Four hours before the announcement of 2010 Nobel Literature Prize winner, a number of reporters surrounded Ko Un’s house, one of the most prestigious Korean poets who was a strong candidate for this year’s prize. Waiting together for the good news, everything looked fine for the Koreans expecting the announcement they wanted to hear. Until 8 p.m. everyone was full of hope for the first Korean Nobel Literature Prize winner.
But after hearing the news that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa won the prize, the whole situation changed. Unpleasant news dominated our media. One said that it was Ko’s failure, another said Ko was just unlucky. Six out of 10 articles were about Ko’s failure. It was a very interesting response.
In 2005, when Ko was first acknowledged internationally, a headline ran with the title “Ko Un is dead.” How can media and people declare the end of the renowned poet’s career? They forgot that becoming a nominee is, in itself, an important matter and news that should be praised.
But in reality, the famous have to bear all the blame and humiliation. Few writers or athletes of other countries apologize to the public for not getting a prize.
Ko, however, is not alone when it comes to making apologies. Many celebrities, including actors, athletes, and even scientists are expected to “win” a prize not solely for themselves, but for the nation. During the Olympics, people and the media get boisterous right before the results. If the results dissatisfy them, they start to criticize and try their best to discover flaws that the players might have.
Such was the case with Park Tae-hwan. During the Beijing Olympics, people got extremely excited by his marvelous swimming performance. Everyone praised his movement, his efforts and everything that helped him to get the gold medal. But when Park entered a slump, everyone turned their backs. It was ironic to see commercials starring Park decrease with his poor results. Until this year, it was hard to find news about him.
Since when have people begun taking the prizes and medals for granted? Few citizens in other countries reveal their desire for winning as desperately as we do. It would be terrific if Ko won the prize; but that is not mandatory. But Koreans assume it is.
People can be hurtful. They are cruel watchers disguised as supporters that promise endless applause and praise. People like Ko or Park should never be sorry to the public; they should not even be irritated by comments that they could have done far better. I would tell them to rather ignore all the negative things they see and hear.
Comparing the media over the world, I think Korea is one of the most difficult places for renowned people to live. People think that if they give praise, the celebrities will flatter themselves. Is this why people give severe commentaries? Korean people should learn to encourage the fighters who are putting forth effort on behalf of Korea.
Although the reasons for these odd behaviors of Koreans are unclear, one thing is apparent. Celebrities need support and cheer despite their success or failure. If they succeed, it will be a festive moment in both their personal and the public’s lives. And if they fail, the public’s encouragement will work as a motivator for their next endeavor.
There are lots of alternatives, except criticism, for us when we respond to their news. Why can’t we follow steps that lead to mutual happiness?
Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Maybe a celebrity’s performance is just one in a series of stepping stones. Let us bear with them. Let us applaud their efforts. Then, someday who knows; they might astonish us all.