Spanish translation for this article is available HERE (traducción en español aquí), courtesy of our reader Bea.
Disclaimer: My point of view is that of a non-Korean/Japanese speaking international fan and what I write here is mainly about the internet based international fandom and should not be generalized to the state of the Korean or Japanese JYJ/DBSK fandom.
Hate and fanwars: One person’s hero is another person’s foe
By: Vivien of TheJYJFiles
Why is there so much hate in the fandom nowadays? Are they the reflection of our disappointment, confusion, psychological self protection against harm?
I don’t write this piece to support any of the two groups blindly. Personally, I try to be appreciative of the boys’ personal decisions are and along with it, the decision of K-Cassies. We – the international fans – are forever hindered by the language and cultural barrier to fully understand their actions. We will always see and judge them from our own cultural lenses, our own culturally molded standard of moral values.
Nevertheless, what I can learn from the whole ruckus is that DBSK was and is never just a name. It is from the very start a social thing as it is personal. The group namesake represents aspirations and memories of the ideals, especially for people who helped make them happen and who believe in them. I never thought that an idol group can make such an impact, but just like religions represent the escapist imagination of hopes, dreams and everything ideal for many, history has shown that people are willing to shed blood in the defense of this imagination. And so I learn to appreciate the interplay of reason, human fantasies and desires that are involved in the whole dispute.
Hate and the ensuing fanwars are enabled by both the personal and the social. They are about us but at the same time they are also about how we react to the social and political network that creates JYJ and DBSK. Socially, hate and fanwars emerge as the byproduct of a certain kind of enabling network of norms, values, institutional arrangements and policies. In this small article, I will try to discuss both personal and social networks of the hate and fanwars and how these networks are related to each other.
The split in the fandom and the personal side of the fanwar
Looking at various comments and blog entries addressing the present situation of the JYJ/DBSK fandom, I cannot help to think that the underlying theme of all the emotional, heartbreaking rants as well as vicious attacks to both JYJ and DBSK is none other than sadness, disappointment and the confusion about which version of truth to be held.
When asked, most (old) DBSK fans would answer: we fell in love with DBSK because of the brotherhood they displayed when interacting with each other. We loved it that Yunho was our handsome appa, that Jaejoong was our pretty umma, that Yoochun was our emo – quirky-lazy, talented composer; that Junsu was our cutie and that Changmin was the quiet, rather snarky boy-next-door. We also fell in love with their hard work. When they pulled off successful Dome concerts in Japan, it felt like it was our own success and triumph. When they managed to sell 500K ++ copies of their CDs we swelled with pride.
It didn’t matter where you are from; these values are increasingly appealing universally. It didn’t matter that there were already signs that they were mistreated by the company. It also didn’t matter that changes and conflicts were bound to happen as the boys grew into maturity and grew into five distinctly different personalities. We were happy that they were always there to fulfill whatever dreams and inspirations that we had – a luxury especially when dealing with our everyday mundane activities. It was when the network of love sustained both the five boys and us. The love defined them and defined us.
Then the group broke up. Everyone was harsh. Granted, when you get to the court, you have to be harsh because you need to beat your opponents. Although people always say that the constitution and legal system must always be independent of all influences, in fact the way the media reports on issues especially the controversial ones can very well influence the result of any lawsuit. The basis of the legal system I believe is that it must be able to reflect the sense of justice of the general public – and this is where the media plays a big role. It can create an impression about the sway and dynamics of the sense of public justice.
Both parties fight over their version of truth – through their letters, lawyers and press conferences. It leaves one inevitable victim, nevertheless:
The heartbroken fans.
If I were to make an analogy of the harshness of the situation at the end of 2009, it would have been like finding out that the boyfriend/husband/partner that you have been loving for years…is not who you thought he was.
This is also when I realized that for some Korean entertainment companies, and especially the case with SM , their business strategy’s focus isn’t on the music and talent, but rather on nurturing the loyalties of the fans through a perfect narrative based on the ‘universally’ accepted values that are dear to many. You look at DBSK, and there you have the story of the five hardworking, extremely talented young men, who are really close to each other – like a ‘family’. This is what most people crave to have in their life – good looks, fame, AND humility and familiarity at the same time. The discourse of stardom of DBSK does not revolve solely around their talent. It revolves around how they are the great characters in this big blockbuster movie called the Rising Gods of the East that represent the the ideals that most of us want for our life.
The lawsuit opened our eyes to the unpleasant realization. These gods are not who we think they are. The “gods” whom we love and trust..turn out to be just like us. They are mortals, who can hurt, feel the pain and who can scheme too. And chances are, they were probably not as close as we thought they were. Imagine the disappointment.
The internal fight over interpretation of truth
When the collective identity of the DBSK fandom crumbled, Cassies strove hard to find something to hold on to. The events that unfold in front of our eyes are confusing, to say the least. We question their actions, their silence, and their statements; because they no longer fit the ideals we were so used to. Disappointment and discontentment emerge in the fandom as Cassies must now face the threat that everything we hold dear for so many years will be lost. We need something to keep our identity, something that can still give us hope and to fight for.
I catch this signature in one of the posts in Yunho’s acting thread [in Soompi]. It says something along the line of ‘some people may want to have more responsibilities; some others may want to be more responsible for their choice and the people around them.’ It sums up the basic underlying sentiment in the fanwar – people defending their different interpretations of what the members do. And it’s true, though. Both parties have reasons that can be justified from any angles.
It would have been easy if everything stops there. If fans would have had to only deal with the disappointment and sadness that the gods are actually mere mortals we would have had gotten over it soon enough. We would have still loved them and supported them with our heart and would have settled with their differences more easily.
Sadly, this is when we start to realize that the network of ‘personalized’ love that we spun for the boys is actually nothing personal at all.
The social network of fan wars: revisiting hate
As being a fan means sharing the love and affection to the celebrity in question with another fan, fandom is always a very social experience. The more I look at the intricate social and political network that accompany the global spread of Kpop idol culture, the more I am convinced that it is quite a peculiar network that probably mark the general tone of Asian pop culture to set it apart from its western counterpart and that force international fans to comply with its ‘rules’. The fanwars in the i-fandom apparently are oriented toward at least these two aspects – the murkiness of the actual situation and the worries about the monopoly in the Korean entertainment system:
The double faces of the internet
First thing to notice, the fandom revolves around the internet. It is accessible to international fans only mainly through Youtube and other social networking sites. Sadly, in view of the recent fanwars, the internet has become a double-edged sword. It provides access to information and ways to communicate with other fans but at the same time, the information presented is mostly distorted. Instead of fostering negotiations and compromise, the communication between fans creates further division and unresolved conflicts aka hideous fanwars.
The anonymity of the internet fosters the irresponsible circulation of various versions of news articles and with that – translation. It is increasingly difficult to differentiate and verify facts from fictions, lies and hearsays. In combination with the innate distrusts and doubts that have been planted in the JYJ/DBSK fandom since the beginning of the lawsuit, the murkiness of the situation propels cringe-worthy knee-jerk reaction from already biased fans to defend their oppas.
It is hard to maintain coolness if your twitter TL is full of people swearing and cursing your bias, not to mention the liberal use of TT^TT emoji which multiply your anxiety and worries for your biases. Not to mention coming to various forums to read comments with blatant illogical and faulty arguments from fanatics, trolls and the ignorant. A slight mistake in the wording could create intense bashing on YOU – both from people in your own camp and people from the opposite camp.
It is easy to see that the internet in this case create further divisions that highly weaken the ability of international fans to understand the real issues at hand clearly. In short, the i-fanwars are based on severe misunderstanding, second-hand distorted information, and the inability to understand the Korean cultural background that innately mark the discourse of JYJ, DBSK and K-Cassies respectively.
Kpop idol culture and the monopolized access for visibility
I think we all have grown to realize that the success of an entertainer depends not solely on his or her talents. In fact, it is likely that talent has taken a back seat in discussing fame and popularity – it still matters but if you are not in demand and do not sell, you will likely be considered a failure.
Thus it is important for a celebrity to stay visible and relevant to sell CDs and maintain their marketability. The dispute between JYJ and SM Entertainment and the accompanying strained relationship between the boys and their former band members and labelmates underlie the importance of access to stay visible, relevant and in demand. Sadly, as previous articles by Jimmie pointed out, this access is rife with problems as it is run by the invisible and powerful hands of the entertainment chaebols that could literally kill careers with their monopolistic control.
It is already bad enough that the free market already caters to those with wealth and influence: if you don’t have enough money it’s extremely hard to compete with rich companies. However, at least the free market lends a small possibility that there is a level playing ground and that being talented can actually get you somewhere. In various – albeit rather scarce cases – we have seen that even in this kind of system, talents do get you somewhere. I just find it sadder to know that people would think that they would most certainly fail if you are not under the wings of these big, paternalistic, dominating agencies and that they would do anything in their power to stay in these agencies’ good books even if it means (consciously) signing ‘slave contracts’ or surrendering to sexual exploitations.
Against this not so flattering backdrop, in relation to what the idols mean for most us (OBS’s PD actually summarized it quite succinctly – idols represent our ideals, hopes and dreams) there is a justifiable worry for the future career of JYJ (and DBSK alike). Coupled with the vulnerability of internet dependent i-fandom, this worry has clearly contributed a lot in the intense confusion and conflicts of the i-fanwars.
At this stage, looking at the causes of the hate in the fandom both in the personal level and the social level, fan wars are inevitable and they may still continue for a time being. I always hope that one day, i-fandom will be more empowered in the way that it will have more say to the exploitation and monopoly going on in the Kpop industry instead of becoming an easy target for media play and smear campaign. I just hope that by trying to understand the roots of all the hate, i-fandom will be able to organize themselves better – in Cecilia’s words – to be a better fandom – in the quest to help pave a better system not only for JYJ but also for our other idols.
~Please do not remove with full credits~