Media Mix, Nov. 6, 2021

Still from the documentary Fanatic (c) BIFF

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about a Korean documentary I recently saw that explored K-pop fandom from the viewpoint of a real K-pop fan who interrogated her devotion to a certain musician after he was convicted of rape. In the piece I tried to widen the coverage to J-pop and the most serious sin committed by a male idol I can think of now is former TOKIO member Tatsuya Yamaguchi forcibly kissing an underage girl, a misdemeanor that got him ejected from Johnny & Associates, the talent agency that bred and managed TOKIO. It should be noted that Yamaguchi was actually married at the time he committed his crime, though I assume most of TOKIO’s fans knew this, owing to the fact that he was already well into his 40s. But while kissing a minor against her will is certainly a bad thing, it didn’t get him a prison term like the one the singer in the Korean documentary received. And actually his case wasn’t the only one involving a K-pop idol that has been prosecuted. In recent years there have been a number of serious offenses allegedly committed by K-pop stars, including distribution of drugs, solicitation, and embezzlement, that have gone to prosecutors. I don’t know of any idols in Japan who have been accused of that level of criminal activity, but what that means I don’t know.

Maybe nothing, but as I conjectured at the end of the column, the pressure on K-pop stars is probably heavier than it is on J-pop stars owing to the stakes and the money involved. Consequently, the temptations to break away from the restrictions imposed by such a career could be greater, and with that impulse comes a willlingness to break social mores, either because they think their power will allow them to get away with it, or because they want to test those restrictions, one of which is created by the burden of their responsibility to their fans. And as shown in the documentary, K-pop fans demand a lot, and that goes beyond what is euphemistically called “fan service.” They want their idols to defer to them and walk the straight and narrow in both their public and private lives. In return they will honor and defend them to the death. The slightest indication of anything approaching criticism on the part of the media is met with a wall of condemnation, even threats. The positive side of this phenomenon was represented by that situation last year where certain K-pop fans trolled the detractors of the Black Lives Matter movement. On the negative side there was the over-reaction to the British host of an American TV talk show, James Corden, who received a sound online thrashing from Army, the dedicated fans of BTS, after Corden made a joke about BTS’s appearance at the UN; which was ironic because Corden had already had BTS on his show and they got along famously. I myself have been the target of this kind of invective. About 10 years ago I wrote in this column about another K-pop group that had recently split over problems with their management. Some members resented their draconian contract terms and when I offhandedly used obvious hyperbole to describe this relationship I inadvertently offended those fans who still supported the members who remained with management. For a week, my blog was getting some pretty nasty comments that seemed way out of proportion to my supposed sin. I’ve written about J-pop artists in much more critical terms and have never received as much as a questioning glance. Go figure. 

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