Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on March 31, 2012 by CeeFu
In the last few months, the Kpop world has been subject to a rash of episodes of Asians Behaving Badly: the Block B-Thailand controversy, the Jenny Hyun incident, and an episode of blackface on MBC’s Quiz to Rule the World. In each case, netizens voiced their dismay in national and cultural terms and took it to a global level.
Kpop fans are no strangers to extreme rhetoric. Anyone who braves a Kpop forum knows exactly what I’m talking about. Any kind of disagreement has the potential to erupt into a full-on war of the words. So it’s not surprising to see the huge responses to these recent controversies related to Kpop. But these stand out in that they place the controversies, started by individuals or representations, to an international version of “who’s dissin’ who?”
A routine interview sparked widespread Internet controversy when Zico of Block B made light of the receent devestating flooding in Thailand: “The interviewer brought up the crisis, to which Zico replied, ‘I know that many people have it hard due to the flood. With this monetary aid, we hope that you will feel better. The only thing we have is money.‘ To this, another member chimed in, asking how much money Zico had, to which the leader answered, ‘About 7000 won?‘ which is roughly $6 USD” (lawlietta).
This article sparked over 7,000 responses on allkpop. While the comments ranged from unwavering support to harsh criticism, several commenters elevated Zico’s comments to the level of a national conflict. Alexander Ming Xuan wrote: “They are idols of Korea. And off they go, to another country, Thailand. Since they are idols of Korea, which would definitely means that they are a part of Korea’s visual representation. As which, they are tarnishing not only their reputation but also Korea’s reputation. It’s not about them anymore.” WhatItIs stated: “They were there representing Korea and the Korean people and they made a bad impression.”
Other commenters challenged the idea that one group’s actions represented an entire country. Janny Van Der Woodsen wrote: “Please do not say ‘PEOPLE.’ It’s not like you have interviewed every single people in Korea let alone the world.” Ayrianne Anderson wrote: “I’m offended that they are taking it to this level considering that these are ‘boys.’ I hate to state the obvious but they are young men and they will act occasionally with the foolishness of their age. And should be sternly talked too but the drag it out as if it’s an actual national issue is crazy.”
In response to the firestorm their comments unleashed, Block B issued several apologies, including this one:
While some fans saw the apology as sincere, others were unmoved.
On February 16th, Jenny Hyun sent a series of tweets, initially in response to Floyd Mayweather‘s comments about Jeremy Lin. Yoojin wrote: “Hyun responded that Floyd was a ‘subhuman, ungrateful APE,’ and then started spreading vitriol about the black community in general. She insinuated that Whitney Houston‘s recent passing wasn’t such a loss because of ‘all that baggage’ she came with, and referred to African-Americans as ‘disgusting, violent, arrogant, and stupid.’ Then, in an even more frightening twist, she repeatedly called for the eradication of the entire black race.” IATFB describes her rant as “bigoted verbal diarrhea.”
In the over 400 comments on soompi‘s story on the incident, netizens expressed almost universal dismay at Hyun’s actions. Once again, comments reflected a national or cultural point of view. sarahj wrote: “This is a disgrace to the Asian community.” MaGee wrote: “You saying that a lot of people in America feel that way, is really just you saying that YOU feel that way. I care less that you’re trying, for whatever reason, to damage America’s name. What really irks me is that anyone from the country I was raised in, where we are taught not only about freedom and equality for all men, but also to learn from our history of ignorance and predjudice, is trying to justify this hate.” tanio12 added: “i’m black and i’m really hurt but this matter, but don’t disrespect koreans and their culture because you’re mad! hate only brings hate.”
Hyun briefly released an apology on her site, but Yoojin questioned the sincerity of her apology: “She prefaced it with an explanation that people were saying they knew where she lived, and followed it up with a statement that she did not regret what she said.”
Blackface and MBC’s Quiz to Change the World
On January 21, MBC aired an episode of Quiz to Change the World that featured blackface. choiwj writes: “During the episode, comedians Lee Kyung Shil and Kim Ji Sun parodied Michol by wearing similar costumes and both covered in black makeup. Unfortunately, oversea fans did not find the parody to be entertaining and furiously commented saying that it is a ‘racial discrimination.'”
In the over 2,000 comments on the allkpop story, several placed the controversy in a national context. Shiharu reasoned: “I understand why this is considered racist, but Westerners intentionally or unintentionally poking fun at people of Asian descent also happens a lot (and this wasn’t poking fun at Africans at all; the character just reminds one of an African person).”
norimix posted a series of full-length articles culled from various sources, all of which note the amount of discrimination Asian Americans experience in the United States. This prompted Kahi to respond: “You mentioned in your previous post ‘Do you think … that African-Americans don’t perpetrate racism?’ You got to be kidding me! Anyone can be racist. Not just Americans! I can post thousands of articles stating how poorly foreigners and mix children in Asia gets treated. You need to relax and open your eyes. Seems like you’re trying to prove Asian Americans have it worse in American!”
MBC issued an apology that read, in part: “This is something that occurred because we did not think carefully at the time about the fact that many international viewers also have gained a high interest in the show with the spread of the Hallyu wave. In the future, we will think through the selection of the material, no matter how small it is, so that we will not cause any discomfort to our viewers” (choiwj).
These three incidents generated massive netizen reaction where fans placed these incidents within a national or cultural context. The comments ranged from criticizing to condoning the actions as representative of the country of origin of the “perpetrators.” While some people complain about the relentlessly positive representation of Kpop by Korean media, national and cultural concerns remain largely in the background in Kpop. These incidents show that they are often barely below the surface. Kpop fans live in countries and will often express their opinions in a way that reflects that.
What is interesting, though, is the sheer diversity of opinion. For every person who fiercely chastises Block B for failing to represent Korea well, there was another commenter urging restraint and calling out others on their generalizations. Commenters were quick to point out that Jenny Hyun did not represent anyone but herself, even as they argued about the role her reported mental illness played in her actions. While some netizens tried to downplay the racial implications of blackface in MBC’s show, others turned the conversation into one about how other races participate in negative racial portrayals.
The early part of 2012 saw more controversy around racial bad behavior than average. While such incidents are ugly to watch, they also show us that the fanbase for Kpop is varied, and often carries perspectives informed by nation and culture.
lawlietta, Block B Stirs Controversy with Thai Interview, Draws Response from 2PM. allkpop. February 19, 2012.
xxxKrissKrossxxx, Block B “Suicide Petition” is Unfounded? soompi. February 25, 2012.
eunhyuk100, Block B Releases a Video Apology About Thailand Incident. YouTube. February 23, 2012.
Yoojin, K-pop Songwriter’s Racist Tweets Spark Outrage. soompi. February 19, 2012.
IATFB, Jenny Hyun, Songwriter for SNSD & Choclocat, Is a Racist Psychopath. Asian Junkie. February 18, 2012.
choiwj, MBC Issues an Apology After Recent Blackface Controversy. allkpop. February 28, 2012.