By Bae Ji-sook
Twenty-four-year-old office worker Choi Ji-hyun couldn't believe her ears two weeks ago when she was watching "Myeongrang Hero", a TV entertainment show.
A guest was explaining about a man wearing a thong on a beach when TV host Kim Gu-ra
suddenly interrupted and said, "Wasn't that Hong Suk-chun
?" The problem was that Hong is a gay icon in Korea, still fighting social prejudice against sexual minorities.
"I felt that Kim was looking down on Hong, reflecting stereotyped ideas about gays. It was very inappropriate", Choi said.
Kim's remarks indeed sparked a controversy on the Internet and there were some news reports on the issue. The producer said, "Kim and Hong are really close friends. I am sure he did not mean any harm".
, one of the most popular pop singers in the nation, has recently been screened allegedly saying, "I f***ing love it" on her weekend primetime show. The program producers later explained that what she said was "I feel like loving it", but many viewers watching the program were unconvinced.
Television has long been mocked as an "idiot box" in Korea. But Koreans spend an average of two hours and 43 minutes in front of the box a day, according to AGB Neilson Media research in 2006, indicating that TV's influence on people is getting stronger than ever.
Additionally, the more powerful the media has become, the more irritating and "nasty" its content has become, media experts say.
Celebrities' slips of the tongue, where hosts show their middle finger to each other using the "F" word, speaking ill of others and showing teeth to each other, has almost become a trend. In fact, "Myeongrang Hero" was found to have used offensive or inappropriate words 280 times in just two airings last October, according to the Korea Communications Commission.
TV broadcasters, who used to offer an official apology for inappropriate behavior and bleep out offensive words, are now rushing to make them an integral part of their programs.
They decorate such words with captions and computer graphics, inducing viewers to laugh and take them in a lighthearted manner rather than getting angry.
"I feel more than upset sometimes. Don't they at least have ethical guidelines for TV when children are watching? I don't want my children to giggle at other people being humiliated or being laughed at", angry viewer Im Jung-ok said.
Such actions have already been adopted into people's lives. A woman identified only as Bae, a fourth grade elementary school teacher, said she was surprised at her students using bad language without even realizing it. "All those `F' words and other swear words come out of children's mouths without any sign of guilt. They sometimes proudly tell me that they have learnt it from TV", she said.
A producer told Donga Ilbo, a local newspaper, that talking badly, harsh and negative dialogue causes outrage and higher viewer ratings. "That is something we cannot resist", he was quoted as saying.
Prof. Ha Ji-hyun of Konkuk University said, "The public wants more stimulation, something that brings them guilty pleasure. They then blame it on TV because it keeps providing them with what they see and what they want to see".