Cancel Culture – it is a word every millennial and pop-culture enthusiast is aware of in this generation. However, are people truly aware of how deeply impactful this is to the mental health of the people targeted by it?
Although Cancel Culture seems like a harmless bandwagon phenomenon, it is quite the opposite. Sure, calling out someone for their mistakes is important and saying “you’re canceled” on a friend’s ridiculously questionable post can be all fun and games but for celebrities, especially in Korea, they may be living in fear with the powerful repercussions that come with this word.
Cancel Culture can be absolutely detrimental to the ongoing success of celebrities for many reasons. One of the main damaging points that can be highlighted from Cancel Culture is the way it completely removes celebrities from their line of work once the situation escalates and becomes a spotlight topic. Alongside this, the possibilities of mental stress and even suicidal acts become a leading issue (that doesn’t make headlines) as well as the demotion of second-chances and placing a standard of perfection upon celebrities.
While there are some people who deserve to be called out for their actions (for example, Seungri of Big Bang’s Burning Sun scandal, aespa’s Giselle mouthing the ‘N’ word during a BTS MV on YouTube, or Doja Cat using the word “F@g” in many previous Twitter posts) in order to correct their wrongs and provide a learning experience, what happens when an innocent individual is wrongfully targeted and suffering the same irreversible consequences encompassing Cancel Culture? Yes, I’m talking about Kim Seon-ho, the rising star of ‘Home Town Cha-Cha-Cha’ who fell out of the sky overnight due to false accusations of forced abortions and abuse from his (literally) crazy-ex girlfriend.
To summarize, after becoming an A-List actor in Korea due to the skyrocketing fame of ‘Home Town Cha-Cha-Cha,’ Kim Seon-ho became a household name scoring advertising deals left and right. However, a girlfriend came forward with manipulated text messages and claims that he got her pregnant, cheated on her, told her to abort the baby or else it will mess up his film and advertising career, and after the abortion, he blocked her on all SNS/social media claiming to not know her. Due to this shocking news, Kim Seon-ho was pulled from advertisements expecting to face various penalty fees and debt, his face was blurred on any previous shows he filmed, he was removed from his role in his hit drama alongside his upcoming big-screen debut in director Park Hoon Jung’s ‘Sad Tropics,’ and rumors of him being a notorious drunk and playboy even made its rounds from people who claimed to “know him personally.”
To top it all off, Kim Seon-ho received a slew of hate comments and never once tried to deny the allegations until the truth came forward after deeper investigations by reporters and fans. Once the true Kakaotalk messages came to light, it was revealed not only was he supportive of his girlfriend having a baby, he even proposed and asked to get married. Despite this, the abortion carried through, and Kim Seon-ho took time from his hectic schedule to nurse his girlfriend back to health for two days by making her home-cooked meals like seaweed soup and more. He still insisted they met their parents and continue their relationship until the eventual breakup caused by his girlfriend cheating on him and verbally abusing him. Now, after this shocking news was released, many agencies that turned their backs on the actor began to restore their advertisements and his roles. One word – Rollercoaster.
“What shocked me was the timing,” said Jeanie Chang, a Korean-American Licensed Therapist and AAPI Mental Health Expert based in U.S.A. Ironically, the moment Kim Seon-ho began to peak in fame, these sudden allegations against him came out and struck right at his climax. During a K-Pop idols’ or Korean actors’ peak in their career, everyone is obsessed with knowing every little detail about them. Of course, digging for some silly secrets, past photos, or other oddities come to the surface through fans but a shockingly common occurrence in Korean media is someone who claims to have known the celebrity oh-so-well stepping forward to say how much of a terrible person so-and-so is.
Korea is a highly competitive place, and just like any country, filled with highly competitive people. If someone can drag you, honey, they will do it without a second thought. The ways they will do it are often than not unbelievable, too. While the U.S.A and other cultures tend to be more forgiving to their stars, Korea holds face and reputations at a higher value. Once you do wrong, there is no going back and easily turning the situation around for the better. Very FEW entertainers have gone permanently unscathed by these sort of scandals (gay actor and entreprenuer Hong Seok-cheong or singer Ailee are some who suffered but were able to return to the scene), but the mental damage they carry with them throughout their careers and lives remain.
When breaking down the idea of mental stress, perfectionism in Korea and the idea of people deserving second-chances, Jeanie continued to comment on the matter in her viral video on Instagram as well as with me through a small interview. When asked about the repercussions of Cancel Culture, Jeanie made it clear to define Cancel Culture first in order to understand just how damaging it can be. “Cancel culture isn’t just about calling someone out on social media and choosing not to support their work, it is traumatic toxic behavior. We are human beings, you can’t cancel people like they’re a meeting in a calendar. Cancel culture goes against promoting a sense of belonging which is as critical as food, water, and shelter in our lives! People targeted by cancel culture are victims regardless of what they did to get canceled in the first place. I’m not justifying any poor behavior that is destructive or cruel, etc. but the problem is people don’t see the person as a person but as a problem and it can be easily relating to bullying or hazing.” Due to the stress, it was reported that Kim Seon Ho was even hospitalized for a short period during his traumatic experience.
Sadly, celebrities are merely expected to entertain and uphold perfectionism – representing what everyone wants to be and should be. With that being enough pressure on its own, but once celebs show signs of slipping up or making grave mistakes, an idea of humanity goes out the window and they should receive only the highest form of punishment unlike “normal” people. Jeanie talks about this and even analyzes the relaionships and social issues in K-Dramas and the characters on her YouTube channel as well.
Jeanie continued saying, “Cancel culture has a ripple effect because it’s about jumping on the bandwagon to be part of something and feel included – even if it’s toxic. Though it may not harm celebrities immediately, it definitely can create traumatic symptoms of hypervigilance, fear/anxiety and even depression because celebrities feel like they can’t make a mistake or be themselves on or off-camera. The ripple effect of cancel culture is secondary trauma which is trauma that is indirect but just as valid and critical because they hear about another celebrity or colleague that got canceled and it traumatizes them because they can relate. The symptoms mentioned are from PTSD and this is super sad to me. It’s particularly bad in Korean culture due to cultural norms of perfectionism, saving face, showing face, and staying on top. I am finding how crucial it is to unlearn and break these unhealthy cycles of Korean culture.”
Sadly, in the particularly unique case of Kim Seon-ho, he is someone suffering from all these issues without doing any wrong. He could easily feel devalued and want to give up on his career because of the emotional pull he experienced. One moment, Kim Seon-ho was beloved, in high demand, and desirable. Suddenly, he became hated, blocked and erased from the crowd as if he were a criminal, and all the people in his industry turned his back on him and began to disassociate themselves with him. To put it simply, he became completely ostrasized when there are idols and actors who have done far worse (such as Choi Sung Bong who faked his own cancer to raise money for his own album and general expenses) and received little consequence for it.
While these other people were able to recover and receive second chances, it seems his A-list fame was a double edge sword going against him and leaving no path for return. If this toxic cycle to slowly remove Kim Seon-ho continued any further, it would even get to the point where Kim Seon-ho could probably not even hold a part-time job to survive and his dwindling fame could lull him into depression as many artists have experienced if you reference interviews from shows like ‘Miss-back’ and ‘Queen-dom.’ People deserve second-chances, but it seems idols are not allowed.
Jeanie mentioned perfectionism limited second-chances among humans in her video and touched upon it one more time in our interview saying “We should be doing away with cancel culture in the first place. Why does it even exist? At its core, cancel culture is harmful (than good). Make it more about consequences not canceling. People need consequences for sure to be held accountable for their misbehavior, but to cancel them in my viewpoint is a behavior that ends a possibility for growth and up trumping what the person did in the first place. Cancel culture is systemic. We need to look at the context and see the meaning behind the canceled person’s actions. Why did this person do what they did? There are dualities and multi-dimensional perspectives in play always. Cancel culture falls under cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions include distorted thinking patterns such as black and white thinking (polarized thinking) which is unrealistic. For example, someone is evil or an angel. There are always gray areas. Another distorted thinking pattern is mental filtering which you see in cancel culture. This is about ignoring the positives and focusing only on the negatives which are inaccurate and can lead to one-sided opinions.”
“Lastly, cancel culture also shows labeling – another cognitive distortion which is about reducing people to a single and negative narrative or description like “cheater,” “liar,” “fake,” “failure,” “fraud,” etc. All these cognitive distortions in the cancel culture surrounding Korean actor Kim Seon Ho appeared.The exclusion of someone that both Korean and international fans LOVED then canceled in a hot minute is unbelievable. No one deserves to be trashed to the point where their livelihood is taken in a second.”
Ultimately, Cancel Culture prevents growth as it shuts out a chance for artists and others to really learn what they did was wrong by hyping the ideal of perfectionism from the beginning. Most importantly, the highlight of this story is how Cancel Culture stimulates deeper mental issues that people don’t consider after clicking the dislike button and leaving a hate comment during their bus ride to work as they continue their daily routine without a slight thought about the ripple effect their actions create. People may think they are making a display of someone from others to learn from but Cancel Culture can be disturbingly compared to a public execution- no one wants to watch it but we are forced to see the person completely done away with in an extreme fashion, guilty or not. We turn around impacted by the drive and “power” Cancel Culture seemingly provides but miss the point of promoting change as users remain unchanged by what occurred and are simply awaiting the next person to be laid on the chopping block for another form of amusement – a celebrity’s last stint if you will.
What do you think of Cancel Culture? After reading this, do you still believe it is necessary and an appropriate means of handling celebrities’ mistakes? Perhaps Cancel Culture and the people partaking in it can learn how to use it more effectively or maybe, as Jeanie said, we can do away with it completely? Share your thoughts down below and this story with your friends!
MORE ABOUT JEANIE: Jeanie Y. Chang, LMFT, CMHIMP, CCTP will be leading you into a deep dive of your favorite K-Dramas based on her mental health expertise. The goal is to promote good mental health and wellbeing. Think K-Drama therapy. 🙂 Jeanie’s thrilled about combining her passion for watching K-Dramas with her clinical work because she tends to bring K-Dramas into her therapy sessions and national workshops! As a family therapist and systems thinker, Jeanie indicates K-Dramas are quite helpful in understanding the family system, relationships, and of course cultural and ethnic identity. More specifically, she finds it all ties into mental health. Jeanie, (aka your Noonchi Noona), is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional, and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional with a diverse career background. She is also an accomplished global speaker, best selling author, DEI consultant, and AAPI mental health expert. You can follow her on YOUTUBE.