Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor of English, Longwood University
A recent clash of opinions over the status of Kangin, a member of the Korean pop group Super Junior, exposes fault lines that can occur with transcultural fandoms.
SM Entertainment issued a statement about Kangin’s recent DUI accident. Not satisfied with the common period of self-reflection that typically follows a scandal, a group of Korean fans created a petition to have Kangin leave the group entirely. Citing Kangin’s previous drunk driving incident and other controversies, the fans argue that Kangin’s continued presence will damage the group’s reputation: “We see this series of acts not benefiting Super Junior’s image and career at all. Instead we view them as actions that only cause damage. From our position as fans who support Super Junior, we cannot help but discuss this issue that will influence their image greatly” (soompi). However, comments on soompi’s Facebook post for the story reveals criticism of those who support Kangin’s departure. This is typical of several posts: “Not true fans of Super Junior, if they want Kangin to leave the group.”
Such opinions reveal fault lines in the fandom that fall along lines of national identity. The original petition was brought by members of the Korean community site DC Inside, which cannot be accessed by those outside of Korea. While all who support Kangin’s departure are not Korean, the non-fan and anti-fan characterization of those who do certainly applies to the Korean fans who created the petition. Such statements overlook the contextualization of these fans. Operating within Korean culture, they reveal the danger they see to the reputation to the group, which plays differently inside of Korea than it does outside of Korea. Subtly, fans who criticize the Korean petitioners ignore the Korean context and unwittingly impose their own cultural expectations.
Bertha Chin and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto argue that transcultural fandom offers “the possibility that a fannish orientation may (at times) supersede national, regional and/or geographical boundaries” (99). This certainly describes times when the transcultural fandom is in agreement. However, controversies often reveal how national perspectives inform how fans interact with one another over a controversy. Fandoms contend with notions of authenticity generally, creating hierarchies to determine who is a “real” fan. However, a scandal seems to make these existing fault lines even more pronounced.
With no in-depth knowledge of the petitioners, some fans question their identity as real fans. This is particularly odd given the history of the E.L.Fs, or Everlasting Friends, the Super Junior fandom. These fans reportedly have a history of taking action surrounding the membership of the group. Reportedly, they protested at SM Entertainment when it appeared the agency planned to add additional members to the group. Others have suggested that E.L.F’s pooled their money to buy SM Entertainment stock to become stockholders and have a say in such decisions. Documentation of such events are difficult to locate, but such stories point to the tendency for this particular fandom to be deeply concerned about the membership of the group. Moreover, given that this is a Korean pop group, it is intriguing that fans largely outside of Korea would question the fan identity of the petitioners.
Adrian. “Some Fans ‘Abandon’ Kangin; Ask Him to Leave Super Junior.” hellokpop. 26 May 2016.
Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto. “Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom.” Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies. 10.1 (2013): 92-108.
kokoberry. “SM Entertainment Releases Official Statement About Kangin’s DUI Accident.” soompi. 24 May 2016.
kokoberry. “Super Junior Fans Petition for Kangin to Leave Group.” soompi. 25 May 2016.