K-pop fans just cannot take jokes. I don’t mean that in the sense that we as a whole are too thin-skinned for even light criticism of our biases to occur. I mean we have problems figuring out when something is a joke in the first place. When we hear rumors about someone bashing an artist or group, well, rage-induced blindness tends to occur. For all the positives that have come out of fandom, there is a quite unfortunate history of some nasty things emerging in the name of defending a bias. The most recent victims are comedian Yoo Se-yoon and Tablo.
Both made depreciating jokes towards idol groups. The K-fans tended to laugh it off, but in both cases, international fans reacted…I’m going to go with poorly. And while both of these incidents are unpleasant, they’re not exactly shocking. In fact, I’m amazed more snafus of this variety haven’t occurred because humor relies on two nigh-untranslatable things: context and tone.
Yoo Se-yoon, a professional comedian, made a crack about BtoB being less known than either Beast, their company sunbaes, or Exo, who debuted around the same time as them. While Melodies in Korea knew that Yoo wasn’t being serious, many international fans didn’t get the context. They just knew what had been said and, lacking any background knowledge, assumed he was being serious. And then, then international fans attacked. It got so bad that Sungjae had to apologize to Yoo on behalf of their fans.
Tablo, on the other hand, made a joke that was ruined by something that has haunted many people — the inability to translate vocal tone into typed words. When someone speaks, listeners are almost twice as likely to pay attention to the tone of voice over the words. When he made a joke about Mino from Winner acting like a loser on Epik High‘s new commentary disc, anyone who heard it knew Tablo was joking because of his tone of voice. The problem is the vast majority of fans didn’t hear it — they read it. Without Tablo’s joking tone, his words read a lot less as ‘playful teasing’ and a lot more as ‘dick,’ and fans reacted how fans are wont to when someone is rude to their bias — viciously.
Then, of course, there’s the third issue of humor: it’s subjective. Even after the circumstances were explained in both cases, fans were still angry. Neither Melodies nor Inner Circles thought the jokes should have been made in the first place. They felt the jokes were cruel and in bad taste. And to an extent, both fandoms are right: Tablo and Yoo Se-yoon did make mean jokes. But that doesn’t mean those jokes were made maliciously or that BtoB or Winner were hurt by them. And how fans reacted was just unacceptable.
Yoo Se-yoon is a professional comedian. Tablo is not a dickwad. Those two facts mean that no one should have immediately and unquestionably believed that what they said was uttered seriously. Even if they had, let’s be honest here: responding to a slightly rude dig with incredibly rude social media harassment means giving up the moral high ground, especially considering that K-pop fandom comes with the knowledge that we usually miss things in the first round of rumors.
Two wrongs do not ever make a right. Harassing someone continuously does not become acceptable because they said one rude sentence. And, honestly, fans need to be aware that things are not always what they seem. This is not a new problem. Anyone who has ever used the internet knows of the problems that arise from the lack of a sarcasm font. In K-pop especially, fans need to remember that. After all, how many times have fans explained questionable things their biases have said as “joking,” legitimately or not?