One of the challenges of being an international K-pop fan is dealing with the rampant racism, colorism, and cultural appropriation within the industry. This is not to say that Korean fans don’t deal with it, either, but due to cultural context, ifen interpret and engage the issues differently. But I am not here to discuss the cultural nuances of kfen vs ifen; I’m here to discuss the particular way that ifandom goes about social justice issues. Read: not well.
Most people capable of basic critical thinking realize that it’s entirely possible to be a fan of something ~*problematic*~ as long as you acknowledge and understand why it’s problematic. However, critical thinking is not popular in K-pop ifandom, and rather than addressing the industry-wide problems of racism, colorism, and cultural appropriation, fans prefer instead to quibble with each other over whose favorites are “flawless.” I’m uncertain if it’s because K-pop fen love fanning the flames of intrafandom rivalries, or if ifen really find it that difficult to reconcile their love of social justice with their love of K-pop. Whatever the reason, many K-pop ifen seem to prefer focusing their enmity on idols they either already dislike or who already have a reputation for being problematic (Zico and G-Dragon tend to switch places upon the iron throne of problematicness depending on whoever’s promoting at the time, though other idols, usually rappers, occasionally keep it warm for them). This way, ifen can vent out their social justice spleen on a target with which they have little if any investment, allowing them to stan their “unproblematic” (or at least not as problematic) faves guilt-free.
This mentality gives rise to what I call “checklist social justice.” Essentially, a group or idol’s worthiness depends on how many ticky boxes they tick on a grand list of publicly known problematic things they’ve said or done. Whoever’s favorite has the shorter checklist is more worthy of stanning; whoever’s has the longer list, well, sucks to be you. Public apologies may or may not negate an item on the checklist, depending on how much the fan likes the idol or how charitable the fan is feeling that day.
This leads to countless arguments in which fans attempt to excuse, explain, or somehow minimize things their faves have done, then other fans become enraged by these defenses, which are frequently even more offensive than what the idol did to start with. Add the naturally combative nature of social media, and the whole thing devolves into a massive clusterfuck.
One has to wonder how a fan honestly believes they have the moral high ground just because their fave has done fewer (public) problematic things than someone else’s. Regardless of quantity, it’s not like these transgressions come from the same place of ignorance or anything like that. It’s not like these idols are operating within an industry in which they suffer little if any significant consequences for these transgressions, or else they wouldn’t keep doing them. No, it makes a lot more sense to go off about how the Buttmonkey of the Week is the Actual Worst and then bust out the checklist when another fan is like, “yo… hasn’t your fave done some messy shit, too?”
Obviously other factors can factor in, such as degree of offensiveness (I was going to make a comment about actual criminals, but even idols accused or convicted of a crime still have fiercely devoted
delusional fanbases). But we could hash out individual circumstances for pages; it would still miss the forest for the trees. At the end of the day, what does this kind of “checklist social justice” contribute to the cause it’s supposedly championing? And don’t anyone give me some pat “raise awareness” answer; awareness doesn’t mean very much unless it leads to action. A good example of fans taking positive action is Omonatheydidnt’s open letter about blackface. While it remains unclear how much traction that letter gained, it was at least an attempt to bring the issue to light where people/organizations with the power to make positive changes could see it. Arguing on social media over whose fave is the most “flawless” in a foreign language? Not so much.
It’s not like this problem is endemic to K-pop fandom, either. It happens in every fandom, as evidenced by the infamous yourfaveisproblematic tumblr. Western fans will still be apologists for their faves and will still apply checklist social justice when arguing with other fans; it just manifests a little differently since these celebrities are from the same culture as their fans. And it’s no less counterproductive.
Since the fandom way is to assume that a fan who doesn’t agree with one extreme must necessarily agree with the opposite extreme, no, I am not saying idols should never be called out for anything, ever. Nor am I saying (general) you don’t have a right to dislike idols for doing problematic things. What I am saying is that it starts to look really disingenuous when a fan seems more interested in “calling out” idols (but only ones they dislike) instead of actually discussing or considering the broader context of how these issues operate within the K-pop industry and pop culture as a whole. It’s a highly complex topic, far more so than simply “my oppa is more flawless than yours!”
I can only conclude that the majority of fans doing the “checklist social justice” thing have either completely lost perspective, or it was never about social justice to start with. If so, the only common thread here is a compulsion to prove their favorite’s superiority over someone else’s, and in the immortal words of the Dude: