Sasaengs Are Everywhere
The K-Pop in Politics
What are sasaengs? They’re obsessive stalker-fans/stans who track down K-pop idols in airports or break into their hotel rooms.
They’re also the ones willing to do anything for them … from twisting real events to making up elaborate lies, using an invisible vigilante justice to take down a rival star and make them pay.
It’s devotion taken to a dark place. Sometimes we see the same thing in political culture.
The Ideal of Cancel Culture
Worldwide, social media movements have been a tremendous equalizer. The #MeToo movement brought the onset of cancel culture, with an emphasis on accountability.
In Tunisia, they played a part in what was ultimately the Arab Spring’s only democratic success story. In Afghanistan, they became a voice for women and men who wanted to hold onto their freedoms and drew their own red lines to define it. In India, #BlackLivesMatter became the inspiration for movements against excessive force and colourism.
In a golden utopia, cancel culture would serve as the internet’s great equalizer. Anyone, regardless of status, could be called out for questionable or exploitative behavior. It would be a chance to hold accountable leaders and celebrities who are often out of reach.
Hold onto your coffee: We don’t live in a golden utopia. The sad truth is, the culture itself can be toxic. And stans engaging in cancel culture sometimes exploit and demean legitimate social issues to shred whatever unlucky soul they’ve decided to target. It’s like the Salem witch trials all over again.
The Danger of Cancel Culture
In K-pop, one example of revenge canceling would be the #K_OUT movement. A group of nationalistic Korean netizens, including minors, hijacked the hot issue of racism to slander an I-LAND contestant dependent on audience votes. They later “apologized” and admitted it was bunk, but the damage was done.
Months later, some of these antis continue stalking the artist, making up new rumors in an attempt to ruin his career. His irredeemable mistake in their eyes? He’s Japanese. And he once criticized another contestant they liked better (#GetOverIt).
In America’s politically correct culture, the maneuver doesn’t look much different. Forget Donald Trump for a moment. Love him or hate him, this doesn’t have to be about him.
Here, sasaengs like to dig up something someone said, texted, tweeted, or wore however many years ago. They use this to professionally ostracize them, going beyond any appropriate consequence. This is without regard for context or past apologies, as if that person were stuck Peter Pan-like in that moment forever, never to grow beyond it.
We could look at issues like the Gina Carano tweet and say she needed to be held accountable for her insensitive tweets. Or we could say all this does is teach the lesson that girls should sit there and be nice or they’ll be put in their place.
Even better, we could look at dedicated Democrat and political data analyst David Shor. He was canceled by other members of the left for sharing data relevant to voter success for his party and responding courteously to every derogatory comment.
If it had been left at open debate on the merits of opposing ideas — that would’ve been a successful discussion between mature adults. That’s how we learn to work through conflict and work across the aisle. Instead, his employers caved to pressure and fired him for sharing data a few other someones felt undermined their approach to social justice. Not the cause itself … just their approach.
Around 122 Canadian and American professors have been “canceled” as of February 1st. Not for anything illegal or unethical. For protected free speech. Professor Gordon Klein was suspended after an abrupt response to a student request for grading leniency for Black students after the George Floyd incident.
Or how about the college professor who is being actively boycotted and harassed for listening to a Back the Blue speech. Not presenting. Not rallying. Listening. Students set up a campus-wide picket line, assigning the label of “Bigot” to anyone who crosses it. His classes have dwindled to virtually nothing.
These days, that’s the most dangerous weapon — that politically incorrect scarlet letter no one wants to wear. Yet there is no consequence for the unaccountable mob serving as judge, jury, and executioner.
Can We Talk About This (Without Losing Our Jobs)?
Our culture is proud to put in check anyone guilty of shaming someone for their body, gender, or sexuality. It is then ironic how viciously ready it stands to use mass shaming to destroy anyone for affronts to currently trending viewpoints. Without debate. Even if people commonly disagreed with them only 10 years ago.
It kind of makes a person love that knitting lady who didn’t back down in defending a fellow knitter. The unnamed fellow knitter inadvertently “othered” in expressing excitement over a trip abroad. The community responded with rabid shaming, professional disruption, and a complete dismissal of her apology.
This knitter didn’t think the extent of the online bullying and threats to the other woman’s livelihood were appropriate. She openly defended the woman and went on to develop her own cheeky, politically incorrect branding. Because the worst thing we can do is to let fanatic sasaengs take over public discourse. To let them decide for everyone what we’re free to question.
On a good day, we arrest stalkers, and the world becomes a little bit safer. On a bad day, we let them destroy people, regardless of whether they’re actually guilty or haters, so we can look enlightened. If you look at a lot of the cases above, that’s precisely what happened.
By all means, hold people accountable. Encourage boundaryless courtesy and value for the person. Demand apologies or even legal accountability, where that fits.
But don’t let other people tell you what to think without ever questioning or standing up when you think things have taken a wrong turn. Don’t accept someone else’s assessment of right and wrong, predigested, as if you have no mind of your own.
Don’t let a faceless, unaccountable mob be the instrument of accountability. Too often this results in defamation, character assassination, or “consequences” that go too far— not justice.
“The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.” ~Pierre Abelard
[If you liked this or want to be a wonderful, encouraging person, please Clap. If you have thoughts on this or ways I could make it better, please share those, too, as a Comment. Thank you for reading!]