Jon Stewart just said his goodbyes. Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans – all sixteen of them -- just crowded the stage for their first debate. There’s blood in the streets at home and abroad. So why am I thinking about weddings in South Korea?
Well, everybody loves weddings, especially those who stand to profit from them financially: caterers, florists, musicians, wedding guests. Huh? Wedding guests? Well, apparently in South Korea huge weddings are all the rage. The one time I visited Seoul, back in the Sixties, middle-class families didn’t even own what we Americans would consider basic household necessities. In a Korean kitchen, instead of a refrigerator, you’d see a giant ceramic jar filled with kimchee: that’s how you’d have (pickled) vegetables to eat in wintertime. How times have changed! Thanks to a tech boom, the Korean economy is soaring. And conspicuous consumption is now the name of the game.
If you’re throwing a lavish wedding with all the trimmings, the last thing you want to see is empty seats at the ceremony and around the banquet tables. Fortunately, some creative Korean business types have stepped in to fill the void. There are agencies that, for a fee, will provide you with professional guests, guaranteed to exude good cheer and good manners. Presumably they will not get slammed at the open bar, make fools of themselves on the dance floor, start fights with members of the wedding party, or otherwise make a scene. We’ve surely known movie comedies in which all of the above happens (and maybe experienced it in real life too.). But count on Korea’s guests-for-hire to emulate our better selves.
The Korean guests know how to behave because they’re professional actors, adept at meeting the requirements of a role. Their agencies book them into back-to-back weddings, especially during the summer months, but they have other, more lucrative gigs as well. They’ve been known, in sticky situations, to impersonate a boss or a visiting relative. If someone is applying for a bank loan, they can stand in for a missing spouse.
I think we Americans are losing out on a good thing. Actors always need work, and there are times we could all surely use additional charming guests at our parties and loyal sidekicks in our entourage. There are more specialized needs too. For instance, single guys looking to curry favor with sympathetic family-oriented women would benefit from having an adorable kid or two in tow. Why not rent? (Yes, I too see the dangers of this option. But let my fertile imagination take me where it will!)
Though South Koreans are paving the way, it’s true that Hollywood—fittingly—has always enjoyed depicting weddings that are not quite for real. In the wake of such movies as The Wedding Singer (1998) and The Wedding Planner (2001), this year we’ve had The Wedding Ringer (2015), about a guy who rents himself out to social nerds to pose as their life-of-the-party best man. Most underemployed (and who isn’t?) actors would consider this a dream gig.
Of course there’s a time-honored tradition of hiring a claque to cheer your performance, whether you’re appearing in a play or a political debate. Yes, politicians, all of whom are actors in their own right, sometimes need to manufacture an enthusiastic crowd. Let’s take this one step further: if there are fake crowds, why not fake politicians, who are in fact actors hired to fill a particular ideological slot? Give them a few position papers, toss in a few snappy lines, and watch what happens. Hmmmm, maybe this explains Donald Trump.