The international K-pop fandom has been abuzz with news that Shinee member Key had reached out over Instagram to a fan who was self harming. He encouraged her to stop, offering to keep an eye on her progress, and may have also divulged his own possible past with self harm. While the initial response seems to have been of praise for Key’s actions, there are fears that such an action could do more harm than good.
What are your thoughts on the incident? What, in your mind, are the upsides and downsides to Key in particular, and celebrities in general, attempting to reach out to fans in this manner, especially over the internet?
Gabrielle: I really applaud idols for reaching out to their fans in the way that Key did. It takes a lot to not only reach out to someone you don’t know, but to also expose a part of yourself that’s not “idol friendly.” However, I am also part of the group that worries about the outcome of his kindness. We’re all aware at how far fans can go to even catch a glimpse of their idols, let alone receive an encouraging message from them. It’s scary to think that fans may start cutting, or even lying about it in an attempt to get a star’s attention. It could gloss over the real issue of self-harm and make those who are actually suffering less likely to come forward for fear of being attention-seekers.
Either way, I do still appreciate Key’s actions. Many fans look up to their favorite idols so any way that communication about such a serious topic can be started is a good thing in my book. Let’s just hope that people don’t see this as another way to get attention and just focus on the kindness of the act.
Camiele: When I first saw the message, the amount of pride I had for him skyrocketed. As someone who’s dealt with depression for a long time, to have someone, anyone, genuinely care about you, care about your well-being when you can’t even muster up the energy to do so is a huge deal. For him to notice that a fan of his was in pain and want to at least find some way to stop it is not only commendable, it’s so incredibly special. And to connect to her on a personal level, to encourage her to know that even in the darkest moments it gets better and there is light, may actually help her recover.
I think he had every right to want to help this girl heal. He is, after all, human before he’s an idol. Him reaching out this girl was a gut reaction to something he’s experienced, and I can do nothing but applaud him for caring so much. I can’t fault him for it. Perhaps he should’ve attempted to do it in private? But in that moment his only concern was helping someone in a dark situation.
Gaya: I agree with you Camiele, Key is human before he is an idol, and I would commend anyone for reaching out to a person in pain, whether they were a celebrity or not.
If I were to be honest, though, I don’t have a lot of faith in trying to support someone solely in cyberspace — the internet can connect people, but there is always going to be a geographical barrier that can’t be overcome, and dealing with mental illness is one of those instances where having a support system that can physically be there for you is something I see as being vital. People tackle their problems in different ways, but I just don’t think you can get through it with online help alone, though it does help.
The internet is also home to a lot of communities who, for lack of a better term, encourage self-harm, especially cutting. Cutting isn’t the only form of self-harm, but it is the most recognised form of it. When considering these factors, I can understand why there is such skepticism and negativity surrounding self harm and those who do it. But people have to understand that there is a lot of pain, genuine pain, that is driving this behaviour. It acts as a coping mechanism, though one that ultimately does more harm than good. Even if people are doing it for attention, there are going to be a lot more reasons behind it than just getting their bias to notice them.
Basically, self harming is a symptom, and I’m of the belief that anyone who would self harm to get someone’s attention are already in a fragile state. People under considerable mental pressure don’t always think straight, but we have to be careful to not dismiss people who would do this as just superficial attention seekers.
Alolika: I think the problem with this otherwise generous act of kindness and empathy is that Key is taking center stage. The cutter and her depression have become secondary to the “glory” of Key. While the cutter, ecstatic and touched by Key’s response, has decided to stop harming herself, for several other online users suffering from depression, Key’s words could do more harm than benefit because there is a high chance of him sounding patronizing.
As Gaya mentioned, the distance – geographical and emotional – prevents any significant development from taking place. He may have thought that he was bridging the fan-idol gap but he unwittingly turned an intensely private issue into a viral public announcement, widening the same gap. In a bid to save someone, he could have harmed many because; while he may have thought that he was addressing an individual, he was, in fact, addressing a community. As a human being and as an idol, it would have been best if he had broached the issue of self-harm as a problem requiring awareness centering the discussion on his own experience, and avoiding generalizations of self-harm victims.
Gaya: I definitely agree that Key has in a way become the center of attention in this matter, but it definitely goes both ways in terms of blame — perhaps more the other way, even. After all, it’s us fans who are making Key the center of attention with exclamations of “I’m proud to be his fan” and “Wow Shinee is a great band!” because of this one comment. It takes attention away from the issue at hand and instead places it on the idol; it’s something that is unfortunately very common in all fandoms, but especially in K-pop. I think we can all appreciate Key’s intentions and actions, but tying them to Shinee and his value as an idol rubs me the wrong way.
Laura: In a way, I agree with Alolika that Key might sound a bit patronizing in his message, but I would be careful in assuming that he has an easier life just because he is famous. Sadly, it’s true that many people still think of fame and wealth as having an influence on a person’s mental health, and that many are using this to devalue a person’s very real suffering.
This goes both ways. A famous, rich person is thought to be save from mental illness because they have achieved a goal many can only dream of, and average, especially poor people supposedly have too many other “more important problems” on their plate than depression or other mental issues. So regarding that, I do think him mentioning his own difficult situation increases the credibility or impact of his message. This is why I have the utmost respect for anyone, including celebrities, who is willing to talk about their struggle. It can be a support for those fans who identify with them, and it can inspire them.
It is also true than one should be mindful of generalizations when it comes to mental health, and maybe Key did not entirely succeed in that with the way he phrased his message. Maybe he could have chosen a better way of supporting the girl if he had thought about it some more. But (and this is pure conjecture) his message gives off the vibe of someone who was utterly shocked and wanted to try and help as fast as he could. I can’t blame him for that. As difficult as it is to live with a mental illness, being a bystander who desperately wants to help but doesn’t exactly know how to is a crushing experience as well. Sometimes sympathy gets the better of a person, and they just act instinctively.
Alolika: I am completely blaming it on the fans for drawing way too much attention on the issue. The only area where I am blaming Key is the choice of his medium: the internet. You can’t possibly stop or restrict the quick flow of information that happens on the internet.
I had been beyond ecstatic when I saw the news but when it comes to hyper-sensitive issues like self-harm where any word could exacerbate a person’s depression, one should be very, very wary of their speech. I am sure none of us have any issue with Key acting upon what he believed was a problem which needed to be addressed as soon as possible, the only area of contention is the execution of it. However, I do believe it is a promising start to and a sound example for idols broaching topics of concern.
Joyce: I believe that Key had every good ounce of intention when he posted that comment. He probably was tagged by that Instagram user in the photo that she uploaded, and Key, horrified at the number of cuts on her arm, empathized with her and felt that he just had to pass on some words of encouragement. That’s a really sweet thing to do. However, I disagree that this should be an incident detached from Key the celebrity. First of all, Key posted the comment with his Instagram account, which displays his username prominently. Boasting a following of of more than ohe million users, I’m pretty sure Key knows the repercussions of posting such a comment under his username. Once he does anything with his public account, there’s only one manner that it will gain traction — as Key the idol, not Key the individual.
Perhaps Key was unaware of the huge hullabaloo that this small comment would create, but I really doubt so. Celebrities are pretty aware of the snowball effects of social media, be it Twitter or Instagram, and there have been enough cases of an accidental tweet creating a huge scandal. Thus, I think Key fully wanted to utilize his position as an idol, not so much to seek praise, but more because it would have a greater impact on her. However, the downside, is that now he takes the spotlight instead of the real issue that should be brought up.
But was this really something he didn’t see coming?
Camiele: Though I see where you’re coming from and agree with what he probably should’ve done, basic reactionary instinct doesn’t usually allow for you to always think of the consequences. He’s aware he’s a celebrity and that social media reaches millions, but in the heat of the moment, is that something he would have been thinking? Would his very first thought be, “I’m a celebrity so I need to be extra careful and think about every human being who’s going to read this”?
From an everyday “normal” person on the outside who has room to criticize, it’s a simple thing to say what he should’ve done; but if we were in that situation, what would’ve been any of our instinctual reactions? I stand behind “he’s only human.”
What I would hate is if something like backlash or negative consequences that could arise from this stop people from responding with support in the future.