For fan clubs, influence is a growing trendFans of actress Lee Eun-ju, who recently committed suicide, are even busier now than when the actress was alive, because they do not want her name to be forgotten.
Yeom Je-in, 37, opened an online cafe called “A gathering of people who remember Lee Eun-ju” early this month, and within a week more than 150 people joined the club. Now, the members are volunteering at hospices, since the actress promoted hospice activities when she was shooting a film, “Haneul Jeongwon” (The Garden of Heaven), in 2003.
Last weekend, Mr. Yeom went to visit Ms. Lee’s grave in Cheonga Park in Goyang, Gyeonggi province. “Before Ms. Lee died, I was just a passive fan, but now I’ve become a more active one,” he said.
Mr. Yeom is not the only one, as fan clubs have become more prominent than ever.
“Hahoetal Nam Hui-seok,” a fan club for Nam Hui-seok, a TV show host and comedian, has gotten press coverage since it has been helping foreign workers in “3D” ― dirty, difficult and dangerous ― occupations in Korea. The members became interested in the problems of those workers in early 2003, after Mr. Nam visited a foreign workers’ center in the Dongdaemun area of Seoul and promised to help them.
Mr. Nam asked his fan club to join the “Good Samaritan” activity and the members gladly agreed to do so. Later, the fan club held fund-raising events for the medical treatment of injured workers and friendly soccer matches. These well-intentioned events not only helped the workers, but also enhanced the image of Mr. Nam as a caring celebrity.
Fan clubs can also have influence. Last November, a group of 50 fans of the LG Twins professional baseball team gathered at the Jamsil Sports Complex, having decided that the team was being managed arbitrarily.
The group demanded the rehiring of former coach Kim Yong-su, the release of details of a contract for popular player Kim Jae-hyeon, and the retirement of the team’s chairman, Yeo Yun-tae.
Even though the demands were not accepted, Mr. Yeo retired the next day, saying, “I apologize for causing rage in the dear fans.”
Even “anti-fandom” can be a powerful force, in which groups try to “destroy” a particular celebrity or television program that they do not like.
A good example is an anti-fan club of a recent television series called “Wangkkot Seonnyeonim,” on Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. Since the show contained dialogue that was viewed as negative on adoption, the anti-fan club was formed by organizations that promote adoption.
Beginning with online discussions, the club later held an offline gathering near the MBC building, which prompted an apology from the network.
The activities of anti-fan clubs are not always benign. When actress Lee Eun-ju died, a strange message was posted on many online bulletin boards.
“This is a good opportunity to end the life of Dongbangshingi (a local boy band),” the message read. “Please spread messages complaining that you can no longer see your beloved Dongbangshingi group, because of the stupid death of a third-rate actress.” It was a message from a person who wanted to ruin the image of Dongbangshingi by arousing public sympathy for Ms. Lee.
This kind of extreme and reckless activity is a negative aspect of anti-fandom. These types of malevolent messages and rumors are spread only on the Internet, anonymously, and the motivation for these activities often stems from simple jealousy.
A star can’t be born without fans. In this Internet age, fans have earned the status of partners to their stars, a trend that has resulted in the coining of the word “fandom,” referring to admirers of a particular individual or to the cultural trend. If one views fans in a stereotypical manner, as reckless groupies, that can mean trouble.
MBC-TV, one of the big three TV stations, encountered such difficulty last month. Each day in front of the station’s building in Yeouido, Seoul, a teenage girl would appear carrying a placard saying, “Save the ‘Victim!’”
The TV station earlier this year had banned pop star Seo Tai-ji’s song titled “Victim” from the air, which was the reason for this solo protest. Several girls took turns, dressed in white hanbok, traditional clothing worn after a family member’s death.
A living legend, Seo has a number of fan clubs, whose members meet online, discuss what to do to “save the victim,” then come up with their own code of conduct. They’re all strangers in the real world, yet online they gather together for one person ― their star.
The girls’ demonstration, however, did not attract as much public attention as they expected, and they voluntariy decided to end the protest on Feb. 21, their idol’s birthday. Their strategic decisions, considering the timeliness of their actions and changes in response to altered conditions, were as good as those of a professional activist.
But fandom does not only belong to the pop scene. President Roh Moo-hyun was a beneficiary, when his followers formed a fan club called “Nosamo” (People Who Love Roh Moo-hyun) before the 2002 presidential election. The group is still active. Just remember the candlelight vigils initiated by Nosamo members when the National Assembly impeached Mr. Roh last year.
Are you developing a crush on a celebrity? Welcome to the world of fandom, which has become a big part of this world.
The history of ‘fandom’ in Korea
The rise of fan clubs in Korea dates back 40 years.
Fans, mostly female students, who showed up at a concert given by singer Cliff Richard appear to be the origin of the phenomenon in Korea, forming his fan club in 1965. Students from five girls’ high schools ― Jinsun, Ewha, Sookmyung, Jinmyung and Kyunggi ― were the main founders of the fan club. Gaining momentum, the club’s members rose to 2,000, and they sent each other postcards and met in school uniforms every Saturday to exchange information.
Fans screamed each time singer Jo Yong-pil started singing in the 1980s, and it became a popular joke. The screaming fans were considered the most important consumers of pop culture. Then the fan club culture, which spread to other entertainment and sports sectors, experienced an extensive transformation in the early 1990s, when singer Seo Tae-ji emerged. The term “fandom” came into use, and academic research on the issue followed.
In the mid-1990s, the H.O.T. fan club was formed by the group’s management agency, but the club soon developed its own identity, and called for the pop group to be released from an unfair contract.
“The fans are not just following stars but rather caring about the stars as if they were caring about their own children, and worrying about future of the stars,” sociologist Park Eun-gyeong said in her book, “GOD ― Stardom and Fandom.”
by Choi Min-woo, Namkoong Wook