[Community] What Dramabeans means to me
When people ask about the origins of Dramabeans, it’s usually this story that I give: I had recently gotten back into K-dramas, a fixture of my youth that I’d left behind for some years, and was inhaling series like Full House and Goong and My Girl and searching for a place online where I could talk about them the way I wanted to. I didn’t find it, so I figured I’d make my own corner of the internet and see who else wanted to talk about them. As it turned out, a lot of people did.
I don’t think I’ve ever told the story of how I got to that place to begin with, because that always felt like the standard beginning of the story. But in order to answer the question of what Dramabeans means to me, I think I have to back up even further.
I was spiraling when I rediscovered K-dramas in the mid-2000s. I’d thought I’d overcome my “quarterlife crisis” (ugh, that term) and figured out what I wanted to do with my life, and I’d pursued it with all the focus and drive of a Type A overachiever. It wasn’t a pipe dream, either — I was accepted into a couple of well-known Hollywood programs for rookie writers that were meant to position me into my television writing career. I had an agent at a fancy Hollywood agency with a three-letter name. I went out for staffing season and took meetings with execs at studios. I was on my way. I was on the cusp of breaking into Hollywood and my life, and career, would be set.
And every day that I was in the rat race that is throwing yourself at the ever-narrowing gates of Hollywood, I was miserable, and desperate, and flailing. You know when you convince yourself that only one thing matters, like, at all? And you pin every hope and dream on that one thing, and it turns you into a nervous wreck, one that forgets everything true about you and instead turns you into a shell of yourself to be filled with someone else’s preferences and tastes. (My mentor would give advice like: “Just be yourself — but better.”) And the more I was in that world, the more I realized I might not belong there; I didn’t feel at home there, and my insistence on forcing myself in anyway was wearing away at me. After a couple years of running that race, I realized that it wasn’t the industry that I didn’t like — I didn’t like who I was turning into, in my desperation to enter the industry. Nervous. Overeager. Insincere. Where was I, in me? And when that realization crashed into me, it knocked me into paralysis. What do I do now? I’d worked so hard to get to that point, the thought of walking away was crushing. That seems so naive and young, looking back on it, but it seemed so all-consuming at the time. I had been raised to aim for the top — falling into the middle was failure. I couldn’t fathom giving it up.
About that time, I stumbled onto dramas online. I was surprised at how good the production quality had gotten in just the five or six years that I’d been away from them, but I was quickly learning how to download from fansites and clubbox and bittorrent. I joined Soompi. I was a megauploading pro (RIP mega). Then Youtube came along and was a revelation, and I was watching dramas cut into 10 parts, occasionally missing a part (an agonizing discovery), a slave to the twice-weekly drop schedule. And I was surprised by a new realization about how K-dramas made me feel — I’d always been a fan of television, but there was something different and intriguing about these K-dramas, which I hadn’t picked up on before. I was feeling a kind of fluttery excitement I didn’t get from American TV. I cried over the stupidest plot twists and wondered why. It was addictive as hell. I was vaguely aware that in diving into a new obsession, I was putting off doing anything about my own personal crisis, but I was too glad to feel relief in a new set of emotions — giddiness, excitement, angst, tears, and DRAMA — that I pushed those thoughts aside.
And this is where this story converges with that earlier standard story, of how I started a blog to get all my feelings out into words and discovered my tribe.
There are a lot of things to which I attribute Dramabeans’ success (and by success I mean longevity and general personal satisfaction in the running of), such as timing (in 2007, personal blogging was just taking off) and circumstance (there was an appetite for K-dramas but no other sites doing the same). But a lot of that is luck, too. Luck that the content was taking off internationally, luck that the producers of the content hadn’t yet caught up with fandom in how to proliferate it, luck that there was such a steady stream of output, luck that there was an insatiable appetite for consuming them.
Also, luck that just as I started Dramabeans, monetizing blogs became a thing and I could make it, at least in part, my job. I didn’t make much money that first year, but it was enough to justify devoting all that time to writing essays on Coffee Prince or Flowers For My Life and lovingly screencapping Gong Yoo’s face. I was juggling blogging with my “real” job, which gave it purpose, and it was such amazing fun that I threw myself into it wholeheartedly and never looked back. It was a thrill to find people from all over the world who felt passionately about something that I felt I couldn’t share in my offline life — people who wanted to talk equally at length about the symbolism in that one scene of Que Sera Sera as they wanted to squee endlessly about Eric’s abs.
I don’t know when exactly I let go of my television writing goals, but I do know that when I did stop and consider that question, I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t regretful. I was as fulfilled as I’d ever been, or could hope for, with what I was doing and while I wasn’t sure where this Dramabeans thing would take me, it felt valuable and I loved it. I loved how connected it made me feel to far-flung parts of the world — it shrunk our world of fandom and made it homey. I loved that we could talk intelligently about our entertainment but not forget it was entertainment, too — at the end of the day it was always about feeling free to love something, regardless of why someone else might not. I loved that our philosophy of welcoming all fandoms was appreciated. I met awesome lifelong friends through Dramabeans, like girlfriday, who was the best partner in crime a fangirl could ask for.
Dramabeans anchored me in a time when I felt lost and aimless, and while I would never advise anyone take up entertainment blogging as a career move, it has also been the best job I’ve ever had. It’s also the purest job I’ve ever had, in that it was a luxury to be able to write about things purely based on our editorial interest in them. There were a handful of occasions where we were pressured into posting something for business purposes that wasn’t quite in our wheelhouse, but girlfriday and I would resist until we could find a way to put our Dramabeans spin on them. When we couldn’t, we turned down sponsorships. That may have been dumb of us and to our partners, I’m sure we were frustrating to work with, but we’d always run Dramabeans as an outlet for our editorial tastes and we didn’t know how to do things any other way.
But of course, those business purposes became an increasingly prominent presence in our lives running the site, because while we were able to capitalize on the boom years of blogging, we were also facing their swift downturn. We made business partnerships that forced a certain amount of compromise, but felt worthwhile for the ability to keep Dramabeans open. Sometimes I look back on some of our best work (in my opinion, from 2011 to 2015) and I’m wistful at the freedom we enjoyed, but I’ve also always been ready to let Dramabeans go when the time came, because something that good couldn’t go on forever. I’ve never been that kind of optimist.
I’m sure everyone’s noticed girlfriday and I haven’t been active presences on Dramabeans in the past year, and we’ve always meant to address that more transparently but never quite found a natural way to do it. In order to keep Dramabeans running, we made the choice to step back (quite honestly, it couldn’t pay our salaries and we had to find new ones) and hand over the reins, which was a bittersweet decision but one we don’t regret. Because after 12 years, it would have hurt a lot more to turn off the lights and let the site fade into memories. And amazingly, far from being a hindrance to our careers (because blogging — wtf?), Dramabeans has provided a strong foundation for where we find ourselves now. We’ve been busy with our “real” jobs in recent days, but hold out hope that someday soon we’ll be back, in some form or another, because our fan love will always be alive.
Dramabeans gave me a sense of purpose when I needed it — it gave me a place to be completely honest and sincere and in that way, it gave me myself back. It also gave me a community I didn’t know would grow to be so big, or so meaningful. I’ve been immensely grateful for everyone who has found something positive or worthwhile in Dramabeans, which grew out of a whim but was held up by a whole lotta love. You guys have made the site into what it is now, and I’m thankful for everyone one of you.
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