By Kwaak Je-yup
That parental discretion is necessary for children’s choice of entertainment is accepted worldwide, with differences in the level of enforcement. On the Korean government’s controversial restriction of Lady Gaga’s upcoming Friday concert, however, entertainment industry insiders complain that non-local acts suffer from systematic discrimination under an outdated law. The superstar arrived in Seoul last Friday, and preparations for her concert are underway under a heavy shroud of secrecy at Seoul Olympic Stadium.
The performance law, first written into the books in the 1960s, details that foreign artists and performances must obtain government approval. This regulation is optional for locals, who may ask for a review if they are concerned about content.
No concert organizer or promoter would speak publicly about this unfair treatment openly, fearing direct or indirect retaliation, yet there is a wide consensus among them that Korea is out of step with the rest of the world in this regard.
“Even Singapore hasn’t (restricted) it,” said one insider, referring to the Southeast Asian island state’s world-famous iron fist over foreign content. The government there only required a notice for parental discretion for Lady Gaga’s newest tour “Born This Way Ball,” instead of an outright ban of adolescents in the arena. On previous occasions there, American artists took racier segments out of their performances to gain permission to play live. Lady Gaga’s show in its entirety will go on stage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium next month.
The Korean Media Rating Board, which makes “recommendations” to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, judged late last month that the “Ball” has “harmful content” to young people. The request for reconsideration from organizers Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, was rebuffed; the board sticking to its decision.
“There are no official ratings for live performances, only recommendations. A committee of experts reviews the materials organizers submit … to see if they could be harmful,” said a board official, declining to explain the specific nature of its objection to Lady Gaga’s show. “Costumes or excessively sexual performances are determined as inappropriate for young people.”
The pop star’s first Korean visit in 2009 was not restricted.
On the law’s different treatment of national and international acts, he said: “That’s the law. That’s why.”
That legislation originates from another era, first established in 1961, when foreign culture was deemed an influence detrimental to social order and too liberal to come in unfiltered. Even in today’s texts, its clauses cite damage or disruption to “the national interest,” “the goodness of people’s customs” and “the orderliness of local performance culture” as reasons not to approve a foreign-born performance. A presidential decree may override the board’s decision, another relic of the past.The culture ministry officials inadvertently confirmed this, asserting that these regulations are rarely applied.
“In 2012, not a single performance failed to gain the board’s recommendation,” she said.
Even Lady Gaga’s plans for the Friday concert were approved by the board, though deemed inappropriate for adolescents.
Only a few hundred tickets have had to be returned since last month’s ruling, but a nationwide controversy ensued. Several celebrities voiced their dissent of the government decision on their respective social networks, while some Christian associations said the American singer promoted immoral anti-Christian values, though some of their statements’ exaggerated claims suggested misinformation. Even the pop star commented on her official account: “Thanku (sic) to all the adults in Korea who are speaking out for underaged who want to come to the BTW Ball. Maybe the gov. will change their mind.”
On Monday, there were more than 2,000 standing tickets and close to 900 tickets in the lowest price category for Friday’s concert at the Seoul Olympic Stadium in southeastern Seoul, the first date on the artist’s world tour.
The officials of Live Nation Korea declined to comment. Live Nation’s U.S. publicists had not returned calls at the time of reporting.
A spokesman for Hyundai Card, which is sponsoring the event, also declined to comment.