happened next, and even if you don’t, it’s a familiar tale. But at the time, politicians and political reporters found themselves in uncharted territory. With help from author Matt Bai, we look at how the events of that May shaped the way we cover politics, and expanded our sense of what's appropriate when it comes to judging a candidate.

Then, we travel to South Korea where the first-ever paparazzi photos turned the world of K-pop upside down and introduced sort of a puzzle …

A global juggernaut, K-Pop garners billions in sales and millions of fans hanging on every note, watching K-pop idols synchronize and strut. And that fame rests on a fantasy, K-pop stars have to be chaste and pure, but also … available. Until recently, Korean music agencies and K-pop fans held their pop stars to a strict set of rules designed to keep that fantasy alive. That is, until Dispatch showed up.

Taking a cue from American and British paparazzi, a group of South Korean reporters started hiding in their cars and snapping photos of stars on their secret dates. Which raises the question: how much do you want to know about the people you idolize, and when is enough enough?


Comments [9]

Wendy from Virginia

Caught the show on Sunday (as always), and a throw-away line has been rattling in my head since then.

It is not true that looking at someone’s personal pictures springs from a fun or laudable quest for knowledge, and it’s an unfortunate side effect is it falls negatively more often on women.

No. It’s a deliberate cultivation of a lack of empathy. That willingness to refuse empathy because somehow another’s actions puts them beyond the reach of kindness or understanding - that’s a choice. A moral failing.

Deciding you or anyone else gets to do whatever they want, because the ONLY thing in play is intellectual curiosity or some unaccountable urge - that’s a lie. We are accountable to treat each other in a way that reflects our true values. There’s no exception; no loophole for sex or any type of sexual activity. It’s a choice to see a girl stripped and on display without consent as a participant in fantasy instead of a victim in need. That’s a choice.

It’s NOT the default that people treat others in a way that doesn’t match their principles. You saying that there would be anger, but then everyone would just accept and sneak a peek - that total local of empathy and self-accountability has to be learned, practiced and hardened. You can choose better. You should expect better.

I have respect for Radiolab’s content and intellectual curiousity. But it is not curiousity or unthinking reflection that leads to the behavior you tossed off hand. It’s a deliberate refusal to be kind, repeated and repeated in a thousand little ways until the connection to perception of realty has been killed beyond retrieval.

We in the US, through long practice, have decided in certain circunmstances no standard of common humanity applies. I acknowledge it. But I call it what it is.

Oct. 31 2017 05:54 AM
Linda from Lake Forest, CA

I caught the last half of the K-pop paparazzi segment. I was very tempted to turn off the stream because I have been a life-long fan of K-pop, but grew concerned and and disgusted with how the K-pop industry and their fans were behaving. I grew up with the K-pop boy bands of the late 90s and early 2000s, back when K-pop was not the international sensation it has become as of late. I noticed how crazed I was becoming as a result of the K-pop culture and decided to part ways with the industry that I grew to love. K-pop was my connection to the Korean culture - it taught me how to read and write Korean as well as help me speak the Korean language fluently. I would really like to thank you for the story. Around 2008, I stopped following K-pop because of the paparazzi news and I remember feeling disappointed that the Korean media would go so far and become as invasive as the American paparazzi. I grew resentful and bitter of the Korean fan base and the Korean media and decided to cut myself off from the thing that played such an integral portion of my childhood. K-pop gave me the opportunity to deepen my relationship and connection with my parents, and when I chose to let go of this part of my life, my relationship with my parents, especially with my father, pretty much ended.

Thank you so much for doing this story. I'm glad I didn't turn away from the story like my first instinct told me to do. I was able to reminisce about the happy times K-pop had brought to my life and it actually gave me closure to the part of my life that I was trying to deny. As I became older, I started noticing that Korea was not the happy, ideal place K-pop had painted the culture to be. Recently, I started engaging with my father about the political environment about Korea, expressing my concerns and disdain for the controlled media and news outlets. I feel like if the younger version of me heard this story, I would be very angry with Mr. Lee for creating such a chaotic environment. The younger me really took for granted the free speech and protections we have in America. I have sympathy and great understanding for what Mr. Lee was experiencing at the time he created this industry. I might have done the same thing if I were in his position.

The story was very well presented. I was thinking Koreans would become obsessed with the outbreak of the Ailee scandal. I was very surprised and even moved to tears when I heard the end of the story. I thought maybe I was being too harsh of a critic of Korean fans. I forget that even though the Korean fans are pretty crazy, the thing that makes them so unique is how passionate and supportive they can be.

Again, thank you for the story. I was able to experience inner peace because of the new perspective of the K-pop industry, and showed me a new perspective to my memories and experience of the industry.

Oct. 29 2017 08:28 PM
Often Zhan from Daly City, California

As a counterpoint to what Alyse said, I loved how you shed light on Gary Hart's story from multiple perspectives. Rather than just telling us an opinion to believe, all you did was show us the facts and allowed us to make our own conclusion on where to draw the line between "political issue", "character issue", and "political issue".

I'm sure that all the people in your new's team have an opinion about this story -especially since news is your line of profession- and I am grateful that you did not let your biased opinions cloud your judgement when editing and presenting this story.

Thank you for being unbiased. Thank you for presenting the facts in a way that allow your listeners to draw their own conclusion and presenting us with opinions different from our own. Since I grew up in the early 90s, the only type of news I have been accustomed to has been the style of journalism presented post-"Gary Hart" where I am constantly bombarded with the personal lives of celebrities and politicians. It was strange for me to learn that this style of paparazzi journalism wasn't always the norm.

I felt as if both the stories presented complimented each other very well. Honestly, I don't know what my opinion is on this matter, but I feel that I'm in a better position to make an informed opinion about journalism than before listening to this episode.

Both stories resonated with me deeply especially in light of recent political news. In the end, what I know is this: The type of news we are experiencing today was deeply influenced by the decisions and events from the past, and just like the past, we are currently going through 'uncharted territory" that will shape the way journalism, politics, and political reporters approach major events for the years to come.

You and your team are not "stuck in the late 1980s", and I hope that your style of unbiased reporting will become the norm in the 21st century. Thank you again for such an excellent episode, and I wish you the best of luck.

Feb. 13 2017 02:59 AM
Jesse from Busan, South Korea

I listened to the K-pop podcast and I find it difficult to stomach how biased the woman telling the story was about Korean vs. American culture(the end of the podcast referenced human nature). I won't get into that right now. A couple issues that could be explored in later shows are 1)the abusive control the agencies and fans have over the potential stars; and 2) the copycat culture in Korea(in reference to the reporter who copied US tabloid/entertainment news tactics,hence the birth of the paparazzi in Korea went forth). In addition, K-pop music is purely not original and it was copied from American pop music. I live in South Korea and I really experience deep contradictions in their society. In fact the contradictions are so deep, that many people are in denial about the contradictive behaviors.

Jul. 20 2016 01:33 PM
TV Monitor from New Jersey

Look how Gary Hart's affair leaks finished his presidential ambitions, while Ted Cruz moves on with his alleged affairs. Times surely have changed.

Anyhow, RadioLab covers the K-Pop industry is a little out of context. Based on the former trainee's description, she worked for one of those minor agencies, a dead-end path for most who walk it. Basically, nothing sort of a miracle will make you a star by signing with a minor agency, these guys cannot compete against major agencies with a billion dollar revenues. I am not saying the miracle doesn't happen, but it happens once in five years or something. If you cannot sign with a major agency, then don't bother wasting years of your life. The culture of major agencies is much different, where they commute to train for the first 5~6 years(Major agencies sign their candidates before age 11, and children under 11 need to be with with their mommies), then move into a dorm to finish off their training in the Year 7(Yes, they get trained for 7~10 years) for those survivors who made it through the pruning process. So what is described by the former minor agency trainee in the RadioLab would not happen to a major agency trainee. If you need to understand what a major agency trainee looks like compared to the minor agency trainee interviewed by the RadioLab looks like, click here.

About the gender differences, you have to understand K-Pop industry is a male dominated industry, where 80% of revenue is generated by male performers, most of fans are females of Asia, and female idols simply scrapes pieces left by male idols. The reason why the agencies try to hide their female idols dating is to protect them from a beehive attack by angry female fans of the male idols they date, not because of an industry sexism against female idols. So from a female idol's perspective it is definitely much worse than male idol, became of the fanbase structure where most K-Pop fans are women who don't like another woman making a play for their men, even if it's someone like Kim Taeyeon. For female idols who date non-celebrities or ones with no significant female fan-base, nothing happens and life goes on as usual, dating in public.

As for the Ailee scandal, that was a criminal case involving a blackmail to release her nude "test" photos taken while she was a model candidate in New Jersey(Ailee is a Jersey girl) while she was still a minor, not something that she took on her own volition. If it was the latter case, you bet the outcome would not have been pretty.

So the conclusion is that K-Pop industry is male-performer dominated, 90% of fans are female, and female-performers don't have it easy with the task of having to attract female fans because K-Pop male fanbase is so small. When the market is small relative to the size of male idols, things get tough.

Apr. 25 2016 09:51 PM
leoFromChicago from Chicago

Wow, the comment from Cokie along the lines of 'it's not what they stand for but who they are' (sorry, quoting from memory) says more about her and the quality of her work than about anyone running for office or of us who vote to put them in. Embarrassing.

Apr. 24 2016 01:37 PM
Vicki from OAKLAND

The Hart campaign and how journalists regard personal lives seem to be part of an issue that is entirely wrapped up in gender. Cokie Roberts calls it. It would be refreshing to listen to a program that included the perception both halves of humanity. In the mean time, the way that men in power treat women is essentially an issue of character, without qualification. If we lived in a culture in which gender did not determine power and influence, sexual behavior would not loom so large.

Apr. 24 2016 03:22 AM
Alyse Graham from San Mateo, California

I just listened to your story on Gary Hart with my 14 year old son. We both enjoyed it until the last 2/3rds when it became clear that the writers and producers of Radio Lab, like Gary Hart, remain stuck in the late 1980s. How could your story have left Gary Hart with the last word (that "injustices were done")? How could you not have loudly and clearly told your listeners that it is now fully clear that fidelity to marriage and family is NOT just a "character issue" or just an "integrity issue" (though both are important) but in fact clearly an actual and really important POLITICAL issue, worthy of the same level of coverage. How can it be "irrelevant" or simply a "character issue" the fidelity that politicians have to wives and families when women's rights, family rights, and children's rights issues either are or should be squarely on our political agendas every day in this country? Your interview with Cokie Roberts was too weak and anachronistic a counterpoint to Hart's passionate withdrawal speech and his present day comments you quoted at the end. She seemed to suggest that it is a triumph to have reporters covering "character" issues and, though she mentioned "the personal is political," it was presented in the story as an aside. She also made an unsupportable distinction between the relevance of this information to a presidential candidate as opposed to other public officials. To be clear to you, your listeners, and to my 14 year old son: the reason that Gary Hart's -- or any other local, state or national electoral candidate's personal life -- is relevant is not (just) so voters can judge his character, but because all voters - especially women -- have a right to know and to act on information relating to whether and how a candidate will represent their interests. Please bring your reporting into the 21st century.

Apr. 23 2016 06:12 PM

Wow, thanks for this- I thought then it was a RW plot (I was touring mtns in a camper at the time) and it was: Rice's informer roommate worked for the RNC and may have set up the whole affair, and Rice is now a RW anti-abortion campaigner. Shocked at Bai's flexible morals, but he sure got a great career out of it, huh. I produced an 8 hour documentary about the 84 campaign, going to DC, filming his young booming operation run by 20 yo college kids taking in $1 million/day- then real money (presaging Deans + Obamas), and even doing some media advice and commercials for him (I was won over).

Where was Bai when the incredible lies were peddled to start the Iraq War, which killed maybe 1 million, and killed, wounded, + damaged 300K Americans. This was just when the RW echo chamber started with AM radio becoming a swamp of hate talk radio; Clinton being frantically pursued for 6 years and $120 million until they found Monica, and winner AL Gore being cheated out of the Presidency after being slandered for months as a liar by a hateful press, as dimwit GB2 was lauded as personable and friendly.

More salient facts- Hart had been separated from his wife for periods of up to a year, I never heard any woman's complaint of ill treatment ever, and have questioned the imperious doyen Cokie, who fancies she IS Washington. Hart produced several hugely respected reports, including the Hart-Rudman Report in 2001 about OBL terrorism that Bush completely ignored, and was the genius campaign manager that got stodgy George McGovern nominated. Like the unfairly trashed Howard Dean in 2004, America lost a great political talent in Hart. Bai sounds like a nasty little nerd too- don't buy his book.

Here's my 10 min TV report from '84

Apr. 23 2016 11:34 AM

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