Mistakes happen. Sometimes it’s forgotten lyrics, and other times it’s a misstep in the choreography. However, those are light examples.
The BIG mistakes make headlines and ignite fan wars. These ones call into question everyone’s moral boundaries. Recent stories of questionable photo shoot locations and behavior at concerts have put fans into a tailspin of discussions about respect for history and religion. The conversations are usually split between the How-Dare-They Brigade versus the Oppa Protection Fan Wagon, but honestly, both sides can stand to learn something from these mishaps.
Big Hit Entertainment got a lot of heat after tweeting preview photos for an upcoming photo book of BTS. When the pictures first appeared, scores of fans blew up social media with heart emojis as they gushed over how handsome the members looked. Unfortunately, those positive accolades became a torrential downpour of disgust the moment the location of the photo shoot was disclosed. The pictures were taken in Berlin at the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.
There has been more than enough criticism on the situation already, but this is a chance for deeper discussions. Just as that memorial served as a disturbing backdrop to cultural ignorance, so does this mistake in starting conversations that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise. Debates over who is at fault won’t matter if no one considers all sides of the story. Is either side right or wrong? That depends on how you perceive their arguments, but you should make an effort to hear other opinions at least.
Bringing up these topics in conversations is awkward, so it helps when fans use this as an opportunity to enlighten others. A couple of comments on Seoulbeats from European fans who visited the memorial brought more insight into the situation. Although these are singular opinions, it should be noted that some did not view the memorial as a cemetery, but rather an art installation. On social media, a Jewish fan who also toured the location, expressed being more upset by the fan outrage, saying the landmark isn’t exactly what people assume it to be. Without seeing the memorial firsthand, it’s difficult to judge how sacred this landmark is. As foreigners, some of us may place great importance on memorials, but it doesn’t mean everyone shares the same sentiment.
That is why some fans took this opportunity to express why the photos did bother them. They shared stories about relatives being Holocaust survivors to express what upset them about the photos. Reaching out to the international community during moments like this is essential to understanding each other’s cultures. Once fans pointed out the significance of the memorial to BigHit, they removed the offending images from BTS’ Twitter. The removal was done silently with no apology, so it’s understandable that those fans felt slighted by the gesture. Still, lashing out in full rage most likely won’t ease those emotions any better than throwing rocks at BigHit’s building. What purpose would that serve if no one articulates why?
Many comments were made about how clueless South Koreans must be to consistently offend international fans, but did fans make the effort to reach out to these same companies and explain clearly what upset them — in Hangul? Not saying this is the fault of the fans, but if we’re to place blame on these companies for lack of education, we should also extend the same expectations on ourselves. Saying “they should use Google” is admitting we don’t want to put any effort into reaching out in the same manner. Honestly, how many of you even realized how offensive the Japanese Imperial flag was before getting into K-pop? How many times have you seen it pop up as a fashion trend? Did you call anyone out for it, or did you quietly look the other way? You’re not cowards if you did nothing, but I wanted to put things in perspective of how we often don’t know how to respond to culturally insensitive material.
Fans come together for charitable events or debut anniversaries, but when these serious situations arise, they suddenly forget the internet works as a positive channel for exchanging information. This is probably why pouring energy into negative comments leads to silent responses. People don’t respond positively to “You’re stupid and ugly and should die.” Really, what the hell does that teach anyone? We should learn how to handle these matters constructively, not destructively. Bilingual fans translate hours of Korean variety shows, but nobody in the fandom can use that skill to communicate with these companies when they need our help the most? Come on now. Let’s do better.
As much as K-companies work to put up a pristine front, it’s not a terrible thing to come across some murky territory at times. Instead of seeing these occurrences as battlegrounds for rabid fan wars, they should be turned into foundations of understanding through education. That’s what that memorial should really represent. It’s not simply a symbol of suffering, but a reminder for compassion towards others different from you.
Some may read this as support for bad judgment, and you would be correct to a fault. Mistakes do happen, but what is important is that we learn from them and not just our own. Hopefully, Big Hit learned from this one and will be more thoughtful in their future actions. It’s human nature to err, but it’s also within our power to learn from those errors. People are prone to mistakes, but that doesn’t warrant death threats every time they mess up. They just need a little assistance from others on understanding different cultures. Be the helping hands they need, not the ones pushing them further down into the dirt.
(Tumblr, Images via Big Hit Entertainment)