When Jonghyun and Taemin performed “Internet War” at SHINee World II, they knew that the lyrics rang true of today’s extremely devoted online fandoms. Legions of dedicated fans would fight to the death for their own. And so it is not so much of a shock to hear of news this month of controversy between their own fandom, SHINee World (or Shawol), and Exo-L, the fandom of fellow labelmate and junior Exo. SHINee World and Exo-L are two of the largest, most devoted fandoms in Korean entertainment, and so recent events are almost inevitable, especially given their well-known rivalry.
During Exo’s debut era, K-fans and I-fans alike noticed the exodus (pun intended) of many Shawols who ended up becoming active fans of Exo. After this, some Shawols who stayed SHINee fans resented those whom they believed ‘abandoned’ the fandom. Due to this act of what they perceived as betrayal, many remaining loyal Shawols developed an animosity for the quickly growing Exo fandom. This animosity is by no means universal or even common, but the Internet allows many fans in both camps to express that animosity over various forums or social media.
While these tensions may have been bubbling under the surface for years, they have recently come to light in the early months of 2015. We saw the first skirmish in early April of this year, when SM Entertainment opened ticket sales for SHINee’s fourth solo concert in Seoul, SHINee World IV, on May 16 and 17 at the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Arena.
Tickets sold out within the first few minutes — entirely common with fandoms as strong as SHINee World, especially considering that the venue holds 15,000 people. Claims then started to circulate on Twitter and Weibo that half of the tickets were being resold online for exorbitantly higher prices. In particular, the people selling these tickets were either Exo fansites, connected to an Exo fansite, or were Exo fansites masquerading under fake aliases. All tickets to the concert were originally sold by SM Entertainment for 114,000 Korean won (approximately 110 USD), while re-sell prices were claimed to average around the 500,000 mark (~500 USD).
That being said, the writer has been unable to find many examples of these who are re-selling the tickets; the few post links that were provided in the rumors had no clear connection to any Exo fansite. However, as time progressed, more and more posts started to include further, more specific claims, such as that the accused fans were re-selling the tickets in order to buy the full set of twenty versions of Exo’s latest album Exodus, or that Exo-L was planning to black ocean the concert out of pure spite
The next day, on April 4, Music Core caught a SHINee World member taking pictures during the show. Because the companies that run the music shows have exclusive copyright over the images that are produced during the broadcast, recordings of any part of the show by members of the live audience are strictly banned (although that fact doesn’t deter a lot of fansites from creatively smuggling cameras in) and banned all Shawols from attending the filming of Music Core. Shock rippled throughout the fandom, which only turned to anger when it became clear that the fan in question who was taking pictures was actually Dreaming Boy, an Exo fansite for member Kai. The fansite was quickly accused of lying, claiming that she lied to Music Core staff that she was actually a Shawol, in order to protect her fellow Exo-L’s and instead get Shawol banned from Music Core.
Dreaming Boy indeed was taking pictures of Kai and Exo and, once caught, told the staff that she was in the Shawol section. But this does deserve some explanation. Live shows allot a certain number of seats to each artist’s fanclub, making it easy to identify what fanclub a certain person is, just by looking at which section they are in.
Thus, it is not as if Dreaming Boy made up a lie on the spot to deflect blame from her and her fandom, and instead place the blame on SHINee World. In fact, Dreaming Boy explains that she used her sister’s SHINee World fanclub card to get into the SHINee section of the audience. When caught taking pictures, it was immediately clear that she was in the SHINee section, which is why the entirety of SHINee World was banned.
That being said, Dreaming Boy has issued an official apology in which she further explains her side of the story. She admits that her actions were wrong and claims that, after being caught, she told the staff upfront that she is the owner of the fansite Dreaming Boy and a fan of Kai from Exo. The apology sounds sincere and she did admit her wrongdoing. However, at this point, arguing over the intent behind the action and sincere contrition ends up being a battle of he-said, she-said, which I am not eager to delve deeply into.
What is factually clear is the immediate vilification of Dreaming Boy and, by extension, the entire Exo-L fandom. Coupled with the finger-pointing against Exo-L during the concert ticket sale period just the day before, it was the perfect recipe for an immediate online campaign against Exo-L. Within hours of the news break, the hashtag #justiceforshawols gained traction, wherein people compiled and retweeted pictures taken by Exo fansites at Music Core that day in order to show Music Core and SM Entertainment that it was indeed Exo fans and not SHINee fans who were at fault.
I am less concerned about the intent of a few fans here and there. I don’t care whether or not some fans are willing to buy concert tickets and resell them and I don’t care if a select few fansites break the rules and blame other fandoms. What I care about is the massive backlash against an entire fandom for the actions of a few — the actions of which are sometimes not even verified and could be misleading or even totally fabricated.
I think what is more damaging is this phenomenon of “Internet War,” or the ease through which certain members of the fandom can systematically spread false information about another fandom, can villify other members, or simply waste time and emotional energy.
With the absence of substantial evidence that the ticket re-sellers were Exo fans, and without listening first to Dreaming Boy’s side of the story, many fans were quick to point fingers, judge, and above all, hate another fandom. The ease and willingness of so many fans to join in on this mutual hate is honestly saddening and I wish that it weren’t so. After all, if Kai and Taemin can be best friends, then maybe their fans should strive for something similar too.