Has K-Pop Fan Fiction Crossed a Line?

Fan fiction has come a long way. In the 18th century, there were tales of literary classics and folk tales. In the 1960s, they became popular thanks to Star trek fanzine. And in the 90s, fan fiction became mainstream thanks to the Internet. Subgenres emerged throughout these years, and ultimately fan fiction was no longer just about made-up characters, but also about real people. These are stories written by fans about celebrities known as “Real Person Fiction” or RPF, and the most popular are all about sex. This is true for most fandoms – see articles about the singer Harry Styles and actor Tom holland – but especially in the huge K-pop community. Fans “boat” their idols with each other in plots as varied as romances in cafes and steamy enemies-to-lovers relationships.

Ana *, an 18-year-old Spanish boy, is an unconditional fan of the boy band BTS. She is the originator of some of the many “imagine” videos on YouTube, a form of fan fiction that puts fans in various storylines with their idols, usually using existing video footage. The creators add fake English subtitles to the clips, making it look like the celebrities are talking directly to the viewer.

“I was a big fan of fan fiction when I was younger. The fact that I could take it to another level, turning them into short films and involving the viewer in a way never seen before, captivated me from the first moment. [I started making these videos]”Ana told VICE.

One of his videos features 11 healthy minutes of BTS member Jungkook confessing that he has a crush on the viewer. At the time of writing, the video has over 4,000 views. But these “imaginaries” can become very racy, very fast.

Another of Ana’s videos involves clips of Jungkook edited to make it look like he’s spending the night in a hotel room with the viewer. After photos of the singer, it goes to a black screen with dirty talk displayed through the subtitles. This video has approximately 13,000 views at the time of writing. Ana said she had no bad intentions behind the video.

“We all have fantasies, and fan fiction just translates them into stories. It might sound toxic or delusional to some, but I think as long as you watch them with a healthy, realistic mindset it can be a lot of fun, ”she said.

Despite their popularity, sexualized fan fiction is a controversial topic among fans. Some, like Ana, think they are harmless, while others find them problematic and are fiercely opposed to the idea of ​​sexualizing actual K-pop idols.

“It’s basically the sexualization of a real person. It’s weird and uncomfortable. Imagine being in their shoes and having thousands of people, who don’t know you personally, creating erotic content about you, ”Seventeen fan Nur Lutfiah, 21, told VICE.

“It’s quite dehumanizing when someone puts all their energy into writing sexual fantasies about an artist whose works are not sexual and are aimed primarily at young people, especially minors. The idols haven’t gone through years of intense training to be fetishized, ”said Afiq Batiah, 21, a fan of girl group LOONA.

In South Korea, the critics of erotic fanfiction launched a presidential petition last week, calling for sanctions against those behind “real person slash (RPS),” a fan fiction subgenre involving same-sex celebrities. The petitioners are disturbed by the graphic nature of the content, especially as many sexualize minor idols – a concern of the artists themselves expressed.

Many RPS stories are violent, with explicit scenes involving the rape and abuse of artists without their consent. This becomes particularly problematic as most of the fan fiction is shared on public websites. In South Korea, people are free to post fan fiction online in the name of free speech, but some say some content may violate laws prohibiting the sexualization of real people and minors.

And yet for others, banning all kinds of RPS – and not just violent – is both sexist and anti-LGBTQ. Gender is most popular among women and the queer community, groups that have historically been prevented from exploring sexuality. They point out that not all fan fiction is RPS, and not all RPS is pornographic or violent.

Ana’s videos, for example, are mostly romantic. She believes there is a place for fan fiction online because it helps people, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, discover their sexuality. “Why is it wrong to imagine sex scenarios with an idol, but it’s okay to fantasize with your friends about your high school crush?” ” she said.

Dr Tom Baudinette, Australian researcher on East Asian pop culture and lecturer at Macquarie University, agrees, saying fanfiction offers fans a safe space to explore themselves.

“Sexual minority communities live in a heteronormative world. … When gay men and women encounter fan fiction, it’s kind of an eye-opening experience. There’s this idea that it’s OK and there are people who are fine with exploring male-to-male love or female-to-female love, ”he told VICE.

However, he noted that it is important to distinguish between fans who make sexual content, such as fan fiction, and people who create. deepfake porn, another problem that plagued the K-pop industry. These videos digitally manipulate existing porn to include the faces of K-pop stars.

“The issue of deepfake pornography is linked to a pre-existing problem with women in the public sphere in South Korea. … There are scary men trying to take pictures of women in the locker room or the toilet and there is also vengeful pornography, which is another very serious problem in South Korea.

He said the difference is in the intention.

“When it comes to fan fiction, some of which is romantic and some of it sexual, it comes from a different space. It comes from women exploring their sexuality in a society where their sexual agency is suppressed.”

K-pop fan Noelle *, 21, writes erotic fanfiction for groups like NCT, Monsta X and Pentagon. For her, sexual content created by fans only becomes a problem if it is posted on platforms where the idols are active and includes images of their faces. “Until writers push their works to be seen by this particular idol, I don’t think any line has been crossed,” she said.

Ana said that is why she explicitly states that the videos she makes are fake. “I never intended to hide it,” she said. “While one comes from a place of harmless sexual desire, the other [deepfake porn] is twisted and goes too far, with the intention of breaking down the barrier between fact and fiction and making the viewer believe their eyes.

Unlike the fanfiction about invented characters, the line between the real and imaginary world is blurred in those about public figures. The nature of celebrity culture makes fans both feel extremely close and far from their idols.

“Some fans treat them [K-pop celebrities] as characters because they are so untouchable and we idolize them. They are not real to us, ”said Minh Tan, 19, BTS fan.

And some believe that this is where the problem lies, which can lead to unsafe IRL behavior.

* The name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.

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