It usually starts with “I just wanted to know their names” and before you know it, you have dedicated your time, money and life to a stranger who either sings, acts, or dances–or all of the above–for a living.
Soon, you not only know their name (first, last, middle and nicknames), but the names of their families and closest friends, even their pet’s name, their favorite food, their dreams and aspirations. We even start to convince ourselves that we know them better than they know themselves, that we can even make decisions for them and live their lives. What an amazing feat considering how we usually watch them only through a screen or the glossy finish of a poster or photograph. And that what we know about them came from interviews and articles containing information curated by their agencies and which they cherry-picked. When we do get to “meet” them, there are meters that separate us, as well as bodyguards or managers who try to defend their private space from the masses. On occasions that we do get in close contact with them, get to shake their hands or whatnot, we call them by their names with the familiarity of someone we know intimately, yet they probably look at us in the generic form of a…”fan.”
And just when we think we know everything about them, reality slaps us on the face with “new information” (read: scandals) that makes us doubt our judgement and instinct, and makes us question our morals.
Because truth be told, when we first wanted to know their names, I’m sure no fan in their right mind wanted to veer to the dark side, and by this I mean the world of drugs and crime that we only see in dramas, read in fiction or know about in the news. When the persons you admire become the news, and for all the wrong reasons, it’s like our life as a fangirl flashes before our eyes and goes back to the first time we saw them and, well, wanted to know their names.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of any of the celebrities implicated in the scandals rocking Korean entertainment; the closest is being a former fan of a group, of which one of those involved is–still–a member.)
I guess it’s helpful that we set soft and hard limits as a fan. What are the issues that you’d most likely tolerate and what are those that will make you stop being a fan? It’s so difficult to set soft limits but things that put their morality in question–cheating in school, financial crimes, circumventing the law (when the rest of us are following it and don’t have connections to bail us out if shit hits the fan, pun very much intended)–these are all wrong, but nothing could be as worse as drugs, murder, rape and other sex crimes. These are my hard limits.
As a fan, I totally can empathize with the disappointment when our faves fail to meet our expectations and society’s standards. I’d probably have a meltdown. It’s pretty normal to be in denial too, after all, who would believe that the people we have admired so much–even put on a pedestal–could do wrong? Perhaps more than the disbelief that they did something wrong, it’s more the disbelief with ourselves that we fell into a trap, even failed to see the red flags. But if we never even questioned ourselves, if we have remained steadfast in our loyalty and admiration, then it probably means we have become so blindsided by fanaticism that we fail to see what is wrong with the people we have turned into heroes, but turned out to be monsters instead.
There are stages of course, and for some, a distorted one. (Below is a summary of behavior that I’ve seen on social media.)
Denial: This is fake news. Oppa will never, can never, do this. He can’t even hurt a fly.
Anger: Who’s your source? Delete this! Stop spreading misinformation, you scumbag!
Bargaining: One can’t be guilty because of association. Let’s wait for the legal process.
Depression: This news again? Can’t we focus on more important news?
Acceptance: Haters are really out to get oppa. It’s the price for being successful.
I get the denial stage, even where the anger is coming from though it’s misdirected (usually at the bearer of the bad news like translation accounts as if the crime is their fault), but I cannot wrap my head around the bargaining, doing some mental calisthenics to come up with a defense in order to exonerate their faves. Most of all, I cannot, for the life of me, fathom justifying actions that, whether legal or not, remain immoral. It doesn’t mean that just because it’s not considered a crime under the law, it’s not wrong. Even worse when it’s legally wrong yet we still make excuses for our faves, and that makes us complicit to the crime by abetting it. More than the legal aspect, moral integrity is very important for anyone who lives off public adulation and approval. Why? Because they make their careers in the public eye. To put it bluntly, they make money out of their fans and the general public. If they cheat on their marketed “clean” image, shouldn’t that be considered highway robbery under the bright klieg lights?
As senior Korean actor Lee Soon Jae said, they may not be public officials but they still have to behave like one. Just as holding a public office is a public trust, a career that caters to the public and makes money out of public support is obviously based on public trust. While it may not be strictly for the benefit of all, as when you’re a public official, there is still that level of accountability that every actor, singer or celebrity has to the public. For what is the point of supporting someone—watching their dramas and films, buying their albums, going to their concerts—if in real life they commit crimes that denigrate, abuse or exploit other people? Continuing to support them also speaks volumes about us.
But where does the problem lie–on the blind fans that still support these degenerates or on the thick-skinned celebrities who continue with their career? Fans have this mistaken notion that their role as fans is to support their faves whether they’re right or wrong. Whereas there are celebrities who think that for as long as they have the support of the public, and for as long as they say sorry for “disappointing” the fans, they get an out-of-jail card. Unfortunately, most of them say sorry only because they have been caught (and they quit now only to come back years later when the noise has died down). What bothers me most in the scandal that has rocked K-pop, the celebrities involved have not even apologized to their victims. They apologized to their families, yes, and to their fans, probably to salvage what remains of their livelihood and careers.
It’s really unbelievable how these celebrities seemingly behave like they can get away with anything. Their poor understanding of the responsibility that comes with being a public figure is astounding. Fame doesn’t give anyone a free ticket to behave however way one wants. In fact, the more famous someone becomes, the bigger the responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected. Entertainers may not be public officials but they serve as role models, not only to their fans but to the general public. When they are contracted to endorse products, for instance, they just don’t sell these products to their following, but to the public in general. Their faces appear in public space, whether the rest of the public care for them or not. These endorsements come not only with big money but trust as well, trust between the celebrity and the company that they will reap mutual benefits off it. That is why there are caveats in contracts to ensure that the product or brand is protected. Cancelling such contracts is expensive and legally complicated. The same goes for TV or film work. How many times have we seen a celebrity being edited out of a film, drama or variety show after a scandal? Never mind dating scandals, but scandals that question the character and morality of a person could cost a celebrity not only millions in damage fees, but also their career. And rightly so.
We’re all humans, we all make mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance. These are just some of the defense I’ve been seeing from fans. Sure, no one is perfect. And yes, certainly, we all deserve another chance. Everyone should learn their lessons but they should also pay for their mistakes. At work, when we commit mistakes, we get a memo; if the mistake is severe, we get fired, and even get banished from that industry. People whose careers are built on and profit from the public’s trust are most certainly not exempted from this. It’s like a contaminated product that’s taken off the shelves and recalled from production. Once celebrities become damaged goods, what’s their business staying on?
If only their names, that we only wanted to know when we first met them, could be erased from our memory too. But let those names be a reminder that being a fan should have its limits. And for the rest of us, we can only hope that we are supporting decent, civilized people who will not make us regret of wanting to know those names.
© Orange Jasmine Purple Yam (blogging since 2001). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the contents in this site without permission from the author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Orange Jasmine Purple Yam with appropriate link to the original content.