SNL Korea spoofs downfall of ex-president Park Geun-hye

This screen capture of tvN’s SNL Korea shows Kim Min-kyo dressed as a character parodying Choi Soon-sil.

The new season of "Saturday Night Live Korea" launched Saturday with the tvN comedy show poking fun at the political situation involving ex-President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

The return of blatant satire to the show -- which at one point had resorted to relying mostly on sexual innuendo -- is a reminder that the Park administration's controlling hand over pop culture is no more.

In one sketch on Saturday, actor Kim Min-kyo dressed up as the imprisoned Choi. His character was scolded by the prosecutor, played by actor Jung Sang-hoon, and others inside the cell who shouted in chorus, "Give me back my country."

The Korean edition of the show, launched here in 2011, initially became popular for a segment called "Yeouido Teletubbies" that poked fun at the candidates of the 2012 presidential race, depicting them as Teletubbies.

Read also: Ousted South Korean leader Park Geun Hye heads home after 22 hrs at prosecutors' office

With the inauguration of the Park administration in 2013, the show lost much of its punch.

Local cable channel JTBC last week reported that Cheong Wa Dae had investigated the political orientations of SNL writers, indicating in hindsight that the change in the show's tone cannot be seen as mere coincidence. "Yeouido Teletubbies" was cancelled five months into the Park administration.

S Korea President Park Geun-hye may have undergone various anti-aging medical procedures

The investigation of the Choi scandal revealed a recorded phone conversation between former presidential adviser Cho Won-dong and CJ Group Co-chairman Sohn Kyung-shik, in which Cho demanded the resignation of CJ Vice Chairwoman Lee Mi-kyung. The probe also revealed that the Culture Ministry had kept a blacklist of anti-government cultural figures.

Satire of the Park administration has been making its way back since the investigation into Park-Choi scandal began last year, serving as yet more evidence of the administration's muzzling of cultural figures.

Read also: S Korea's Park apologises, promises cooperation in graft probe

In November, Gwangju Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun alleged that former Vice Culture Minister Kim Chong had pressed him not to display a satirical mural depicting Park in the context of the Sewol ferry tragedy.

The drawing, titled "Sewol Owol," saw daylight for the first time in three years last week, with an exhibition in Gwangju displaying it from March 23 to June 30.

SNL Korea began showing political parodies again late last year.

"Reports have suggested that SNL Korea received the full blast of the administration's wrath for its parodies. The lack of satire has had (viewers) greatly disappointed," pop culture critic Kim Young-sam wrote in a column for an internet media site.

He said that the revival of political satire on SNL would have a cathartic effect for the viewers. Millions of people took part in weekly anti-Park rallies for some four months.

Political satire is also going strong in the US, where discontent with President Donald Trump has the public buzzing.

Read also: Ex-S Korean president Park questioned by prosecutors

Saturday Night Live in the US satirized Trump and his White House press secretary Sean Spicer with Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy dressing up as Trump and Spicer, respectively. Trump publicly berated the show but reports that shortly followed Trump's tweets showed that the show's ratings had spiked, making it the most-viewed season in 22 years.

While political satire allows catharsis for viewers, critics warn against parodying political figures for the sole purpose of comedy.

Pop culture critic Ken Tucker commented that while Baldwin's portrait on the SNL have gotten laughs, it made viewers "almost incidental bystanders." This was in contrast to the show shaming underqualified politicians like Sarah Palin in the past that allowed viewers to see their shortcomings, he pointed out.

"In a way, Trump should realise that the instant pervasiveness of the sketch, repeated endlessly on cable news, actually helps normalise his team -- and by extension, him," he wrote.

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