A staple of 21st century pop culture fanning, K Pop fans have enthusiastically embraced the art of writing fan fiction. It will take only a simple Google search to find a myriad of K Pop fan fiction. Donghae and Eunhyuk; Key and Jonghyun and many more may be nothing but fellow group members on stage, but fan fiction makes some interesting, to say the least, suggestions about what may be going on offstage.
So is K Pop fan fiction just fans’ harmless past time, or is it a self-indulgent activity that takes the objectification of idols too far? As Antonia at Seoulbeats put it:
‘[K Pop idols] are not characters from a book; these are people with their own relationships and feelings. Is it fair to manipulate their lives to suit your pleasure, or does the fact that they are in the public eye make them fair game?’
– Antonia, ‘Is Fanfiction in K-pop a Force for Good?’, Seoulbeats.
To be clear, I am concerned here with fan fiction that uses real people, like K Pop fan fiction. I think fan fiction can be a good creative outlet, if dealing with fictional characters from fictional works. I myself have written and read fan fiction of this nature. However, K Pop fan fiction does not fall into the safe category of using fictional characters. K Pop fan fiction is a little more controversial because it deals with real people.
The blurry line between public and private lives
Some people find K Pop (and other real person fan fiction) uncomfortable to read and write. I think this is because the authors are blurring the distinction between idols’ public lives and private lives. Authors that write these fan fiction stories really only know K Pop idols’ stage personas, but they are using what they know of these idols’ public lives to try and write about the personal, private lives of idols. It is generally seen as invasive to reveal the details of any person, particularly a famous person’s private life, and the idea of doing so can be uncomfortable. K Pop fan fiction seems to try and describe idols’ private lives, thus making the experience of reading real fan fiction uncomfortable for some.
Some K Pop fans get very defensive about fan fiction, saying it’s a harmless activity and dismissing criticisms of it, refusing to look into more depth about the consequences of fan fiction. (See Seoulbeats comments). They claim they are comfortable with reading real fan fiction because they don’t see the idols written in fan fiction as being the same as the real person behind the idol. They can see a distinction between idols’ own, real lives and emotions; and their stage personas that they display in the public arena. They see that idols’ stage personas are just characters, caricatures of themselves, and are as fake as the fan fiction that’s written about them. But if the idols’ stage characters are used to try and fantasise about what their private lives may be like, doesn’t that blur the line between these idols’ private and public lives? How is this still a distinction between private and public lives?
I think there is another reason why people actually like real fan fiction, and claim that they are not uncomfortable with it. While it can be an uncomfortable thought at first to delve into the personal details of a person’s life, I think there is also something strangely thrilling about actually doing so. It can make you feel like you know an idol personally, as you have information that would normally only be available to a friend or partner of this person. It makes fans feel like their idols are a friend, rather than just a distant person whom they’ve never met. Where fans can’t find the real personal details of an idols’ life, they may resort to fan fiction to make up these personal details, and get the same sort of thrill you get when you actually discover a real secret about them. I think it’s the same sort of sensation you get when you hear gossip about someone. This is where I think real fan fiction is setting out to do something different to fan fiction about fictional characters. Fan fiction dealing with fictional characters, I think, can be a good, harmless creative outlet. But I don’t think this can be said of real fan fiction.
If it’s true that real fan fiction actually stays strictly in the realm of the public arena, then its fair game. But I don’t think real fan fiction does stay strictly in the realm of the public arena, and this is where I think they become an issue. The consequences of reading and writing real fan fiction about K Pop idols does need to be considered, particularly if some idols are getting personally upset by what is written about them in fan fiction, as happened with Song Joong Ki and Yooh Ah In.
What happens in fan fiction, stays in fan fiction
“[Some real person fan fictions] take good taste beyond the realms of acceptable and write about bestiality, rape, pedophilia, murder and all manner of things with glee. This is far more common than I expected it would be, and leads to the questions of whether these fans just using famous faces as a springboard for their own fantasies. Are these writings harmless, or are they encouraging such things in much the same way Marquis de Sade or The Book of O did?”
– Antonia, ‘Is Fanfiction in K-Pop A Force for Good?’ Seoulbeats.
The issue of why some fan fiction gleefully ventures into taboo topics like bestiality, rape and others mentioned in the aforementioned Seoulbeats article is an interesting one. I think the anonymity of being a fan fiction author plays a part in why these ‘less savoury’ fan fictions are written. Fan fiction is generally written anonymously, and is one of the few avenues where people can discuss their thoughts anonymously. Anonymity can allow people to talk more freely than they would in real life to real people around them. This may be why less than appropriate topics are sometimes forayed into via fan fiction. It is generally considered taboo to discuss these topics in real life, but when shielded by the anonymity of being a fan fiction writer, people have an outlet to write about these topics. Anonymity can also allow authors to be more open because they can avoid the repercussions and responses that they may have received if their identity was attached to their work. A down side of being able to avoid repercussions is that it can allow people to set aside their moral code and do things that perhaps their moral compass would direct them not to do, like make up bestiality stories about the private lives of K Pop idols.
Smut fan fiction is another controversial aspect of K Pop fan fiction that is more common than one might first imagine. Smut fan fiction is a somewhat pornographic type of fan fiction that has sexually explicit plot lines in it and is written to appeal to women. Actual pornography tends to be made by men, for men, and doesn’t really cater to women. Fan fiction appears to be written more by women (although its hard to tell exactly as there are no statistics on this kind of thing), so is filling this gap in the market by providing for the sexual desires of women. This might help explain why there is so much sexually charged K Pop fan fiction.
As for the issue of whether this less tasteful kind of fan fiction is harmless or not, I would say it can be just as damaging as any real fan fiction, that is, it is not harmless. This is because it has the same effect of blurring the distinction between the personal and public lives of idols that the tamer forms of K Pop fan fiction do. The less tasteful fan fiction I think is just a more extreme example of K Pop idols being objectified, like any real person fan fiction does, without consideration for the human being that exists behind the public facade.
I think K Pop fans need to be more thoughtful about the effects of reading and writing fan fiction on K Pop idols. Fans might be able to say that they can see a distinction between what they are writing about their idols and reality, but we can’t be sure that this means the idols are not affected by it.
Note: This article is a response to the article on Seoulbeats, ‘Is Fanfiction in K-pop a Force for Good?’. I also made a comment to that article on the Seoulbeats website, much of which was taken verbatim for this article. Bear in mind both this article and the comments I made on Seoulbeats are my own work, so no plagiarism has occurred.
Check these out if you want to read more on this issue:
‘Is Fanfiction in K Pop a Force for Good?’ Article by Antonia (Seoulbeats)
‘Shipping, fanfictions and smut’ Article by Angry K Pop Fan
‘Your OTP Is Not Real: Why Idol Shipping Has No Place In K Pop’ Article by Patricia (Seoulbeats)