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[Opinion] Face Madame

Posted September. 24, 2004 22:02,   


It is a scene that has almost disappeared. Nearly 10 years ago, in a suburban coffee shop, a sweetly attractive, matronly-looking woman dressed elegantly in traditional Korean dress would meet her customers with a domestic “home sweet home” sort of warmth and comfort. She was called the “Face Madame,” and she managed everything from disciplining her cooks and waitresses to playing companion to customers while slyly raising profits. She was the heart of the coffee shop. In those times, the profits of a coffee shop did not depend on the quality of tea or the brilliant interior like it does these days, it depended on the Face Madame.

The Face Madame, let it be known, would not be the owner of the coffee shop, however. The real owner would pop in to collect his dues, and unlike the sensual, mirthful waitresses with shorter-than-short miniskirts who were the billboard stars, the Face Madame was strictly recruited for marketing. It was the fate of a Face Madame to never become an owner, or even a star. If business grew thin, she was the first to go. As the entertainment business flourished, the Face Madame of the coffee shop gradually moved to salons, where she found a new niche with an army of “Fledgling Madams.”

It was because of double-faced, surreptitious Korean politics that the Face Madame became famous in the political world. Since Independence Day, out of our 36 prime ministers, only a rare few were able to declare that they enjoyed the status of “ruler of the people.” Instead, most prime ministers played Face Madame and merely diluted the negative image of an iron-fisted ruler. Even celebrities and news anchors, who prance through elite society during political campaigns, are closer to Face Madams than they realize. After the campaigns are over, their destinies often go down the drain.

Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, responding to parties criticizing her leadership, retorted back, “I am not a Face Madame.” It was her disgruntled way of saying, ‘I worked hard to get where I am and I went through so many difficulties in taking this party this far. Who are you to question my leadership?” As the efficiency of a Face Madame depends on her clientele, it is up to the citizens to decide whether or not Park is indeed a Face Madame, or the real owner.

Oh Myung-chul, Editorial writer, oscar@donga.com