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Homer sits in front of a Buddhist statue in Jogye Temple in Seoul in the latest episode of “The Simpsons.” Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

South Korea rocked by sex scandals while ‘The Simpsons’ visit Buddhist temple in Seoul

While international media related to the Korea peninsula generally focuses on the ongoing attempts to develop diplomatic relations between Kim Jong-un of North Korea and the President of the United States, it often manages to completely overlook and even undervalue the important role of the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in.

President Moon has been the key facilitator in the recent détente which has managed to attenuate the antagonistic rhetoric on the part of his North Korean counterpart, while also encouraging and promoting the interactions with the Trump administration.

Domestically, President Moon has last week re-opened up an investigation into the 2009 suicide of Korean actress, Jang Ja-yeon, who acted in the internationally acclaimed “Boys Over Flowers” TV drama, which was followed by fans globally.

The international success and spread of music, TV dramas and movies from South Korea are known as “The Korean Wave” or “K-Wave” – just check out Netflix in places like the U.S. and Ireland to see the huge number of series and movies from Korea!

This particular case sheds light on the negative side of the K-Wave, where women have been sexually abused and manipulated by male executives of their entertainment companies, and even by male members of influential K-pop groups – this week South Korea media has been rocked by a series of sex scandals, some involving the singer Seungri of the very successful group Big Bang, as well as Jung Joon-young.

These recent revelations threaten to undermine the squeaky clean image presented of K-pop Idols. These sex scandals come at a time when other boy bands such as BTS are enjoying global success with No. 1 albums in the United States (top 10 in the U.K. and Ireland)!

Their success even filtered into last week’s episode of “The Simpsons,” which featured the animated family on a trip to Seoul where a sign was featured saying “BTS are here today,” a nod to their legions of fans.

However, that subtle gesture toward the pop sensations was quite insignificant when compared to the role Korean Buddhism played in that episode: Lisa Simpson, a practicing Buddhist, wanted to visit Jogye Temple in Seoul, one of the most important temples in South Korea.

This drew attention to Buddhism in Korea, particularly the meditative branch known as Seon, called Zen in Japan. However, it is important to note that Korea is more Christian (when combining Catholics and Protestants) than Buddhist and that Buddhists might also perform Confucian rituals, and may even visit Shamans, who are to be found all over the country – even in downtown Seoul – and online.

This religious plurality is a key feature of modern Korea, drawing from its transcultural past. One thing is certain; the K-pop industry has a lot to learn about treating women with respect, especially as the eyes of millions of K-pop fans from all over the world are on Korea now to see how it handles these scandals.

Author Kevin N. Cawley is the head of Asian studies at University College Cork, Ireland.