Picture is relevant, I swear.
WARNING: 2500+ word long post ahead.
You know, I’ve never been into K-pop in any shape or form. I think the music is banal and that the over-manufactured appearances of the idols are creepy rather than attractive. I’ve also never managed to finish watching a Korean drama. I don’t think I could even name more than five Korean boy groups (DBSK, Shinhwa, and uhhhhhhh… crap). Basically, I am probably the least qualified person in the world to write an essay on K-pop fandom.
And yet over the past year I have developed a keen interest in the subject on a kind of abstract level, you might say. It was never lost on me for a moment that the transnational flows of K-pop are very similar how Japanese popular culture has spread across the world. K-pop is massively popular inside and outside of Korea, it’s projected as a kind of “soft power”, and more fans have been taking an interest in South Korean language and culture than ever before. While I might not be into the music and the celebrities myself, I can definitely say that the Korean Wave has played a big part in getting me interested in South Korea and its role on the international stage. In that sense, I’m not any different from the hardcore fans!
Learning about the Korean Wave in an academic setting was also really valuable for one other reason: it made me see my own fandom activities through an entirely different viewpoint. When it comes to commenting on anime/otaku fandom, I’m so immersed in the subculture that I can’t fully detach myself from it emotionally. I think this creates a big oversight in my criticisms and insights, which I’ve been trying to work on with limited success.
With K-pop fandom, though, the problem is entirely reversed: I’m so completely uninvolved that I probably miss many of the finer points that fans would pick up on naturally. Like, you know, the artist’s names.
This is like if some fancy-pants academic comes up with all these grand theories about social hierarchies within anime fandom without ever having watched a single anime. It’s doable and the ideas will be fresh and insightful since they’re coming from a total outsider, but they’re going to seem very bizarre and even disconnected from reality.
Clearly, the trick is to find a middle ground. Be engaged but also critical, and don’t just look at it from the inside but be outward-looking as well. Be conscious of the broader context, and so on.
This train of thought led me to question a few things:
What does the popularity of things like anime and K-pop actually mean in the big picture? I’m talking on a huge scale like international politics and social values, which can’t really be accurately pinpointed, but oh well. Also, what do anime fandom and K-pop fandom have in common besides just “originating from East Asia” and “being popular overseas”? To what degree do they influence and shape each other? Clearly, these two phenomenons don’t exist in a vacuum. There’s a significant degree of crossover between fandoms, which clearly says something.
Obviously, this meagre little blog post can’t answer such big, fundamental questions, but hopefully what I can do is introduce you to some of the conceptual background. My answer is to start with the broader context of fandom and then narrow it down to the fine psychology about it. And I focus mostly on the female members of fandom here, simply because they’ve been studied more widely. I’ll try not to go full-on nerd, but the basic purpose here is to bridge the gap between “academia” and “fandom”.
(Bearing in mind, of course, that cultural theory isn’t so clear-cut with these distinctions as you might think. It’s hard to distinguish between “fan” and “academic” when many trained academics are members of fandom and vice versa. It’s also just difficult to separate commentaries on culture from culture itself, and it’s debatable whether that should even be attempted.)
Anime, K-pop and Soft Power
Soft power is a term that’s become quite mainstream, but for those of you who may still be uncertain about what it means exactly, the simplest definition I can come up with is that it’s non-violent coercive influence. A country with a strong cultural economy (that is, a country that exports a lot of goods that give others a strong indication of its country of origin, rather than just coal or whatever) will exhibit soft power, because the receiving country will be more inclined to absorb some of the culture. Josh describes the term more accurately than I did here, so you should check out his post. But hopefully I can build on his discussion by bringing K-pop into the equation.
In the case of K-pop, it’s relatively straightforward. The songs are mostly sung in Korean – even if there is a lot of Engrish – and the fact that it’s called K-pop in itself emphasises its distinct “Korean-ness”. At the same time, and I think fans will generally agree with me here, the appeal of K-pop isn’t necessarily because it’s “Korean” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). K-pop is popular because it has something that appeals to everyone. It draws from different elements of different cultures and stitches them together to form a distinctly recognisable pastiche – this is called cultural hybridity. The Engrish, the hip clothing styles, the dance routines – these are all influenced by Western pop, at least if you squint. So K-pop is both familiar and exotic, which is no doubt why it’s such an immersive fandom.
In theory, this all makes marketing K-pop overseas a simple matter. If it’s obvious that K-pop originates from South Korea but it’s also easy for someone who doesn’t necessarily identify with Korea to get into, then it’s a great tool to hook people into liking South Korea and buying South Korean stuff.
The reality is a lot more complex, though. It’s not really a case of “South Korean government pushes K-pop -> K-pop is popular -> ??? -> PROFIT” when the driving force of fandom is, well, fans. And fans can be fickle in how they choose to receive a product, so it’s practically impossible how much of “Korea” they’re processing. Do fans just prefer to read their own values into something they like, disregarding context altogether? In which case, using K-pop to sell South Korea is more than likely not going to work in quite the way it’s intended.
Anime is arguably an even more complicated case. There’s nothing about animation which is inherently Japanese. Anime characters are not drawn to look Japanese (with exceptions like Ping Pong the Animation), and with dubbed anime especially there wouldn’t be much that would indicate the anime’s country of origin at first glance.
Ironically, though, the lack of Japanese “cultural odor” is in fact a kind of cultural marker in itself! Anime characters might not look Japanese, but we instinctively identify the art style as Japanese in origin. This is the case even though the style is imitated by those who are most certainly not Japanese: from Korean manhwa artists to anonymous users on DeviantArt.
There are definitely similarities between anime and K-pop in how both are backed by the government and how they’re “hybrid” products. Surely it can’t be entirely coincidental. Could it be that the popularity of Japanese pop culture has helped ease the acceptance of the Korean Wave? Have the two fandoms influenced each other? What do they have in common?
My personal reading of the situation is that Japanese shojo manga from the 90s (and possibly even earlier) sparked an ongoing “pretty boy” creation process across the Taiwan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and other countries with a close cultural proximity to Japan. The designs in shojo manga have changed rapidly over time, and I think this is because shojo manga artists have been influenced by the changing perceptions of male beauty across East Asia.
The “pretty boy” look is almost uniform nowadays. It’s somewhat more difficult to tell the nationality of a popular boy band by face alone, although their way of speaking and mannerisms make it more obvious to those who are sensitive of intercultural differences.
It should go without saying that many K-pop fans are female, and that the crossover between K-pop and anime fandom consists mainly of girls who like the pretty boy look.
This is where I can start to relate to K-pop fandom somewhat. K-pop fandom consists of consuming the boys as products as well as the music. How is this really all that different from female (and male) otaku culture?
Let’s look at this a little closer. What’s the appeal of pretty boys? Other than that they’re hot?
Because, you know, even the idea that they’re “hot” is debatable and worth questioning, if you ask me. I know that when I first started getting into anime fandom, I found the pretty boy aesthetic seriously alienating. You might claim that East Asian countries have a less macho culture than Western cultures, but that’s a blanket statement which ignores the complexity of masculinity as an idea.
So I think the trend in K-pop and in anime towards pretty boys is reflective of distinctly contemporary gender politics. The whole “metrosexuality” trend has been happening throughout the entire world; it just happens to be more overt in K-pop and shojo anime. For the most part, I like to interpret this positively as a sign that gender barriers are breaking down, so pretty boys get my approval.
But I think the reason why pretty boys are so particularly popular across East Asia (as well as other countries that consume a lot of East Asian pop culture, like the Philippines) is that female members of fandom feel empowered by consuming pretty boys. It’s a “safe” form of expressing sexuality, especially when the pretty boys aren’t portrayed as physically imposing or aggressive. In cultures where females are still sexually repressed, K-pop and anime fandom become useful outlets. But since female repression is something that still happens in Western culture, too, I feel this aspect of K-pop and anime consumption is universal.
What K-pop succeeds in doing is illuminating this part of female-centric fandom. The tendency towards male worship and female slut shaming is very overt in K-pop fandom. There are stories about some K-pop fangirls being so obsessive that they stalk their favourite idols and attacking girls whom they perceive as romantic threats. Some crazy ones even send their beloved male stars their menstrual blood. (I can’t make this shit up.)
I’m not saying that all fangirls are like this, of course, just that the pretty boy phenomenon appeals to a deep-rooted psychological instinct to idealise good-looking men and to put them on pedestals at the risk of devaluing one’s own sexual identity.
The Psychology of Yaoi Fandom
This tendency also rears its head in yaoi fanfiction and BL (Boys Love) subculture in general. As far as real-life homosexual relationships are concerned, yaoi is complete fantasy. In fact, they feel more like hetero-normative relationships (that is, relationships that conform to stereotypes about male and female gender roles) than anything, except that both characters involved have penises. Yaoi fangirls prefer the men of their desires to desire each other rather than a woman.
From my experiences talking with anime fangirls (who also happen to like yaoi), the reasoning behind this is that female characters in anime are very poorly written and/or fetishised – which is an undeniable truth. So yaoi fandom becomes a way of exploring what is basically a heterosexual relationship but without having to deal with frustrating female characters who are difficult to relate to.
K-pop yaoi fans doesn’t actually have the excuse of being frustrated with female characters, though. And K-pop fans are also fetishising real people through their fanfictions, which means their actions occupy a grey moral area. So what drives K-pop fans to do this, especially after I’ve gone to great length to describe how anime and K-pop fandom aren’t so different? I think it’s frustration against being female in general. It’s the dream of pretending to be male through writing yaoi. I’ve seen this very accurately described as crossdreaming.
Crossdreaming is halfway between what I call “gender critique” and what psychologists call “gender dysphoria” (thanks to Foxy Lady Ayame for pointing out the correct term!). Many girls appear to feel frustrated by gender labels and want to tap into their “inner males”. I wouldn’t call this straightforward transgenderism, though. Most yaoi fangirls wouldn’t claim they were born in the wrong gender, but they are certainly curious and attracted to the idea of masculinity as it exists within themselves. And they feel frustrated and even threatened at the idea of having to “act female”. So naturally yaoi and crossdressing stories are very popular fantasies to the crossdreaming female, since they give consumers the possibility of acting out on their masculine sides.
So my basic idea is that female fans of both anime and K-pop consume and empathise with pretty boys as a way of temporarily shrugging off what they perceive to be the disempowering parts of being female. Yaoi fandom is this type of consumption taken a logical step further. Not all female fans are into yaoi, but the ones who are yaoi fans exhibit these traits most strongly (from my personal observation).
Part of this is testament how fluid the notion of gender is, which is both fascinating and enlightening to see play out. But another part of it is frustration against being sexual repressed as women, which is a sad reflection of reality.
This post was very theoretical but hopefully you can see how K-pop and anime fandom inform and influence each other, with special attention to PRETTY BOYS and YAOI.
You can basically summarise the appeal of K-pop and anime as “exotic yet familiar”. The commodified masculinity of pretty boys makes it easy for girls to revel in sexual fantasies in a safe and socially acceptable way (relatively speaking). In fact, you might even say the whole concept of masculinity in general is “exotic yet familiar”. It’s universal, it appeals to things that hit deep, and so it’s no surprise that K-pop and anime both have huge followings across the entire world. And we can learn a lot about how both fandoms work by examining how they overlap.
These fandoms have come about through a mixture of fan activity and trans-cultural flows. The macro and micro factors both influence each other. Pretty boys have been stitched together through the efforts of multiple countries consuming media off each other, so again it’s really no wonder that K-pop and anime do strike a chord with fans. It’s not so different from what they’ve always known. Because of this reason, I think using pretty boys as soft power is ineffective, but that’s probably an argument for another day.
That about wraps up my long-ass post for today. Feel free to disagree with my ideas, especially if you’re into K-pop and/or yaoi. Much of this is written purely through the perspective of an outsider – someone who isn’t a K-pop fan and who isn’t sexually attracted to men. I’ve been getting into pretty boys more recently, though, and plus I am firm believer that REAL MEN (and women) LOVE YAOI, but I don’t think they’ll ever replace 2D girls in my heart ;)
Yukio Mishima also committed seppuku, which suggests that the masculinity he symbolizes is ultimately self-destructive? O.o
I’m not particularly well-versed in the ways of K-pop, but I have listened to an embarrassingly substantial amount of J-pop boyband music, which are still pretty popular and exert a lot of pop-culture influence in Japan despite the Korean wave. (Hello, Jun Matsumoto!)
What you’ve mentioned about yaoi as a safe form of sexual consumption for women makes a lot of sense, but I’m wondering how (or if) yaoi fits into gender roles in Japanese society as a whole. Does the proliferation of yaoi make homosexuality more acceptable in Japan, or is it still confined in a niche market?
I’d say the latter. Actual homosexuality is still widely taboo in Japan. It’s not openly discussed and is frequently stereotyped in the media. Gay marriage is also illegal in Japan. That said, LGBT issues are slowly coming more into the open, though I’m not sure I’d attribute that to the yaoi market. When yaoi is so widely regarded as “female fantasy”, its power as social commentary is rather limited. Very few BL stories actually deal with issues like prejudice. I’m not saying that consumers of yaoi are narrow-minded and don’t tolerate homosexuality in real life, just that the hobby doesn’t naturally lend itself to an interest in political activism and gay rights issues.
Word vomit ahoy!
Ahhhhhhhh this post is sorely needed. While anime has both become “another geek interest” and isolated from them as a source of fandom, idol fandom has remained firmly separate, save for some anisong/seiyuu fandom aspects, which I admittedly can get biased against, as well, as a fan for whom idolling is my primary fandom. (As in, the “I am a Jpop connoisseur! but only know anisongs/vocaloid” thing)
Hell, idol fans in Japan (and thus spread to international) separate themselves by using the term “wota” instead of “otaku.” While otaku gets shortened to ota anyways as a part of abbreviations (aniota, seiyuuota, etc.) the term “wota” by itself seems to refer specifically to the idol fandom, and they won’t call themselves otaku. (Perhaps to make a pun on “woto?”)
Of course, there are tons of international fans that span fandoms, as anime–>anisong/seiyuu–>Jpop idols–>Kpop idols is a common origin story, including mine, but rarely is fandom analysis extended across them. While we may consume and enjoy our fandoms together, such as doing crossover/fusion fanworks, we tend to just treat our fandoms in largely separate bubbles when it comes to analysis. (For some great places to read Kpop fandom analysis, I would recommend Kpop Kollective, The Grand Narrative, Asian Junkie, HelloKpop’s editorial section, Seoulbeats, and Idolminded. Avoid allkpop at all costs.)
I, for one, have been pondering over how Azuma’s model does and doesn’t hold up when applied to wota. There are constant disruptions caused by the “source material” being real people. The database is alive, it’s alive! But some of the desires and appeals may be a little different, as well, for all that some think that idols are just like moe anime characters. When I got much deeper into idol fandom, I couldn’t stand anime characterization, even in critically acclaimed anime, and my TV consumption during that time was much more slanted towards western live-action. (It’s still why I can’t get into idol anime at all.) Idols and groups who rise to the top have to break away from the rest of the generically-cutesy pack, and so there’s a movement now towards un-idol-like idols, led by the sentai-themed Momoiro Clover Z, and the recently-tapped-to-open-for-Lady-Gaga Babymetal. And for that matter, Kpop. A little more of that later. AKB48 is an anomaly because they’re backed by the most influential music producer in Japan next to Johnny Kitagawa himself, and they changed the game on how all J-artists interact with fans. Also, they have enough members to cover the spectrum of classic-idol-moe to as un-idol-like as you’d like, so they defy any generalizations.
The focus on the female idol fan population in this post is a little interesting. I’ve always been more about the girl groups, so I’m more familiar with fandoms both accepting and embracing the middle-aged-salarymen group, which is well-known as the primary fan demographic in idol Jpop, but still remains a force in Kpop, as well. See The Grand Narrative blog for analysis especially on that, as it pertains to culture and sexuality.
Because the middle-aged-salarymen otaku group is what separates asian idol fandom from simply importing analysis on Frank Sinatra’s Bobbysoxers or Beatlemania, or even just Bieber and 1D fandom. No one is talking about the middle-aged-salarymen group being key to Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus’s fanbases, much less Beyonce and Lady Gaga’s. So I do have to conclude that the difference in culture and sexual politics must play a role.
However, Kpop does seem to inhabit a slightly different space from anime fandom, despite “originating from East Asia” and “being popular overseas.” It is much more divorced from traditional geek interests than Jpop. There are many non-geek Kpop fans that aren’t into associated geek interests. Some of them are music critics. Some of them loudly proclaim that Kpop is not an otaku interest in Japan, but a mainstream one, and are far removed from Jpop idolling. They’re Arteests, not idols, with more direct influences from the West than the East. Kcon is nothing like your regular fandom convention, and more like a music festival. (As opposed to Jpop-centered Idol Matsuri, which follows the guest-panel-dealers-screenings traditional con set-up)
Nonetheless, I think it’s more valuable to explore how fandom behavior across all fields (music, sports, crafts, media) springs from the same basic human desires, so I really enjoyed this post, and again, think it’s sorely needed.
Re: the appeal of pretty boys and females preferring yaoi over het, whereas males like harem over yuri
Very much agree with these sections. See also this, for why m/m is so popular amongst western female fans as well.
Dammit, there was a perfect article about fangirl squee as a safe space for exploring sexuality as it pertained to One Direction fangirls, but it was on the ONTD livejournal, so I’ll never be able to find it.
However, my take on the tendency to ship same-sex idol pairs is that it’s more based on blue bishounen ghetto and pink bishoujo ghetto. (I miss those old trope titles.) It stems from the romantization of love in media that the highest form of love must be romantic love. Therefore, when two people appear to have a bond that transcends their bonds to anyone else, it must be romantic love. Hence the incest and age-gap ships that have gleefully sprung up for Frozen and Maleficent, which are simply a gender-flipped examples of what drove the popularity of Qui-gon/Obi-Wan and NaruSasu. As idolling thrives on group members playing up their devotion to each and the group, it’s no wonder that fans jump on defining that love as romantic. Add to their displaying their bodies in attractive ways with each other constantly, and the lust factor easily jumps in, as well.
In addition, same-sex shipping for idols is much more prevalent for Jpop groups, who are much more gender-segregated than Kpop groups. The amount of support for het ships is much higher in Kpop because there are more instances of male and female idols interacting on a regular basis.
I do, however, agree with your analysis as to why the cross-dressing girl was such a popular trope in Kdrama for a while.
What is interesting to me, though, is that shipping idols together is primarily a female activity. Males seem to prefer desiring the idols directly, getting themself into the mix, whereas females may strongly reject the notion of ruining their ship with their own presence. (Which is akin to how gender affects who writes the dreaded self-insert OC in fanfiction) Exceptions seem to be when males are inspired by ship-based fanworks, and thus consider the ship in storytelling terms, and are thus inspired themselves to produce (better) creative works. Similarly, if they are inducted into fandom by a community that already has that “idols-as-characters” mindset, then they, too, notice chemistry between members as narrative potential, instead of focussing on their own desires for the idol.
Wow, thanks for the insightful comment! It was very enlightening on multiple levels.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t know an awful lot about the particularities of K-pop fan culture, other than through what academic texts and second-hand observations from friends have told me, so your comment filled in some of the gaps I was thinking of. I also know next to nothing about the J-pop/idol industry, and part of that has to do with how I’m just not very interested in anime music in general. It’s definitely something I should consider exploring more seriously, because I find the connections between fandoms very interesting, if only from a distance for now.
That’s fascinating! I don’t think Azuma’s database theory is a neat fit in describing how idol/celebrity cultures work, but I am a firm believer that otaku culture isn’t “unique” and the type of consumption anime fans exhibit isn’t so different from other geek cultures, whatever otaku like to believe. So your comment about not relating to anime-style characterisation has me very interested – perhaps it’s a reflection of the agency and free will idols have compared to animated, fictional characters.
Yeah. This is just tentative hypothesising, but I think it’s partly to do with how pedophilia is so strictly taboo in Western societies. Yet another area to research more thoroughly ;)
Certainly, there is direct crossover between K-pop and anime fandom, but you’re right – the average K-pop fan is probably not into otaku/idol culture at all. I did read that despite Japanese pop culture’s huge popularity and influence across Asian countries, there are many East Asians who find Japanese pop culture alienating, so a “Pan-East Asian” culture doesn’t quite exist. I imagine K-pop is a little closer to home and easier to digest if you’re just a straight-up music fan, rather than someone who invests into music as a communal experience.
I’d also suggest that K-pop is a lot more mainstream and less of a subculture in South Korea than anime fandom is in Japan. Once you venture into Western countries, though, both are equally niche interests. Anime is probably more mainstream than K-pop is, come to think of it. I don’t have any data to support this, but I think there’s a higher proportion of crossover in anime and K-pop fandom among fans living in Australia, for instance. (Just using my own country for the sake of the comparison.) When a hobby is niche and requires active searching to get into, it’s not so much of a leap to suggest that fans are open and receptive to similar niche hobbies.
It’s always risky to make broad generalisations, especially about such a massive sample of the population, but I did write this post with mostly Western fans in mind,
That definitely explains the impulse behind shipping, although I think that aspect has less to do with self-insertion and self-projection but rather romanticising romance? (It’s equally self-indulgent, of course.) I’ve tended to associate this sort of shipping with younger, less self-aware fans, while yaoi shipping “as gender critique” or “as crossdreaming” appeals to older as well as younger fans. Well, that’s the stereotype, at least. Come to think of it, the boundaries are very blurred on this matter.
Whew! I have a lot more I want to say, but I’d better stop here. That about covers everything I have to say of importance.
Tangent: One amusing benefit to idol fandom has been getting a perspective on how young female Japanese have defined otaku terms for themselves. This video defined “moe” for me as equivalent to “the feels,” usually linked to woobie traits, male or female, rather than simply cuteness.
The main reason I rejected anime during that time had to do with dialogue. The majority of media I consumed for idolling wasn’t performances or music videos, but variety shows, reality show type set-ups, behind-the-scenes footage, blog videos, and radio shows, avenues in which the talking was largely casual, conversational, and slang-filled. Words and phrases were also repeated ad nauseum, from industry terms to running gags to image gimmicks, so I that, in some ways, it was more useful to “learning” Japanese than narrative media like anime and Jdrama. Although I have never studied the language, I can roughly understand most variety unsubbed.
In contrast, anime dialogue felt stilted and unnatural, both in content, patterns, and timing. Even Jdrama dialogue felt more natural than in anime. It didn’t help that at the time (late 2000s-early 2010s) the most popular anime tended to follow screwball romcom patterns, which meant even more unrealistic dialogue and character behavior I couldn’t imagine even the most cutesy and/or gimmicky idol doing. A good deal of J-variety is devoted to tearing down such affectations and getting to “real” behavior through its bizarre humiliations, so the reactions to wackiness in anime rang extra false.
Plus, as you surmise, some of the appeal of idols seems to stem from the unpredictability of real people. The most popular idols do tend to have traditionally cutesy surfaces, but they also always have a sharp mind underneath, calculating the best way to gain fans and win screentime, as well as the devotion to commit to such polarizing images and otherwise irritating behavior, that makes them compelling to watch. The third most popular girl in AKB48 is known for being two-faced, and is loved for it. As said before, J-variety’s bread and butter is in tearing down these images, and star-making turns on variety are often when the most cutesy idol reveals their crouching badass as a result of it. (Or sometimes, the contrast is made overt intentionally) Huh, I don’t think “gap-moe” is a term I’ve heard in the anime-sphere that often, but I learned it a while ago from one idol describing what they liked about a fellow member.
Gap-moe, on its surface, seems to go completely against the Azuma model of lifting archetypes from the database wholesale, since gap-moe posits that the destruction of the archetype is what is attractive.
Am I breaking the word limit or something? Earlier, it wouldn’t let me post the entire thing together, either. Now, I keep trying post the second half of my response, but it won’t go through. I don’t think it’s any larger than the first half that has gone through.
I just checked and it all went to spam. It happens when you post a lot of links in a comment. I’ve let the comment through now, so sorry about the inconvenience!
Then again, the biggest stigma against the idol industry is the purity crap, wherein idols aren’t allowed to be caught with the opposite gender, for the fans. Even Aya Hirano suffered from that, so it does seem that the (hard)core wota fanbase still may consume from an idol form of the database, the deviation from which can inspire not just a break from the consumption immersion experience, but negative backlash. It’s a joke that DD fans (daredemo daisuki, or fair-weather fans like can like anyone or anything) are scum, with MDs (minna daisuki, or liking a group over devoting to a single member) only one step up from DDs. So my personal perspective, as a proud DD, is far from that of a normal wota’s.
Relevant article concerning East vs. West on consuming sexy youth
In America, Kpop is definitely considered more of a legitimate artistic interest than anime is. Anime sometimes still has to seek legitimacy from the geek crowd sometimes, much less mainstream recognition, Miyazaki aside. Even when Kpop is considered niche, it’s a music niche, and thus given the same consideration as any other music genre, rather than dismissed as a weird hobby. Besides Gangnam Style, Kpop’s international appeals was in playing to the nostalgia of a generation that grew up on teenyboppers (Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, N’Sync) and is coinciding with the current crop of teenyboppers, (One Direction, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber) but with the polish of Arteests like Usher and Beyonce. As many music critics have noted, Kpop boybands “skip Justin Timberlake and go straight to Michael Jackson.”
Plus, consider Gangnam Style. The only anime-based memes that approach its mainstream penetration tend to be based on English dubs done back when they were adapted and consumed on Western terms, not anime’s or Japan’s. (Pokemon, Transformers, DBZ, Speed Racer, and for live-action, Power Rangers. Note how the latter three anime received white-washed movie adaptations.) Jpop’s closest viral hit is Kyary’s Pon Pon Pon, which is riding on “lol Japan is Weird” notoriety, and stands at 66 million views on YT, a far cry from Gangnam Style’s 2 billion.
One thing that struck me about your comments is how you’ve challenged the stigma around idol culture. I know some critics of anime who are vehement in their attacks on idol culture, seeing it as an extension of otaku consumption but applied to real people, making it infinitely worse. But it seems idol culture is more mainstream and not so different from celebrity culture in general? And that Wota and otaku are different breeds? This is getting way off-topic from the original post, though. Something to think about for a post for another day!
Oh, the idol industry is a sketchy place, all right, and I’m constantly questioning if I can justify supporting the very troubling negatives for the sake of the continuation of the positives. But in terms of problematic attitudes alone, it’s no different from problematic attitudes in any fandom, and in some ways is less invasive than regular celebrity culture because it’s been institutionalized. (As in, rules have been set, and it’s the job of idols to interact with and even cultivate such behavior, as opposed to actors, who may just want to focus on their acting skills.)
As to what’s more toxic, I say it’s apples and oranges. 3D involves real people, but that also grounds the fans in a way. 2D doesn’t hurt real people unless actors get involved, but that can reinforce stronger negative attitudes and schisms from non-fandom reality. I’d rather focus on raising both sides than a race to the bottom.
Fundamentally, I’d say wota and otaku aren’t different. One only has to look no further than the overlap: seiyuu and Vocaloid fandom. But like the comparison of hardcore sports fans and otaku, some of the details of what they look for to enjoy differ.
However, wota and otaku personally tend to separate themselves from the other, even internationally. In con reports, wota will mock the otaku as all Narutards flailing around, and otaku will complain about the idolfags clogging up the con with their camping lines.
Okay, I was going to make a comment to the effect of how interesting and well-written this piece is, but then I saw that last picture and now am only capable of saying that even if I thought the article was terrible, it would’ve been worth the read just for that.
RAWR K-ON! VERY MANLY
Hmm… How many EXO male fan do you know exist in Vietnam? 100,000 and more, at least as their fanpage said.
It would be much better if you could also add why so many boys were drawn into male bands, but not female bands (girls tend to spread evenly in both).
Quite the opposite, but familiar to anime, right? Yuri and Yaoi have always been female territory.
Yep, there are big gaps in my theorising because I chose to focus only on female fandom rather than male fandom (while fully acknowledging that male fandom exists in healthy numbers!)
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know a lot about male fandom because most of the K-pop fans I know IRL are female, and a lot of the academic texts I read are about female fandom. So… there you have it!
There’s a frustration among the Otome game fandom that it’s hard to find a female character that the audience is satisfied with. If they’re strong they’re too strong, if they’re nice they’re boring, etc. I read a post that basically said it’s because of the culture we live in around the world where females are almost encouraged to be hard on ourselves. To ridicule other women in order to build yourself up type of thing. So none of the girls ‘deserves’ any of the guys. It does make sense. I would say that there is a lot of female characters just written for sex, but there’s some that the female fandom hates just… because. I know I’ve had that experience, including hating one character that acted in a natural manner. Didn’t matter, because they weren’t acting exactly how I wanted them to, and not caring about their problems.
One of my friends said they turned to BL for the very reason of girls acting out the same three stereotypes for male enjoyment over and over. So I think you’re accurate on that point. (As a fujoshi that maintains an interest in female characters even in shoujo manga and didn’t get into BL for that point, I have no idea what this means for me…)
I can’t even say it’s necessarily a ‘safe’ place for females, as the role we’re supposed to actually empathize with (the uke in most cases) gets raped a hell of a lot, and in shoujo the most popular character type is an out-and-out jerk that the main character just can’t leave alone. Even in fiction that’s supposed to be a ‘safe’ place to interact with men, the readers are treated poorly the majority of the time. And they’re expected to not only take it, but love it and keep coming back for more. Yeah…
I do know that the non-cishet fanbase on tumblr is growing, and the most common opinion there for BL/GL/slash (ha) is that they create people in media that they can look to for representation and to see a part of themselves in it. But I’m cishet, so I know nothing on this topic.
Anyway, this was an interesting post and sorry my comment’s all over the place! Thank you! I feel inspired to find some K-pop!
That’s pretty interesting because I’ve noticed this sort of thing happen all the time. “Love thy fellow man but hate they fellow woman”, you know? I do think that poor feminist critique can take a destructive form, like blaming a woman if she doesn’t fit into this neat, exact mould of the “ideal, progressive woman”. You don’t need no man! You can keep your clothes on and your dignity! At its worst, it can take the form of slut shaming, which doesn’t even make it feminism anymore. It’s sexism by women against women.
You bring up a good point here. Some of those shojo/BL stories are downright masochistic. Then again, I have to say that harem/ecchi stories aimed at men are also terribly masochistic as well. Just because it’s a man getting abused by a woman doesn’t make it any less morally dubious.
(I personally love harem/ecchi stories, so um… yeah…)
Thanks for that perspective. I found it was very refreshing. So if you’re cishet, which I take to mean you’ve never fantasised about being male, what do you like about BL? An interest in homosexual relationships in general? The prettiness of the guys?
Everything here is so long, even the comments.I stopped reading halfway into the post T.T, seems like a well formed argument/opinion though.
[…] Second note: If you want to hear more about these issues – and how I haven’t treated them nearly as rigorously as I should – you should get in touch with Froggykun, who’s written quite a bit about this type of thing besides just his blog post. […]
Wow, this is a very interesting article.
I’ve definitely noticed the overlap between BL fandom and K-Pop fans. But what do you think about western celebrities like the guys of One Direction getting “shipped” together? It’s very common and even mainstream media has written about it. I’m not sure but I think the band might even fuel that by making gay jokes etc which seems to be fairly common in K-pop. I learned about BL when I got into manga & anime and it’s been strange to see how slash fanfiction, which is so similar, has slowly become more mainstream in west.
To be honest, that girls (and even grown women) like pretty boys doesn’t surprise me at all. Not all women are into the whole hypermasculine male ideal, if anything, I suspect men like it more than women. Age is a factor too, teenage girls often like guys that, well, look like teenagers not grown men. That women find M/M hot isn’t surprising either since guys certainly like looking at lesbians. But it does interest me how so many girls end up ONLY liking BL or slash and disliking media with hetero relationships. I’ve seen it sometimes with male yuri fans but it’s a lot more rare.
I went through a BL phase as a teenager. I’ve never been a real fan and didn’t interact with other fans but BL really appealed to me. I had never been able to identify with the female characters in romance stories (although there were many female characters I liked that didn’t have much romance). I ended up hating them because of how weak and annoying they were. I think my case is a bit different from many girls though because I’ve always been weirdly masculine for a woman and identify with men more in general. I also liked yuri, especially the old school type, because of the more masculine girl in the couple was often cool, lol.
Nowadays I don’t read much BL anymore, at some point I wanted to search for media with hetero relationships that don’t follow strict gender roles. I think my favorite anime couple is Shiki and Mikiya from Kara no Kyoukai who have almost a role reversal going on, haha.
I think that in BL it doesn’t really matter if the heteronormative gender roles remain, because by removing the physical sex difference, it creates a kind of an illusion of free choice. Maybe the uke gets raped and treated badly, but it’s not because his gender. A lot of female readers have fantasies like that, of being protected, submitting and yes, even raped, but they don’t like the assumption that they have no other choice because they are women. Even if you like cake, if you were forced to eat cake every day with no other option, it would ruin the joy of it, wouldn’t it? In BL, the female reader can consume these fantasies without being reminded of “her place in the world”. And of course it’s possible that some readers don’t even identify with the uke – in hentai, the MC girl’s thoughts are often shown the way that makes it seem like we are supposed to identify with her, but it obviously isn’t the case.
It’s interesting how the East has become an exotic place where female fans can project their desires when you consider that early shoujo and BL manga was very often set in West. Works like “Kaze to Ki no Uta” were set in “exotic western country” so the artist could get away with themes that would be too controversial if the story was set in Japan.
Yeah, this stuff is definitely getting more mainstream. I’ve observed it in day to day life, like hearing girls talk excitedly about Holmes x Watson on the train. I think this all proves that BL culture isn’t an Asia-specific thing.
…yeah, this is pretty much true.
That’s a really interesting perspective on this. It does seem like one way to indulge in masochistic fantasies while avoiding uncomfortable implications. It’s also funny that yaoi fandom is labelled a feminine activity, when I interpret it as resistance against such things. Even this entire post reeks of gender assumptions, since I didn’t mention all the male fans of yaoi out there. It’s very hard to get around it and to accept a person’s gender for what they want to be seen as.
Thanks for sharing some of your experiences on this matter.
BL culture has never been an Asia-specific thing. The term “slash” comes from how they denoted Star Trek pairings: Kirk/Spock, Kirk/Bones, etc.
Even real-person slash has been around since at least the 60s, and band-based slash since the 80s. As that article notes further up, doesn’t the Iliad technically include Achilles/Patrocles RPS?
The only difference is that celebrities are becoming more aware of and participating in fan culture.
I also recommend the Gar Gar Stegosaurus aniblog for great articles on how yaoi and yuri interact, or don’t, with gender and sexuality.
I have friends who are attracted by effeminate men both 2D and 3D but I had connected this preference of theirs with being progressive and more gender-bullshit aware rather than being repressed and seeking a ‘safer’ sexual outlet. I mean, if the main reason was repression, then almost every girl on the planet would be eager to consume yaoi/gay porn, which is definitely not the case. If I talk to a non-otaku woman about yaoi, I’ll get a grimace at best. Yaoi isn’t exactly what lesbian porn is to men, perhaps due to other cultural factors.
Mainstream yaoi do perpetuate some cishet interactions, but gladly the recent years I see a rise in reverse yaoi and in what is called ‘New Wave’ where the relationship is consensual often, the characters aren’t so stereotypical and they are more than self-insert sex dolls. Est Em is one of the leading figures.
Crossdreaming sounds very tumblr-cultist and I’m very cautious in embracing it, especially since it kinda puts in the mix trans identities. By the way, since last year I think it’s ‘gender dysphoria’ and APA doesn’t think of it as mental illness anymore (which is what the term ‘disorder’ implies) and I’m very glad to say the least.
I think it’s a bit of both? It really does depend on the person, but I think acceptance of yaoi fandom on any level shows awareness that gender isn’t a straightforward concept. I assume that the more self-aware fan consciously embraces metrosexuality in the way that you describe, while others aren’t as aware of what they’re resisting against.
I’m glad to hear that recent yaoi has been challenging the norms in the genre, by the way :)
I agree that this term is very loaded and feels very easy to misapply. I tried to use it in this case to describe people who can imagine themselves as the opposite gender but don’t feel strongly enough about it that they feel as if they were born in the wrong gender. In the spectrum between cis-gender and transgender, it’s somewhere in the middle.
Thanks for pointing this out! I wasn’t aware of the change. Edited the post accordingly.
[…] more feminist critique. I criticised the sexism in Nisekoi and wrote sympathetically about bishonen and female fans. But actually, I’ve always wanted to believe in gender equality. One of my very first posts […]
[…] Although I only just finished my undergraduate degree this year, my interest in anime and internet subculture has already played a heavy part in my academic career so far. One of my essays about K-pop and internet media was shortlisted for my university’s Best Communications and Media Third Year Essay for 2014. I wrote a blog post based on concepts from this essay identifying links between K-pop and anime fandom. […]
[…] is that it reminds you that otaku sexuality is in no way a unique phenomenon. As I wrote in my post about K-pop, anime is a cultural hybrid. The pretty boy aesthetic is appealing in many countries outside of […]
I see everyhting Japanese about the way anime characters are drawn. The faces, the eyes, the small noses, they all say japanese to me.
Thinking that yaoi depicts real homosexuality is one of the worst mistakes one can make as well as an offensive idea.
As you well put it, real-life homosexuality is different from yaoi. Real-life homosexuality is of no interest for teen girls who fetishise Kpop singers because it is about male psychology and male interests. Yaoi, on the other hand and, simply put, is exercising heterosexuality with its gender roles and dreamy and sexual cliches forced on two male characters. These stories come from female psychology and female interests thus capturing the interest of women because it is something they undersrand and relate to both romantically and sexually as the heterosexual women they are. Yaoi and Kpop profit from these female interests.
What I find even more interesting is that female fans find female characters frustrating because they are fetishized…but by adoring these males and searching for that certain “hot ideal”, these women are fetishizing Asian men…Just because the tone is more romantic than sexual doesn’t mean it isn’t a fetish.