Netizens oppose the fictitious depiction of same-sex relationships between K-pop singers
More than 200,000 people signed the petition sent to the Green House, claiming that fanfic / RPS is the product of sexual crimes with Kpop idols. This is a controversial situation in Korea.
“Things have gotten better in South Korea in terms of homophobia, but there’s still a long way to go” – Paul Han – an expert from 6Theory Media – shared in an article about the fanfiction culture of SCMP.
Fanfiction is a compound phrase between fan and fiction, used to refer to literary and comic products in which characters are Kpop idols. Of course, the content in fanfic is completely fiction, made up of fans’ imagination.
Since the story given in the fanfic is completely fictional, after many years of development, many people began to question whether the fanfic is a legal document. Some people believe that the act of using the image of real people to write stories with scenes of love and physical relationships is considered sexual harassment.
This is a very controversial issue in Korea in particular and in some countries where fandom culture develops in general.
PRODUCTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Millions of fans have participated in fanfic writing globally. And the fanfic writing culture has appeared since the late 1990s of HOT, Sechkies, SES, Fin.KL … Originated in Korea and spread to the world, today, fanfic is considered an obvious part of fandom culture.
The biggest fanfic “world” is the fan-created and self-run website American Archive of Our Own. The site has about 3.3 million users, 41,370 different fandoms, and millions of fanfictions released every year.
How is Fanfic different from regular love novels? The difference is that the author – who is also a fan – will create a love line for two artists of the same sex in the group, or of a different group. The act of pairing love above is called “ship”, fans who love these fantasy couples will be “shippers”.
Lavina, a college student in India and fan of the South Korean-Chinese boy band EXO replied to SCMP: “When these fans ship these particular members together, they want to make up stories and romantic moments about them. It’s for fans to fulfill their imaginations and fantasies”.
In Korea, the fanfic is called Real Person Slash (RPS). In fact, Korea is the birthplace of Kpop fanfic (or RPS), as well as the fact that this country has created an idol culture that affects the world. But Korean audiences are strongly opposed to the above culture.
A few weeks ago, some controversy surrounding RPS erupted when many comments that the act of “borrowing people” to write love stories, physical relationships is a crime like the case of the “nth room”. According to many opinions, because idols may or may not know, but never allow fans to use their names and images to write stories, it is like illegally filming and distributing sensitive videos of women.
The popular Korean rapper Son Simba has publicly condemned some of the RPS circulating on social media, saying it “depicted perverted sex scenes” sometimes involving underage boy band members, and was “another internet sex crime like the Nth room case that our society needs to take out by its roots”.
After several online news sites wrote about Son’s criticisms, a national petition was soon sent to President Moon Jae-in’s office last week with the title “Severely punish RPS users who use underage K-pop boy band members as sexual toys.”
The petition came with over 211,000 online signatures, making it obligatory for the office to respond in some form to the request. In addition, a National Assembly member visited a Seoul police station last week to formally request an investigation into 110 online users of various fanfiction websites who had either produced or distributed RPS content.
Meanwhile, Son Simba and other South Korean musicians who are now pushing to regulate RPS content have themselves been bombarded with hate comments online. Female K-pop fans, in particular, have criticized Son and other male critics for not being truly concerned for the K-pop boy band members depicted in RPS, saying they instead are simply showing their homophobic tendencies.
AN UNDENIABLE PART OF KPOP FANDOM CULTURE
Over the past year, a lot of debate about RPS has appeared on online forums. Some people believe that this is sexual harassment and should be eliminated. The rest still protect RPS, claiming that this is part of Kpop’s fandom culture, developed with Korean music over the past two decades.
For fans, such as Lavina, RPS gives her in particular and the fan community in general an “escape from reality”, just like other forms of fiction.
“Just like in movies, books and media contents, it should be OK to have sexual content in fanfiction as long as the people writing and reading the content are of legal age,” she said.
Fanfiction websites like Archive of Our Own have a rating system that includes “mature” for explicit content. Readers must also confirm themselves over 18 if they want to read the above products.
However, not all fanfic / RPS with 18+ tag are allowed to post on the internet or forums like Archive of Our Own. According to Lavina, there have even been instances when the website has taken down some stories that were “too graphic” and went “against the rules” of the fanfiction community.
Paul Han, the co-founder of 6Theory Media, which owns the popular K-pop website Allkpop, thinks the country is going through a phase that the United States went through decades ago with fanfiction, which is also known as Real Person Fiction.
“Around 20 years ago, the Real Person Fiction issue was very controversial on the American-based site fanfiction.net to the point that there was a ban on such fiction on the website, because of fears about being sued by real-life celebrities depicted in the stories on the site”, he said.
He said that in Korea, fanfics can be more difficult and more controversial. Accordingly, Korea is a country with conservative culture, and Kpop fans often focus on gay love stories – a sensitive topic that is still discriminated against in this country.
But K-pop groups and their agencies have stayed quiet on the issue of whether the RPS stories can be viewed as a form of sexual exploitation, and no K-pop groups or K-pop group members have filed libel suits against the creators of the RPS.
In fact, some boy bands have even gone out of their way during concerts and TV specials to re-enact scenes of popular Korean drama series, with members acting as the male and female characters involved in romantic relationships. There have been other instances of K-pop agencies hosting fanfiction contests as part of their marketing blitzes.
And there are also many cases that idols search, read fanfic stories about themselves, and then share them with fans. In terms of the public reactions in front of fans, it is clear that these idols do not object to fanfic / RPS.
Choi Kyu-sung, a popular music critic who is also an advisory committee member for the Korean Music Awards and the K-pop Museum, said that despite the burgeoning popularity of fanfiction and RPS, it is not a major part of the K-pop industry itself.
“Most of us first heard of RPS and fanfiction just recently,” he says. “It’s a small subculture of K-pop that I think only a small portion of the fan base in South Korea has become interested in.”
According to Choi, fanfic / RPS began to be heavily criticized because, since the 2010s, the young idol groups were gradually evoked with short miniskirts and too sexy choreography when appearing on stage.
“K-pop artists are now known for their music and distinguished styles rather than the extremely short miniskirts that created such controversy in the past,” he says. “I don’t think you can tie in the sexual fanfiction with how K-pop stars are portrayed in the public eye.”
Han said that for now, the battle lines have been drawn over RPS, with a 50-50 split between those who like it – and its sexually charged nature – and those who don’t. “It’s more of a particular niche,” he said. “Over time, I think it will become less controversial, but at the time being, some things are best left in your personal thoughts.”