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Viewers uncomfortable with celeb lifestyle

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Actress Lee Tae-im seen in MBN's
Actress Lee Tae-im seen in MBN's "Happily Unmarried Girls" / Courtesy of MBN

By Park Jin-hai

Everyday lives of celebrities tend to be disclosed to the public more often these days, as reality shows take a major portion of local variety shows. Yet viewers express uneasiness watching some recent reality shows featuring celebrities' posh lifestyles up close.

JTBC's Sunday reality show "The Stranger," which kicked off last month aiming to depict the struggles of Korean celebrities living abroad, reveals the lives of baseball player Choo Shin-soo, actress Seo Min-jung and pianist Sunwoo Ye-kwon.

While watching the show, its intention to share the loneliness and feeling of displacement and how those celebrities overcome such hardships pales before its ample coverage of how those stars are living well-off lives overseas.

Texas Rangers right fielder Chu and his family live in a jaw-dropping Texas mansion which is straight out of a movie. As his son seems to show some talent playing ice hockey, Chu whose annual salary amounts to $20 million jokingly suggests to his wife they build an ice rink in their house. Co-star actress Seo also is seen vacationing with her family in the Hamptons, a wealthy enclave on Long Island favored as a celebrity summer playground.

"Watching the show, I turned it off in the middle. It feels wrong to discuss hardships by showing the family life of an ultra-rich Major league player or an owner of a dental hospital in Manhattan. They are not regarded as strangers in America anymore and they have already entered the top class," said Park Jun-oh, an office worker in New York who watched the show. "It is well-known how they worked hard to strive for their success of today. That said, if the show's purpose is to feature the lives of Koreans fiercely living every day chasing their dreams overseas, it should have starred Korean students and workers instead, who struggle with rising rents, health insurance fees and hostile immigration policies."

SBS reality show "Same Bed, Different Dreams 2: You Are My Destiny" has been under attack from viewers as well, as it showed young would-be-married celebrity couple Jang Shin-young and Kang Kyung-joon, looking to buy a home with a 1 billion won budget and expressing their concerns for not being able to buy a home they want within their budget.

MBN's "Happily Unmarried Girls" recently aired one of its cast actresses Lee Tae-im, who is looking for a new home. The 31-year-old actress said her dream home is one that overlooks the Han River and as she visits homes, priced 3 billion won, she sighs deeply over not being able to own one. She says she almost cried because the homes were too expensive.

Jung Duk-hyun, a culture critic, questions why reality shows take a lead in incurring a sense of relative deprivation to viewers. "The worries those celebrities experience cannot be shared with many ordinary viewers and they only earn bitter smiles from them," he said.

"The Stranger is more like a show prying into the lives of celebrities who have entered the upper class in the U.S. The show is based on people's curiosities, stemming from people's envy for material wealth," said another critic Kim Kyo-suk. "When cast members tell how they experienced racial discrimination on their beautiful terrace overlooking Manhattan, we cannot expect viewers watching the show in small homes in densely populated residential areas to shed tears over those celebrities' stories."

Park Jin-hai

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