Pop Culture Icon Hid a Dark Secret: #MeToo and the Suicide of Jo Min Ki

It’s 2018, and the power of the Internet has given rise to social movements and cultural powerhouses. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements started by Hollywood and South Korea are perhaps the most newsworthy in those respective categories, with South Korea even hosting this year’s Olympics and Paralympics. Of course, it is only a natural eventuality that the two worlds – social movements and culture would collide. However, this is a case that has not worked out for the better.

On the afternoon of March 9 2018, South Korean actor and professor Jo Min-ki was found dead by his wife, in a storage room of an apartment that the two shared (British Broadcasting Channel, 2018). The 52 year-old actor, whose feats include major roles in numerous Korean dramas from the 1980s to the early 2000s, and earning a teaching position in Cheongju University’s drama department in 2010 was fired in February after multiple allegations of him sexually harassing and outright raping female students came to light (BBC 2018). He was set to be questioned March 6, but reportedly had the day pushed back not to disrupt his daughter’s college entrance ceremony (All KPop News, 2018).

Within the country, the news of his death was covered by Channel A’s News Top 10 reporter Kang il Hong, with whom he was personally close (All KPop News, 2018). Kang il Hong was also the last person to hear from the actor, via a phone conversation from an unknown phone number (All KPop News, 2018). During the call, Jo Min-ki expressed remorse for his actions and was apologetic to both victims and his family (All KPop News, 2018).

This incident comes as a shock. Not because it is rare. Rather, it is because sexual assault and suicide are taboo and therefore not discussed openly, for the most part. Also, Gender equality is also lacking in the Asian nation, with the World Economic Forum ranking it 117 out of 140 in terms of gender equality  (Vice Kermelovos, 2016. And, according to an article in Vice Magazine, South Korea’s rape culture is strong, meaning sexual assault is relatively and sadly, normal (Kurmelovs, 2016).

Perhaps then, this incident is not entirely sad. It is certainly sad for everyone affected by the tragedy, from victims and their families, to the family of Jo Min-ki. Yet, its timing was right. With the #MeToo movement, and the dominance of KPop culture reaching global levels, South Korea has been presented with an opportunity to move beyond traditional social stigmas surrounding both sexual assault and suicide. They would certainly set an example for the rest of Asia. Though in this day and age, the inherent sexism just seems backwards. Thus, I want to conclude this by saying: South Korea, #TimesUp.

Works Cited

https://www.allkpop.com/article/2018/03/audio-recording-of-jo-min-kis-last-phone-conversation-before-his-death-revealed

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-43343536

https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/yvjnjg/south-koreas-rape-problem-is-actually-a-gender-inequality-problem

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