Wedding crowd waving and smiling, close-upAccording to Kim Seyeon, a college student and part-time role player, the going rate for pretending to be a guest at a Korean wedding is about $20. When the wedding season is in high gear, Seyeon can do up to three weddings a day on the weekends. At one recent wedding, Seyeon was one fake guest of around 30 total. The idea of hiring pretend guests for life's big ceremonies is not new in Korea, but some people are of the belief that the practice is getting a bit out of control.

Adequate Representation

Events such as weddings carry great social significance in Korea. It is important to throw a good party, well stocked and well attended. Not only is it important to rent enough chairs, a couple must be popular enough to fill those seats. Lee Hyun-su manages a casting agency in South Korea known as Role Rental 1-1-9. His roster is made up of approximately 20,000 professional role players that span the generations. Whether the wedding party needs a few co-workers, college friends, or a great auntie or two to fill out the seating plan, there is an actor for that. His cast of role players provides the extras for events other than weddings, too. Fake revelers and participants have been hired for:

  • Baby showers and baptisms
  • Anniversaries
  • Applying for a bank loan

Wedding as Performance

Maria Yoon is a Korean-American performance artist who understands the social pressures of the wedding in Korean culture. A recent project involved Yoon getting married 50 times across locations in the Unites States, dressed in a full traditional Korean wedding costume. The artist was exploring the element of performance she believes is a part of weddings. While Yoon sees the logic in the hiring of fake guests, she fears the practice may put too much emphasis on something called "jalnancheok," or "pretending to do well."

One of the concepts Yoon explored with her 50 wedding ceremonies was the role of the witness, or an audience, in ritual. The question at the center of the decision to have people you have no relationship with at your wedding is, "Who is it for?" No one may really believe that any wedding other than an elopement is for the bride and groom only. An event is an opportunity to celebrate a union among witnesses who likewise share in the joy and excitement of the occasion. It can also be a time to compete for social status, as many an elaborate fete has shown. Pretend guests may be the expense that takes the concept to a completely new level.

Keeping Up With the Jones's, Korean-style

Yoon references the word "nunchi" to describe how Koreans view themselves in relation to their peers. The expanded practice of hiring guests for major events may be seen as an effort that goes beyond simply wanting to look respectable to the world. Yoon sees it as a way to demonstrate superiority over one's contemporaries, even if it is a fiction. A professor of psychology at Yonsei University, Hwang Sang-min calls the escalation of social competition in Korea over the past several decades a "face inflation." The bar keeps getting higher and higher, so an idea such as pretend friends and family becomes less and less preposterous. Interestingly, the decision to hire fake guests is not necessarily a mutual one among wedding couples. Often the bride engages the casting company. Seyeon says the women are very grateful for the service. Seldom do the uninformed wedding party members or any of the guests discover the ruse.

Putting On a Show

One aspect of a Korean celebration that makes it easier for pretend attendees to slip in under the radar is spectacle. There is not just dancing. There are choreographed musical numbers with singing and dancing. Multiple performances and skits pepper the festivities. The actors are by no means the only element of performance at a large Korean ceremony and reception.

In light of this style of revelry, leasing a few extras to decorate the scenery may not be so outlandish. Plus, for these guests, a thank you note is optional.

Category: Wedding Planning

Add Your Comment

To post a comment you must log in first.
You may alternatively login with your credentials, below.