Letter of (Almost) Resignation: Final Confessions, Part III
In any case, as a Korean Government employee and representative, my loyalty lies first and foremost to Korea before the Korean Wave. My responsibility is to serve Koreans—including the idol singers under SM—not the Korean Wave. JYJ’s fight and plight is clearly exposing that, under the circumstances engineered by companies like SM, the latter is destroying the former. The social context of the lawsuit and the certain characteristic elements of the Kpop fandom reveal that not everything associated with the Korean Wave is beneficial to Korea or Koreans. If anything, a great many aspects of the Korean idol boom and its internationalisation have left me deeply disturbed, if not downright afraid, on behalf of our singers and citizens. As attractive as the commercialised components of it are—the slick music videos, cool fashion and complex stage performances—it is ultimately disseminating the image of Koreans as disposable products or exotic performing circus monkeys. One only needs to peruse the comments on high-traffic English-language Kpop sites to understand that this way of marketing Korean artists does not necessarily garner respect for Koreans or genuine admiration for the country’s culture—a culture that survived its unfortunate geopolitical position, wars, neo-Confucian oppression/repression, annexation, division, extreme poverty and more to accomplish in 60 years what it took Western countries 200, a rare and unique example of economic development and citizenship empowerment. Surely such a culture and its descendants deserve far more than to be regarded as a disposable Internet byte.
Not too long ago, Korean netizens were fuming over articles, blog posts and/or cartoon strips originating from Japan that portrayed Korean girl groups as little more than sex objects[i]. Koreans attacked the Japanese for their racism and low regard for Koreans, but, in all seriousness, were they in a position to level such criticism? After all, it’s not as if girl groups or idols are regarded any differently in Korea—ultimately, they are all objects, sexual or otherwise. So, who can blame the Japanese, or any other non-Korean group of ‘fans’ for that matter, when they are simply acting on what they learned from the original source? Idol singers…written off as products in Korea…and thus treated as sexual objects everywhere else. If this is the face of the Korean Wave, I daresay it’s not worth preserving. For the security and moral integrity of our citizens, this kind of Korean Wave is best dismantled.
Without Korea there would be no Korean Wave, and without Koreans there would forcibly be no Korea. Therefore, I strongly believe that a sustainable Korean Wave will have at its centre talented Koreans (along with an accountable infrastructure that cultivates and supports their well-being and potential) NOT faceless, shameless entertainment companies.
Thus, inasmuch as SM needs JYJ to fail, Korea, and more specifically the Korean music industry, needs JYJ to succeed. Every stable, thriving and/or critically acclaimed music industry has artists occupying the middle ground between the commercialised pop idols and serious indie musicians, artists who act as the fulcrum, and buffer, harmonising the two extremes. Industry size ultimately doesn’t matter. This principle applies to the music market in the United States—where the likes of Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson were allowed to grow from teen idols to music icons with merit in their own right—as well as the music markets of Iceland and South Africa, both of which have produced Grammy Award-winning artists[ii]. Korea needs artists like JYJ. The Korean Wave needs artists like JYJ, artists with pop idol roots but who grow to become acknowledged as artists in their own right, bringing stability to the entire industry by doing so and securing its future by sticking around to cultivate the next generation of pop singer-songwriters. And so I have always believed that not only JYJ fans but also those who truly value Korea, the Korean arts and the Korean Wave will support JYJ.
What the Korean Wave ultimately needs are leaders that, first of all, truly love Korea and also respect and understand the value of Art. Art is not a Slot Machine but a complex and capricious muse that will only play second-fiddle mistress to SadoMasochistic perverts for so long. By all indications, she has already grown tired of the game with said perverts and has found a new patron that truly appreciates her. The C’est si bon show, which gathered the artists of the Korean folk music movement of the 1960s and 70s for a studio concert that was broadcast live, garnered jaw-dropping ratings[iii], even among the young, and YG Entertainment is fast rising in prominence as a model for the future of Kpop business ethics and artistic success[iv] (though given its recent ill-judged dive into the cartel world through UAM, it remains to be seen if or, rather, how much, YG will sell out, since it will now have to harmonise its position with that of the likes of SM).
What the Korean Wave needs are more Seo Taijis and Yang Hyeonseoks (CEO of YG Entertainment) as opposed to Lee Soomans and Kim Youngmins, more DFSB Kollectives[v] as opposed to Melon or Dosirak, and an industry environment where the likes of Fluxus and C-JeS can compete alongside the likes of JYP and Cube.
And so, in the end, in attempting to leave my last words on JYJ, I have strayed far from our favourite trio and have ended up on policy recommendations for the sustainability of the Korean Wave. Nonetheless, I hope my readers can see the logical connections between all the points that got me here. Also, I hope that the readers of The JYJ Files can now see why I never considered JYJ’s plight to be a question of Kpop or fandoms but rather one of justice and State sovereignty. In fact, I believe SM has been trying for a long time to trivialise the matter into a conflict between fandoms, pitting in its discourse the JYJ fandom against either the HoMin fandom or the fandoms of other SM artists. In my view, it is so much bigger than that, and it is my wish that the international JYJ fandom does not fall to the trivialisation ruse. As I have said above, SM—in drafting and enforcing the kind of contracts that it did, in continually disobeying the mouthpiece of the Korean State, and in defrauding Korean taxpayers—has meddled in the one area the Korean State cannot tolerate—its exclusive sovereign authority—and consequently has come to symbolise the antithesis of post-G20 Korea and a force that hates the Republic of Korea and her citizens.
More than anything, I would like the international JYJ fandom to be a fandom that truly loves Korea and Koreans…that cares enough about Korea to have high expectations of it and hold it accountable to those expectations…a fandom that loves the members of JYJ as Koreans and human beings with talent. I don’t know how much I’ve convinced you that to love Korea in practicality means hating SM, but the only effective response will be to NOT get bogged down in fights with either the HoMin fandom or the fandom of other SM idols. At the most fundamental level, this is not a fight between SM fans and JYJ fans. It is not even a fight between SM and JYJ. It is a fight between the SM system and the Korean State. Therefore, I am convinced that the only effective response is to pressure the Korean Government. Continue writing and emailing relevant ministries and communicating with them through projects like the international fans’ petition. As international consumers of the Korean Wave who are fully aware of the prevailing conditions, you have immense potential to influence policy on the labour standards in the Korean entertainment industry and to effectively protect the artists you love.
In many ways, you boast a power Korean fans cannot even dream of, as the ripple effects of the international fans’ petition have already shown. I remember on the day of the interview I gave to the Chosun Ilbo, I told an impressed reporter that there were an unimaginable number of people outside of Korea who have never been to Korea before but who loved Korean culture. “Korean culture no longer belongs solely to Koreans,” I said, and this part made it to the actual article. What didn’t make it into the article is that I went on to say, “Now that Korean pop has garnered an audience beyond Korea and has gone truly global, it must meet the international expectations of its international audience. If only to retain the economic prowess and global appeal of Korean music, we cannot afford to ignore the opinions and demands of the international consumers.” These standards and expectations, being international, are ultimately yours to define, not Koreans’. Your mobilisation will thus benefit not only Kim Jaejoong, Park Yoochun and Kim Junsu, but future ambassadors of the Korean arts, music and pop culture as well. Ultimately, your voice will prove the most effective in realising positive change in the Korean pop music industry. As such, I consider you all (including all those who participated in the international fans’ petition) as true Friends of Korea and decent human beings. JYJ could not ask for better admirers, and Korea could not ask for better supporters. I thank you all immensely from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t change, and may your numbers grow.
Be encouraged! Be empowered!
[iv] http://www.allkpop.com/2011/01/yg-entertainment-attracts-the-attention-of-musicians-known-worldwide. See also, http://www.allkpop.com/2011/01/is-yg-entertainment-the-solution-to-the-korean-music-industry
[v] http://www.dfsb.kr/ . The company is better known as the distributor of Korean music for Apple’s iTunes in North America. Unlike the Korean Internet music download distributors, DFSB does not slash prices at the artists’ expense and invests a chunk of their profit into promoting a new Korean indie or underground musician each year. This year, it’s Seoulsonic.
Written by: Jimmie of TheJYJFiles