DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT a sympathy post for all the men involved in the recent sex crime scandal that is hitting S.Korea. I just wanted to talk about the other fundamental issue these scandals bring up about the korean entertainment industry, that I haven’t seen anyone else talk about yet.

“Idol”. The entire kpop industry is centered around this one word. They are youthful, they are innocent, they are proper. They are perfect. They are just like those idols that people worship in temples. Always on a pedestal, always in a pristine state. There for the people to look up to, there for the people to feel like there’s someone out there who stays untouched by humanity’s constant degradation into more & more insanity, all the while still projecting an aura of friendly approachability, of an emotional intimacy.

But what goes into making one? We know about all the flashy stuff. We also know about the grueling trainee days that makes us empathize with their rise to fame even more. And herein lies the catch. If there is one rock-solid criteria for becoming an idol, it is to be young. Very, very, young. Most of the members in a band are not even legal when they are pushed out into the entertainment world. Which would matter a little less if they were getting picked off the streets & being given debuts immediately. But sadly, that is not the case. Idols start off their training from the age of 11 or 12 (Bigbang members G-Dragon & Taeyang started training when they were 9!! I don’t even have memories from that time!). At such a young age, they get cut off from their families, school, the society. Their interaction with the outside world goes down to almost non-existent. Because training is the only thing that matters, and each & every moment you spend not doing exactly that, is a moment someone else has trained more than you, & has hence gained more of a chance of debuting than you. The authoritative figures they ARE around though, are the other kids who are older than them by, say, a year or two (which, let’s be honest, there’s not much a 12 yr old can do to keep an 11 yr old on the straight path when they themselves don’t know what is right or wrong), & the managers & CEO of the company who don’t really give two fucks about you as a human being. As we can already see, these kids are completely at the mercy of adults who only want to exploit them & mould them into whatever they want.

This brings me to another very important criteria of making an idol – the actual debut, which requires money. A lot of money. Ever since SM hit it big with their first idol group H.O.T, entertainment companies have been popping up left & right, trying to make some money off of this business. But while big companies like SM, JYP, YG, & now Bighit, can fund their own groups’ debuts, these other companies cannot. Which is when investors come in. Basically, anyone with power & money. And like any business deal happening between two parties with a huge power imbalance between them, pleasing the one with the upper-hand is of the utmost importance. This is why company CEOs routinely take their trainee groups to parties and informal gatherings with highly influential attendees, & literally try to show them off. Mind you, these trainees are still kids, and these gatherings are….let’s just say that they are not environments they should be in. And now these kids have to cater to whatever whim & fancy that hits their target investor because, only by pleasing him, will they be able to survive. While I will not detail what kinds of acts can be asked of them, because we all know how deranged such people can be, I will give a milder example that I had come across years ago. A testimony by a celebrity on public television, on a show, that I am still surprised was aired. Or that the celebrity had the guts to say it. But I THINK he was an ex-idol trainee who gave up on trying to become an idol & switched to becoming an actor. Which could explain why he dared to even mention this. I don’t remember who it was, sadly, because it was so many years ago. So, what he said was that he was taken to such a gathering once & the potential investor told him to sit with him at his table because he was the leader of the group. The investor then proceeded to tell him to pour him a drink, as well as himself. The trainee really didn’t want to, & he was also underage, but then he looked over at his group mates & couldn’t say no anymore. Because saying no meant putting their debut in danger, the very thing they had worked so hard for. He then had to continue drinking, until he eventually passed out. Disturbing, isn’t it? That kids’ lives & careers depend on something so base, so trivial. If something like this can go on-air, like it was nothing, then just what passes for truly horrifying?

This post is not about abuse. It is a look into how monsters get made. Think about the kind of stuff these young, impressionable, kids must be forced to do, must learn from the shitty authority figures they are surrounded by. For another, more severe example, think about the victims of the company CEO who used to force his trainees to have sex with each other, & would film it. Neither the men, nor the women, were willing participants of it. But what effect do you think it had on them. Did they get even more disgusted & traumatized by these acts….or did they get conditioned into enjoying it by the end. It is truly a 50-50 chance, & a brutal reality to face. And then, let’s say that after all this, they finally debut. They become the much sought after “Idols”. Does it get any better? Crushingly, no.

Sadly, we are all a part of this, no matter how minuscule our role is. As much as we like to brand these monsters as others, as people whose current state is the only way they could ever have been. It does not make the monsters anything other than what they are, because it’s still their choices that brought them here, & they could have made them differently. But maybe the recent events are a call for us to become more self-aware of the kind of media we choose to immerse ourselves in, to become more self-aware about why it exists, how it comes to exists, & how we play into all of it. Would this realization do anything? I don’t know. It may do something, or it may do nothing. But just because we cannot do anything, does not mean that we close our eyes & retreat back into our la-la-land. In an ideal fairy-tale world, these words of mine would raise people up to revolt against this kind of a system. To fight for the kids who don’t know any better. And no more monsters would ever be made. But this is not an ideal world. I am an ordinary person, sitting behind my desk, writing this post at midnight, for a blog that will hide half of this post, & where traffic is very little. Heck, I don’t even think anyone will read it just because of the sheer size of it. But that does not stop me from giving voice to my thoughts anyways.

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    I did read till the end.

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    Very interesting.

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    I definitely agree. They’re taken away from home, abused, mistreated, treated like cattle, like commodities and then when they make it big they’re told they can do whatever they want as long as nobody finds out about it

    But I think all of this has to be put into the context of a culture so misoygnistic that women can’t even go to the toilet without being secretly filmed.

    There’s an intersection here between the money, abuse, the commodification of people, and misogynism.

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    I did read it to the the end, and while I know almost nothing about kpop and the idol-making industry, I’m not sure I want to call the perpetrators here monsters. What makes all of this so horrific, is that these are ordinary (albeit famous and powerful) men who committed monstrous acts.

    It is the systemic commodification and dehumanization of women within the culture (and let’s face it, worldwide) that made them first, not consider that what they were doing was criminal, and second, and second, assume that having women to use was their right as men.

    Further, how many in the industry knew about this and didn’t take any action to either report it or put a stop to it? How many, with their silence, became complicit in the rape and exposure of the victims? The monster is the culture within the industry, within the legal system that does little to investigate and protect, and within cultures that continue to see people as things to be used and discarded as playthings.

    So for me, what I find most monstrous about this scandal, and all the others before it, and likely the ones that come after, is that I’m not shocked. It is just yet another revelation at how deeply entrenched the ordinariness of the sexual violation of women continues to be. Therefore, I personally, don’t want to label these men as monsters because then that makes what they did seem exceptional, and unfortunately I don’t think this was exceptional behavior given what I have read in history books, seen on the new, and even witnessed and experienced in my own personal life.

    To be clear, I’m not disagreeing with what you are saying in any way. I’m just tired. I’m so tired that this keeps happening. I’m tired of worrying about my daughters and my friends, and I’m so tired of the systems that keep allowing this to happen again and again all over the damn world.

    Apologies to any male beanies, but I’m just tired of men right now.

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    I might be oversimplifying this, but the problem is largely systemic as you have pointed out. A system is created that engenders and continues the exploitation of people. The system is largely fueled by power and fear.

    Take the Me Too Movement for example. I was surprised that it is as pervasive as it is and has been going on for as long as it has. While reading your post I was reminded of any number of different perpetrators in American media like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Roger Ailes. In those cases powerful men abused their power for sexual gratification resulting in sexual harassment and sexual assault. The examples you gave of the men in power who abused their power to bend idols to their whims bears similarities.

    I think many societies around the world need to understand why abuse matters and what needs to be done to stop it. Far too much begins, stems, and is entangled in long standing norms that people think something is normal when it shouldn’t be or look away and do not say anything.

    While I’m quite aware and sensitive to the fact that this case has affected women, I think we need to understand that we should not limit it to women. Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and the Catholic Church all reinforce the point that much of this problem is systemic. We need to reevaluate how things are done and why they are done that way and what should be done about it.

    Lastly, I think we need to talk about the corruption in this case. While it is still early to talk about this in detail, it seems that the authorities and agencies that were charged to protect the citizenry failed to do so and instead facilitated and encouraged these acts to take place. You can view the Korean Entertainment agencies in a similar way. Many parents entrust their kids to these agencies expecting that they will care for and protect them—I assume.

    Why idols start and such a young age and the effects of that is a whole other conversation I hope to return to soon. I would leave with this though. The result of idols starting young is the refined and polished product we love so much. It may not be blood diamond level, but…

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      I sure am a rambling man.

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      The corruption angle is the one I’m waiting for news on. I think the famous people being exposed is just a preview of the larger issue.

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      I agree with you. I believe this problem is largely systematic, pervasive and is a continuous, ongoing cycle. It exists everywhere, not just in S. Korea. I think it is happening in S. Korea because of timing: Me Too movement and Kpop globalization. S. Korea isn’t the problem, humans are essentially the problem (yes I know that is a blanket statement).

      I think the reason being so is because power, sex and youth are fundamentally human desires. What I have seen from history is that anything that concerns human desires always end up with corruption. What humans crave yet cannot obtain, thrills and feeds into people’s carnal instincts. Humans are animals afterall and those animalistic tendencies have not been addressed fully. Instead humans just like to think they are inferior to other animals, thus suppressing those instincts.

      I find it strange how we regulate physical health, our consumption of food and our emotions, yet we still cannot regulate our most primal desires as a society. I mean as “intelligent” as a being as we are, we still cannot. I think until we figure that out – until we figure out how to go against our nature, there will always be an imbalance of power, abuse and corruption. It’s just a matter of how we should manage and regulate those before it goes out of control.

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    Well said, Isa. Definitely food for thought.

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      I meant Kale, sorry. I got my “rabbit” ears scrambled.

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    This is why after all these years I still can’t get into kpop. Thanks for pointing this out.

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    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I did read to the end too. And actually, I was on the same train of thoughts as you hours ago and made a thread on my own twt acct, which was triggered by FNC’s statement re Choi Jong Hoon leaving: https://twitter.com/_haru207/status/1106249333056458754

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    Well said Kale. I agree with all of if. I can’t english tonight so I don’t have anything else other than this.

    👏👏👏👏

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    The fact that this problem is systematic is what is most disheartening. I don’t remember who but a female idol had talked about male idols on air and she said how they had spent so many of their formative years as a trainee that they had forgotten to grow up as a person. Having a brother, I know that young boys have many misconceptions about the opposite gender but these misconceptions can be greatly reduced through social interactions. Most male idols are not allowed to date and have great restrictions on their dorm timings.

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