One of Korea's most popular webtoons comes under fire for misogynistic and sexually violent content
The controversial scenes include the rape of a middle school girl whose face viewers allege resembles the popular singer IU, and the torture of an elderly woman by stripping her and injecting her with drugs. The middle school girl character Lee Ji-geum does not only resemble singer IU but also shares the same name as IU's Instagram ID.
Instead of releasing a new episode for this week, author Sakk posted a letter explaining the controversy over his work along with an announcement that he will take a break from the series.
"Hellper," which has been published by Naver's Webtoon as part of a series since October 2011, has continued with a season 2 rated R from January 2016, releasing new episodes every Wednesday.
Since the start of the new season, issues had been consistently raised among fans regarding the sexual objectification of women in the webtoon. But the recent episode 247 released on Sept. 8, which includes the scene of the elderly woman being tortured, was the trigger that raised the issue to the public by the readers themselves. On the webtoon’s fan community on the internet community platform DC Inside, readers posted strong complaints about the episode. In particular, one reader on Sept. 10 posted a summary of problematic contents in the webtoon, referring to 23 different episodes from “Hellper 2.”
"It is definitely a problem to see such sexist webtoons being published on such a big platform as Naver without any regulations, although it is rated R. We [fans] raise the issue, as even we are tired of the misogynistic and vulgar expressions in 'Hellper,'” a reader wrote on the community.
Soon the “#stop_misogyny_in_webtoons” (translated) movement spread on Twitter, which shed light on the issues to a wider audience and led the author to apologize and suspend the series.
As similar controversies arise related to popular webtoon series, readers say that practical measures are needed to regulate their content. Unlike broadcast content, there is no legal body that regulates the content of webtoons. Age ratings are also set by the authors and distributors according to the standards of the webtoon self-regulation committee, and there are no institutional and legal measures to impose sanctions on the content.
“Although Naver Webtoon officials had warned me to keep the level of violence and sexual material in check to not disturb readers, despite it being adult content, I always went a bit beyond their guidelines because of my greed as an author,” Hellper author Sakk wrote.
Naver Webtoon also added an apology at the end of the writer's letter, saying that they will monitor the expressions of sensitive content more carefully.
“As social sensitivity to misogyny increases, we will supplement the guidelines more thoroughly,” Naver Webtoon said.
BY KIM HO-JEONG, KIM YEON-AH [firstname.lastname@example.org]