[ENTERTAINMENT]Fan Cults: Social Problem or Stress Reliever?

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Fan Cults: Social Problem or Stress Reliever?

One of the most popular, and yet one of the strangest, sights on television in Korea is the fanaticism that accompanies the weekly ranking of the top 10 pop tunes. Frenzied fan club members shout out the names of their idols, singing and dancing together. It is a ritual.

Currently, 300,000 girls in Korea are official members of several fan clubs spawned by the boy band H.O.T, the most popular boy band in Korea. The number rises substantially if you include those who have not paid the 15,000 won ($11) dues to become an official member.

Each group's fans even have their own designated color - blue for g.o.d and yellow for Seo Tai-ji. Whenever g.o.d performs, fans wave blue balloons to the rhythm. On one occasion that captured headlines, some of H.O.T's fans even spent the night before the concert waiting outside the concert venue, Jamsil Olympic Main Stadium.

The growth of these fan clubs has been called a major cultural phenomenon in Korea. But the fans themselves are sometimes the objects of suspicion and dislike. In fact, these passionate teenagers have been called a major social problem. They have been condemned for neglecting their responsibilities, such as studying, in favor of a passing fancy for an out-of-reach figure.

Residents in the area where members of H.O.T live recently demanded that they move out. The residents said that their lives had been ruined by the round-the-clock invasion of fans.

But the fan club members defend themselves, saying that this "crazy" behavior is the only way they can relieve stress.

Park Eun-bi, 16, a high school student at Kyongbok Girls' High School, has two dreams. One is to be an anthropologist some day. The other is to see H.O.T every day in person. She asks those who look down upon fan club members to be reasonable.

"It's true that some members have crossed the line," she said. "But it's not fair if all members are called a nuisance."

In fact, not all fans spend all the time drooling over their idols. Some have created other clubs, including one named Bohemian, to give their time to orphanages on a regular basis. They also collect money for charity.

"Teenagers cannot find places to have fun. For them, fan clubs provide opportunities to enjoy social activities," said Miss Park. She also protested that her parents fully approve of her membership in the fan club, even paying for concert tickets.

Before writing off these girls as fanatics, consider some of the circumstances that have led to such teen band adoration in Korea. Then, consider this: there's a lot of these fans out there. It could be your sister, daughter - even your girlfriend.

by Choe Jae-hee

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