This really motivates you to sit down and think really hard about the effects of our actions and behaviors as fans, even when it comes to something as seemingly ‘harmless’ as candid photo-taking. Great food for thought.
i was responding to your rant on “fansites”, which is to say, clarifying some of the misconceptions you seem to have. the “fans” who did that to the boys….they’re not fansites. they make take photos with their cellphones and watermark them but they are not the same. the actual fansites were just as livid about the situation, and several made lengthy rants about respecting the boys and their personal space. to paint them all with the same brush is…it’s not hard to find out which fans did what. of course i’m not trying to change your mind on your no fantaken picture policy, however i just wanted to let you know so that your anger isn’t misdirected. these fansites love and care for the boys, and infinite themselves recognize that (yeolae, sungyeol’s most well-known site, is given special attention by him entirely because she respects and gives him space - she won’t take pictures of him if she knows he doesn’t want it). it’s the fans who actually did it that you should be angry at - not them.
Thank you for making the effort to rewrite your thoughts and send them again – I appreciate it because I think this is an important discussion we should be having in fandom. I want to address your specific points regarding fansites and fan photography, but I am also going to talk about how my anger with this particular situation has as much to do with idol culture as it has to do with individuals carrying cameras.
I want to reiterate what I said in that post. I was excruciatingly clear about the fact that the people who did this to infinite are not fans. They are criminals. They are not fans and no one should ever confuse them with fans. Their behavior makes me ill, and the system they operate in makes me even more ill. Because that system sets up rewards for this kind of behavior and offers no consequences. I am pretty ignorant on assault and harassment laws in South Korea so anyone who can help clarify is welcome to school me. But my limited understanding is that it is not illegal to follow someone around in public, touch them, even slap them/trip them/etc. So these people have no consequence other than if a manager happens to be present and happens to push them away. Otherwise the police are not going to ever get involved. Which is wrong, and I really hope I’m actually incorrect about that.
So we have a situation where celebrities can be mobbed everywhere they go without threat of legal consequences.
Add to this the idol culture which demands idols be (at least to a large extent) receptive to this kind of attention because it’s part of fan expectations. Whether they are in costume and performing, or on their way to or from their vehicles at the venue. Even when they are not on their way to an official appearance, like when crowds wait at airports to film them and take their pictures. Fan expectations require the idols to be available to be gazed at during these times. They are expected to be dressed well, smile, and indulge the fans’ desire to see them out in public and take their pictures. And what I have gleaned in the time I’ve been in Kpop fandom (which is only a little more than a year – I am v. green and don’t want to represent otherwise) is that fan expectations are the chains that bind all of idoldom.
Fans expect the idols to be single, to be the objects of fans’ fantasies without the inconvenience of real world relationships for fans to “compete with.” Thus idols have stipulations in their contracts stating they are not allowed to date. Fans expect idols to play up intra-band relationships in order to add to the fans’ fantasies. So their companies arrange for displays of skinship. I mean, I have no doubt that all the boys of Infinite really esteem and love each other as friends and coworkers and even brothers. But no one is ever going to convince me that the big 3 otp pairings aren’t as contrived in their skinship as they would be if they were actors in a drama. Many fans think the otps (I am speaking of Woogyu, Myungyeol, and Yadong pretty much exclusively) can and perhaps should be screwing each other because it doesn’t “count.” Because idols are not gay (gasp! no! unthinkable!) – they just need a pretend sexual outlet while they obediently wait for the time that they are united with their one true love, plucked from a crowd of millions of fans who believe Oppa should realize she is the one. Many fans believe that it would only be “real” or problematic if an idol were with another girl, who would then be considered competition and also a whore for moving in on the idols whose bodies and sexuality belongs squarely to the fans. Fans demand this kind of ship pandering while denying the members legitimate means for romance and/or sexuality. And because the fans demand it, the companies demand it. And because the companies demand it, the fans demand it. It is a cyclical ooze of grossness.
I want to be clear that this kind of ship pandering is bothersome not because people ship things, because shipping is awesome 10/10 would recommend – fandom and shipping go hand-in-hand and as an ardent shipper in all of my fandoms and confident in the unproblematic nature of shipping as contained within fandom and fandom only, I’m pretty much not going to ever say that fandom shipping is wrong. The difference here is that while I am shipping characters (not the real people. I repeat, RP shipping is not about the actual people it’s about constructs – anything else is tinhatting and I’ll spare everyone by not getting into that here), idol otps are generated by companies, made into part of the performances, and they pander to fan expectations of the real people behind the performance. That is incredibly problematic, and feeds into fans’ expectations that they be allowed to govern real peoples’ lives.
I present this as just one example aside from fan photos that exemplifies the really problematic ways that fans interact with idols.
Enter fan photographers. You are here defending the “real” fansites from the “fake” ones, but I simply do not see a difference. I am not castigating individual fans here – this is more about a system than any one individual. I am sure some individual fan photographers are reasonable people who respect the idols’ privacy and don’t take any intrusive photos or get physically closer to them than they reasonably should. I am sure that is the case. But even the example you’re sharing – I visited the site and there are indeed photos there of Sungyeol in the street, in a private vehicle, and photos of him at the airport. These photos are by their nature intrusive. I saw pictures at that site of Sungyeol at the airport with a hoodie on and his hand shielding his face. And yet this individual stayed there, took the photos, and later uploaded them onto her site for others to gawk at. She may be special to Sungyeol in some way, but we have no way of knowing if that is in fact true, or if Sungyeol merely treats her with the same courtesy he treats other photographers. Again, it is part of the expectations placed on him that he smile, that he be receptive and open to fan attention. It’s the life he lives and if he were flipping off photographers and yelling at them and demanding his space he would not be long an idol. He just wouldn’t. That’s not how it works. Instead he’s forced to be at work, work at being an idol every single place he goes. He has to be “on” whether he wants to or not, especially for the owner of his most well-known site. That’s a fan expectation. Fan expectations can make or break idols. And that infuriates me.
Fan/amateur photographers, whether they are “legit” or not, are all there, in the crowd, either zooming in with their telephoto lenses or pushing in close with their cell phones. They are all participating in the violation of the idols’ privacy when they are out in the street and at the airport and in hotels and anywhere not a soundstage basically. They participate in creating the kind of frenzied atmosphere of fan entitlement that results in some members of the crowd getting in close and injuring the idols. All are responsible. The fansite owner you referred to may not be someone who got too close and as a result caused Sungyeol to fall. And Woohyun to get hit in the face. And Sunggyu to be grabbed and pulled. But her site, and others like it, empower everyone who wants a piece of the idols - their faces, their smiles, their bodies - to take risks. To get in close to get the better picture, capture the better smile, maybe even cross the final boundary of privacy and physically touch them. And then post them on sites of their own. All of these sites participate in a system that objectifies celebrities’ bodies and I simply do not and cannot see a difference between any of them, other than some can afford expensive cameras and some can’t. And honestly? I am willing to have individual fansite owners who truly are responsible and reasonable people feel disrespected and maligned by my words if it means that the process they participate in can be ended. I am much less concerned with hurting their feelings than I am with the very real consequences of the behavior surrounding amateur idol photography. Violations of privacy and bodily autonomy are not consequences I am comfortable supporting. I will not continue to participate in the system that perpetuates these abuses by reblogging the pictures when they come across my dash, whether they are taken during an official event or not. They really can’t be separated, and I won’t do it.
This is a very long-winded response to well-intentioned message, very possibly tl;dr. So thank you for your thoughts and for sticking around for my reply. While I do not agree with you I’m grateful you took the time to share with me so that this important discussion can take place.
A very insightful read about the “anti-fan” phenomenon in Korean entertainment by Ask A Korean!, one of the most informative and accessible (because you can literally ask him anything) websites out there on Korean culture and society in general.
He attributes highly aggressive and intensive anti-fan behavior to two essential, and very interrelated, factors: the combination of the strong and passionate sense of collectivity in Korea and among Koreans; and the high interconnectivity among Koreans in Korea. This latter point is especially interesting, further broken down into three aspects:
These three factors combine to create a huge synergy effect in which no one is truly beyond the reach of the public. Supposed there is a celebrity X, a handsome gentleman in his late 20s. Anti-fan Y hates X, for whatever reason. If X and Y are in the U.S., there is very little Y can actually do to X. X is probably located in either Los Angeles or New York. There is very little about X’s personal life that Y can know.
But in Korea, things are completely different. Y can join an anti-fan site with like-minded people, and keep her hatred burning for X by speaking with other people who also hate X. More people know X personally as he was growing up, and the stories involving the tiniest personal detail tell spread much faster over the Internet. Y can pick up those stories and tweak them into falsehoods that are much more personally damaging to X — which again spreads over the Internet. Y can coordinate the release of those falsehoods with other members of her anti-fan site, and the volume of falsehood alone can make the story seem more credible.
If Y’s motives are more insidious, Y can easily find out the whereabouts of X right at that moment, because the anti-fan sites could organize to spot X wherever he is. Both X and Y are probably within 30 mile radius, as they are likely to be both in Seoul — which means Y can easily get to any place where X is using nothing about public transit and less than two dollars. From there, it is but a small step for Y to offer X a poisoned can of soda.
I feel this is also extremely applicable to the case of sasaeng, specifically to why a setting like Korea’s make sasaeng activities* very possible (outside the structures and workings of the actual industry, that is, because that’s a whole different ballpark itself). We know that many sasaeng work in collectivities or networks, or at least, are incredibly connected with one another.
*However, it’s important to keep in mind that sasaeng comprise a range of ‘types’. In other words, what’s the difference between chasing idols down in taxis and crashing weddings? What’s the difference if you do just one and both? Not trying to justify that one is ‘better’ or ‘less harmful’ than the other - in fact, if we were to revert back to the basic meaning of ‘sasaeng’ (‘private life’), essentially anything you pursue outside the celebrity’s ‘official work life’ will make you a ‘sasaeng’. Then again… recognizing that many think of K-pop idols as personalities beyond performers, in that everything about them is essentially ‘the celebrity’, do they even have such thing as a ‘private life’? Perhaps such distinction is absolutely lost in the minds of sasaeng. (You can read more here about how the human behind the idol may in fact one entire product her/himself).
But in considering the rise of sasaeng activities among international fans as well (check out Yahoo! Singapore’s coverage on one fan who dedicates incredible amounts of time and money to travel to South Korea multiple times a year to “stalk JYJ”), I think the most salient aspect of interconnectivity is definitely virtual - specifically, the Internet. The case of the Singaporean fan demonstrates how physical access no longer has to be a barrier; and as we have seen with many of the more popular celebrities, personal connections with them are shared - or exposed by a third party - on the Internet, and may get picked up and translated for everyone else outside Korea.
Another point I want to bring up from the Yahoo article is the fan’s interesting take on how despite engaging in taxi chases or enduring long and (dangerous) waits in line with other sasaeng, she would personally never resort to violence or physical assault, or even the extreme invasion of their privacy. How, one might ask, would she and other similar fans see herself in relation to other sasaeng who commit the most extreme and unruly of acts? Surely they would not want to be bunched into the same category? Furthermore, how does this affect our own perception of sasaeng? With the recent unfortunate events experienced by EXO (not going to link anything here for the sake of minimizing its spread), mass attention is being drawn once again on the mental and behavioral state of sasaeng, which prove to be anything but functional. Why this intense lack of respect nor principled behavior, and why in the dozens? ‘Sasaeng’ is starting to denote way more than just instances of stalking, the invasion of privacy and other mere ‘misdemeanors’ - it is straight-up dysfunctional conduct, impaired judgment, and sheer violence, mentally and physically. For celebrities in general, constant surveillance and people pushing boundaries to probe into your business may be part of the job (doesn’t make it right though), but sexual harassment, intentional bodily harm, and the apparent lack of remorse certainly is not.
Again, there must be more at play here. We’ve explored psychological factors, but perhaps they’re not enough. The fact that this is allowed to even happen, that individual dispositions are given the opportunities to manifest in such ways, tells a bigger story.
Watch with English subs here.
If you’re subscribed to The Grand Narrative’s Facebook, you’ve probably already seen this. I wanted to share this none the less because it needs to be noted the way foreigners are being portrayed by mainstream media: the usual shitty-ass offensive shit, just as suspected. Not to mention xenophobic. The reporting is biased — completely one-sided (and it’s obvious what some of the intents are behind this — to shed a bad light on foreign men and, again, subtly pin the HIV epidemic on the growing population of non-Koreans); there’s no factual evidence, just testimonies and opinions; the narration is filled with misleading questions (“Do you think their relationship is based on trust or curiosity?”); and in general, perpetuating the negative image of cross-cultural intermingling and relationships. Yes, this happens, but I’m very sure there are just as many Korean assholes who have walked out on their girlfriends after impregnating them; and the two or three foreign men MBC interviewed should not warrant some ignorant moral panic to keep the streets free of anybody non-Korean. Really, “victims of foreigners”? What the flying fuck.
There’s just way too many wrongs about this — just watch and see for yourself.
Also, check out the comments on this Facebook thread.