Same-sex K-pop fan fiction stirs up controversy in Korea

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Don Willmott

Don Willmott

Don is a writer focused on technology, travel, culture, and the interesting ways in which they all intersect.

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Did John Lennon and Paul McCartney write such great songs because they had a deep connection? Like, really deep?

Speculation about same-sex pop star pairings has been around since the beginning of rock and roll. In the Internet age, that fantasy has moved online in the form of feverish and sometimes hardcore fan fiction that describes sexual entanglements among the members of top boy bands.

Louis and Harry from One Direction probably never did the deed, but you can read literally thousands of stories describing, in detail, what it would look like if they did.

As this phenomenon has insinuated itself into the world of K-pop, however, it has hit a wall of controversy.

Real Person Slash (RPS), as it’s called, is spreading like wildfire across Korean social networks, and how could it not? With hundreds of adorable young male K-pop stars flaunting their androgynous good looks for millions of hormonally charged and obsessive teenage girls and young women (and men) worldwide, it’s no surprise that imaginations run wild and find an outlet in stories depicting steamy nights in the sauna or some slap and tickle in a five-star hotel suite.

Better to imagine the boys with each other than with some girl. The jealousy would be unbearable!

The South China Morning Post recently reported that one leading US-based fan fiction site has 3.3 million members and more than 40,000 “fandoms” devoted to various celebrities or groups. Straight fan fiction certainly abounds, but it’s the same-sex stories that are making waves in conservative Korea.

One line of objection frames RPS as some sort of a sex crime, a touchy subject for a country plagued by spycam sex criminals who invade people’s privacy to commit blackmail and extortion. A petition with more than 200,000 signatures sent to President Moon Jae-in suggests that law enforcement should “severely punish RPS users who use underage K-pop boy band members as sexual toys.”

Whether law enforcement can punish a thought is an interesting question—thinking thoughts and writing fiction typically aren’t crimes—but according to the SCMP, one National Assembly member has asked the Seoul police to investigate 110 online RPS writers and distributors.

It’s another type of complaint that’s more troubling. Korean rapper Son Simba, among others, has protested the depiction of “perverted sex scenes” in RPS. “Perverted” is a loaded word, and some K-pop fans have pegged such protests as homophobic, not inspired by concern for any pop star’s well-being.

Truth be told, male K-pop acts often find themselves trapped in an uncanny fabricated world devoid of heterosexual interaction. Because they almost never openly date—that would be damaging to their brands—they tend to fawn all over each other instead, flaunting their “skinship” and delighting their fans. When two singers hug or hold hands, it’s seen as “fan service.”

Take K-pop megastars BTS. A quick look at their reality shows finds them dressing in drag, having pajama parties, sleeping in the same bed, and writing letters to each other to express their love. When they touch each other in concert, 50,000 shrieks fill the air.

No wonder fans fantasize about pairing them off. Suga plus J-Hope becomes “Sope.” Jimin plus Jungkook becomes “Jikook.”

In the end, no petition, no legislation, and no conservative evangelical Korean Christian church is more powerful than a hyped-up teenager. As long as the Internet exists, so will RPS, and as long as RPS exists, much of it is going to be same-sex oriented. In Western societies and in Japan (where hardcore same-sex yaoi manga has been published for 50 years), this debate is pretty much over.

Korea has some catching up to do, but over time, it’s likely that the outrage will simmer down… as it should.

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