Cable network tvN's "Seol Min-suk's Naked World History" led by the celebrity history instructor continues to achieve high ratings despite the recent controversy over historical inaccuracies featured in the show.
The educational show has consistently scored a viewership of over 5 percent since it began airing Dec. 12, with the most recent episode reaching 5.5 percent, according to Nielsen Korea.
Seol is under fire for allegedly distorting history. He made several critical factual errors in his "broadcast lessons."
Kwack Min-soo, an expert and the head of the Korea Institute of Egyptology, posted a harsh criticism of the program on Facebook, Dec. 20, writing, "It's hard to even point out everything that the show got factually wrong because there were so many mistakes."
Kwack mentioned Seol's use of an incorrect map of Egypt as well as his erroneous attribution of the Great Library of Alexandria's founder to Alexander the Great when the historical consensus dictates it was established during the reign of Ptolemy II. Seol was also accused of inaccurately describing the context of Julius Caesar's famous phrase "Veni, vidi, vici," which was written after his victory against Pharnaces II in the Battle of Zela (modern Turkey), among others.
"Incorporating popular rumors and myths into discussions about historical facts can be a good strategy to entertain TV viewers, but if one intends to teach history, it is important to clearly distinguish the two," he wrote. "And in this case, even the facts presented are often incorrect."
Such condemnation soon prompted the shows' production crew and eventually Seol himself to issue a formal apology.
"All blame should fall on me since the program is run with my name on it," he said on his YouTube channel.
But the educator was quickly swept up in another controversy when his now-deleted YouTube video about the early musical history of R&B surfaced.
In the video, he claimed that R&B was born because jazz lost its original purpose and intention when white people began performing it. However, the statement was immediately met with criticism from music critics, who claimed R&B was a result of the nationwide popularization of blues beyond its birthplace in the southern region of the U.S.
"If one read even one book about the history of jazz, blues, electric blues, R&B and early rock 'n' roll, they would not be able to make such a nonsensical statement," critic and writer Bae Sun-tak said. "It's another remark uttered without any formal research."
Such controversy over historical inaccuracies in Seol's TV lessons has stirred a debate online about whether the dramatization of history should be tolerated or not.
Those in support of Seol argue that his dramatic versions of history can, to a certain degree, contribute to generating interest in the field, and therefore has its own virtue.
"I have heavily relied on his lessons to gain knowledge in the area. He explained such difficult and dry subject matter in a way that helped me truly understand history, something that I wasn't able to achieve for over a decade," one internet user wrote.
Others argue that although fictional narratives sometimes resort to such dramatization or historical inaccuracies to attract viewers, the standard should be held differently when it comes to history lessons taught by an instructor, even when it is branded as entertainment.
"With his influence and popularity, Seol should be more careful to ensure he is delivering accurate information, especially in areas in which he is not an expert," one commented, while others urged him to conduct proper research to confirm whether the content he teaches is widely-accepted fact or just a simply sensational myth.
Seol has taught Korean history since 2002 and has made appearances on multiple TV shows including MBC's then-popular reality show "Infinite Challenge."
source: The Korea Times