There’s enough material on sasaeng fans (사생팬, over-obsessive fans who engage in stalking or other similar behaviors) to fill novels – from blood and pubic hair letters, to devoted self harm, to your casual everyday stalking, but there are simpler things that fans do that slip under our purview of what could ever be considered “normal” as a fan. We all know the pressure that bears down on celebrities to conform to ideals of nonhuman levels of perfection, especially when it comes to romance, or the lack thereof, unless they want to face the shrapnel of rage and slander that celebrity missteps entice, and the eventuality of losing fans no matter what level of perfection they achieve. Korean fans and International fans alike almost never feel particularly great about seeing their idol swept away in someone else’s love, but when does it turn from fanaticism into delusion?
A lot of people might say that it’s already slipped into the realm of the latter by simply caring that much about the life of someone you don’t know. But humans have always idolized, have always obsessed; we love to love, and to fantasize, and to escape. Whether it’s music, movies, television, art, games, etc – we are a passionate species. So, I think, at least, that our passion for these people we don’t know, who entertain us, and quite often, save us, can be a healthy and beautiful coexistence. Celebrities need fans to be successful and fans need celebrities to make us feel something unique to us, whatever special emotion it may be.
But when fans start truly believing they know what’s right for their idol, that they know what they should be doing with their bodies, minds, and hearts, things start to get dark, and it quickly becomes more than fanaticism, it becomes a struggling delusion that ends up hurting everyone involved.
This has been apparent to me in many forms and capacities in my eight years of following the K-Pop Fandom, and some are far more severe than others, but something stood out to me recently:
Sungmin of Super Junior resigned from participation in the group’s upcoming comeback this year because hundreds of fans decided he had made the wrong decisions about his own marriage. That he had disgraced his band and hurt his fans by how he handled things. The majority of complaints were basically accusing Sungmin of being neglectful and harmful by choosing the date and time of his own wedding, and not giving the fans information about his girlfriend or plans before getting married. They’re also still angry that he opened up about having a girlfriend at all. Oh and yes, this was in 2014. It’s been revealed by his company that he actually didn’t get to choose by himself, and much like every Korean celebrity’s life, many other people were involved in a huge, intimate decision, but the rumors and scandals stayed louder than the truth, and he released an apology letter along with his official statement at the start of July about abstaining from the band’s activities this year.
Now, I’m an ELF (“Everlasting Friends” – the Super Junior fan title), and I declined to even approach the matter as arguments were exploding across comments and threads, and petitions for his departure from the band were spreading like wildfire from heated fans. My viewpoint is “live and let live” as long as no one is being purposefully hurt – and that’s exactly what I saw here.
People who had absolutely no business meddling in the love life of another person, (yes, person, not celebrity, how quickly “fans” seem to forget that small fact) to the point that he had to decide which pain he’d rather endure. Would he bend to the delusional demands of jaded fans or would he stay and possibly pull his closest friends into the thick of the fray with him? No one should have to decide something like that, but he did.
It saddened me greatly to find out that he wouldn’t be participating in the comeback, not as a disappointed ELF, but as a person, having to watch someone pull away from one of the largest aspects of his life, because hundreds of nearly complete strangers decided what they thought was best for him.
The enormity of that is honestly hard to comprehend. I try to imagine what it must feel like to be in K-Idol’s shoes rather regularly and even the fictitious burdens are enough to make me emotionally fragile. Living with that every day? Who can say what decisions idols make are right or wrong? They have trouble knowing that themselves, so I know undoubtedly that we can’t, and I know even more so that we shouldn’t try. That debate falls on deafened minds though. We can’t force fans to stop thinking they know what’s right and then acting on it. We can only keep an open dialogue about these topics and hope that we open a few minds in the process.
Let’s keep these discussions growing.