by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Chunsan/WikiCommons/CC
THE PAST MONTH has been blanketed by non-stop media coverage of Taiwanese American singer Wang Leehom, following allegations of abuse and infidelity by his wife, Lee Jinglei, who is Taiwanese. These allegations were posted by Lee on her Instagram, shortly after the announcement of their divorce.
In particular, Wang is accused of conducting affairs with other entertainers and soliciting the service of sex workers through the course of their marriage. Likewise, much attention has gone to the fact that Wang reportedly began pursuing Lee when she was a teenager, there being a ten-year age difference between the two.
What was understood as attempts by the Wang family to cover up the scandal led to further media outrage. This included photos posted by Lee of a purported text message from Wang in which he offered her an apartment if she apologized and withdrew her allegations, as well as a statement issued by Wang’s father in defense of his son.
Wang eventually announced that he would take a break from his career. By the time this had happened, however, the controversy had attracted the attention of millions in both Taiwan and China. The Liberty Times, Taiwan’s most widely-read newspaper, took to humorously commenting whenever either Wang or Lee made a new post–often in the morning or late at night. Many memes on the Taiwanese Internet commented on Wang’s habit of posting late at night.
No less than China’s Central Committee of Disciplinary Inspection issued comments that seemed to be directed at Wang, with former Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin also weighing in on the matter. Wang, like many Taiwanese celebrities, also works in the Chinese market, but it is probable that Wang will be blocked from working there for some time–if not permanently. It is unlikely that Wang will find much work in Taiwan in the near future as well.
News of the scandal was so widespread that some KMT members blamed the results of the referendum that took place last week on it, in that members of the public became distracted by the scandal. While this is overstated, one can nevertheless point to how Taiwan’s media culture focuses disproportionately on sensationalist celebrity gossip–almost all of the cover stories on the Apple Daily’s website were about the Wang scandal for days, for example, masking over more significant political events and even #MeToo allegations against a prominent, nationally-recognized artist.
Taiwanese media’s coverage of female subjects in particular is frequently sexist and misogynist. Nor does Taiwanese media ever shy away from violating the personal privacy of individuals–and particularly women. This was also visible in the scandal, with regards to the treatment of Lee, the fellow celebrities that Wang was purported to have slept with, or the sex workers that he sought out. Although hard to sort out from sensationalism, some reports suggest that one of the women that Wang is alleged to have conducted an affair with attempted suicide. To this extent, treatment of sex workers by Taiwanese media–or even in Lee’s comments, which had a tinge of stigmatizing sex work–is demeaning and dehumanizing more often than not.
The Wang Leehom scandal broke out shortly after a controversy involving DPP legislator Kao Chia-yu, who was beaten by her then-partner, social commentator Raphael Lin, while the two were staying in a hotel. Taiwanese media also harped on the incident for days, if not weeks.
While Kao sought to direct attention from the controversy toward broader issues of violence and domestic abuse facing women, as well as the growing issue of deepfake videos of female public figures in Taiwan, Taiwanese media largely did not cover the incident with any sensitivity. Instead, the incident was viewed as an occasion to drive up clicks and engagement, never mind that this was contributing to the problem at hand.
Furthermore, the KMT used the occasion to politically attack the DPP, claiming that the incident showed deeply-seated issues of violence in the pan-Green camp. This is not too dissimilar from claims that the Wang Leehom scandal distracted from the referendum, insofar as incidents regarding domestic violence, abuse, and the like invariably end up being incorporated into political contention between the pan-Green and pan-Blue camps despite their lack of any inherent relation to issues regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty, the primary political split between the two camps.
But, so, too, then, with the Wang Leehom scandal, which went on for days, and then weeks. Taiwanese media has not proven any better this time around either and, even when such incidents touch on significant social issues such as the abuse of women by their partners or within families, Taiwanese media may contribute to such issues rather than serve as a vehicle for discussing social solutions.