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The controversies that followed the rising popularity of “Woo Young-woo,” how should we look at it?

“Woo Young-woo Syndrome” continues to spread throughout the media.

The 8th episode of the cable channel ENA drama “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (directed by Yoo In-sik, scripted by Moon Ji-hee), which aired on July 21st, recorded 13.1% nationwide based on paid households. The rating in the Seoul metropolitan area soared to 15.0% and the highest viewer rating per minute soared to 16.8%. However, this is only a simple figure, and the perceived audience rating greatly exceeds the value of number.

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However, if the mountain is high, the bottom will be deep as well. Controversy is also brewing on another side of the popularity of “Woo Young-woo” over caricatures surrounding the drama characters suffering from autism spectrum disorder. It is not a controversy about the drama itself, but rather about discourses formed around it. How should we look at this?

Is it a parody? Is it a caricature?

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YouTuber Mi Sun-chan, who has 230,000 subscribers, was recently criticized for putting up a video copying the character in “Woo Young-woo.” She mentioned several features by posting a video titled “A friend who is overly immersed in the lawyer Woo Young-woo drama.” This Youtuber then imitated the character by listing characteristics such as “Opening your eyes too round,” “Wearing an unused headset,” “Suddenly I like whales,” and “eating kimbap vertically.” 

Wowcow, a YouTube channel with 60,000 subscribers, also posted a video of the wife demanding her husband eat her home cook meal by copying the way the character talks in the drama. In Woo Young-woo’s tone, the female YouTuber said, “If you don’t eat, I become a wife who starves her husband, and I fail in being a housewife, which means I can’t make a healthy family.” “Sincerity is important in terms of food. The menu changes depending on your mind,” they said, copying Woo Young-woo’s line of “sincerity is important in terms of the law. The crime changes depending on your mind.” 

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This can be seen as a parody of the characters in the drama. However, both videos were met with heavy criticism. This is because many people saw it as a caricature and mockery of the disabled suffering from autism. In response, each offered an explanation, but criticism rarely subsided, and Wowcow even posted a lengthy article on July 21st, expressing their willingness to take legal action against malicious comments.

If you look closely at the opinions from netizens, public criticism is more dominant. In response to criticism that “These people are trying to make fun of the disabled by copying them,” there is also an opposing argument, “Why is it controversial when they are simply copying the characters in the drama?” 

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In fact, it is not hard to see people who enjoy watching “Woo Young-woo” imitate Woo Young-woo’s speech or appearance in their daily lives. Even on public SNS, catching up with Woo Young-woo is spreading like a trend. However, those are not often pointed out as “deprecating the disabled” if you look at it. Those are only viewed as showing their affection for characters in dramas that they enjoy watching. 

On the other hand, what YouTubers are doing is seen as different because of their intentions. Theirs are read as an act that includes commercial intentions to increase the number of views or increase subscribers, which goes beyond just personal interest. It is clear that they are copying the character in “Woo Young-woo,” but they are criticized as many netizens who saw their contents complain of discomfort because they can see that these YouTubers are trying to gain personal profits through it. 

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It is allowed on dramas and movies but not entertainment shows?

Released in 2006, “Barefoot Ki-bong” is a movie starring actor Shin Hyun-joon. In fact, it is a work that interprets the true story of Uhm Ki-bong, a marathoner with an intellectual disability, onto the screen. In the movie, which was classified as a “comedy” genre, Shin Hyun-joon performed a realistic performance and gained great commercial success by attracting 2 million moviegoers at that time. During the time this movie was screened, no one criticized Shin Hyun-joon’s performance as a caricature of the disabled.

12 years later, Shin Hyun-joon appeared on an entertainment show. The MCs asked, “Ki-bong, please say hello” and Shin Hyun-joon did a greeting as Ki-bong with a rather exaggerated expression. The cast and the MCs all burst into laughter.

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Then, what happened after the show? Many people gave gave negative responses to the scene, saying it was “uncomfortable to see”, and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea eventually voted to issue a “caution” to the broadcasting station that aired the show. At that time, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea said, “Expressions and actions that might promote stereotypes or prejudices against the disabled in broadcasting should not be exposed to an unspecified number of people.”

How should we accept this situation? Why was it okay to have a character like Ki-bong in a comedy movie but not a comical version of the character in an entertainment show? 

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In addition to “Barefoot Ki-bong” and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, there have been several works that deal with disabled characters. In addition to the movie “Miracle in Cell No.7”, which surpassed 10 million admissions, the movie “Keys to the Heart” and the drama “Good Doctor” also gained huge popularity by featuring disabled protagonists who showed extraordinary talents in specific fields. Actors Ryu Seung-ryong, Park Jung-min and Joo Won took on the lead roles and received many compliments for their outstanding acting skills.

However, if someone imitated their roles, they would likely be classified as humiliating the disabled. In the case of entertainment programs, where the main purpose is to make the viewers laugh, such imitations might be criticized for using the appearance of the disabled as a way to draw laughter. 

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In the end, attention should be paid to the direction and the main theme of each content. What “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” ultimately wants to show is not the outlook of the character Woo Young-woo played by Park Eun-bin. Rather, they focus on showing how Woo Young-woo, who has a disability, develops her life and forms relationships with people around her. Woo Young-woo’s appearance portrayed by Park Eun-bin in the drama is just an additional point to watch.

On the other hand, some Youtube channels and entertainment shows are using this with an aim of making their viewers laugh. In other words, netizens complained that they found it inconvenient to see Youtubers and entertainers using the appearance of the disabled only as a means of drawing laughter and interest, but not encouraging people to have a warm gaze or affectionate approach to people with disabilities.

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A broadcasting official said, “It can be clearly seen that Woo Young-woo’s tone and behavior were naturally used in the process of expressing the main theme of the drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’. However, some of the contents that take advantage of this have been criticized by public opinion because they focused only on external aspects and excluded the purpose of encouraging warm attitudes and interest toward the disabled”, adding “There is a heated debate among the public, but I hope a healthy discussion would take place in terms of everyone’s freedom to express their opinions. Ultimately, social discussions surrounding the disabled, who are socially disadvantaged, are welcomed.”

Source: daum

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