Sasaeng fan

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In South Korean culture, a sasaeng or sasaeng fan (Hangul사생팬; Hanja私生) is an over-obsessive fan of a Korean idol, or other public figure, that has engaged in stalking or other behaviour that constitutes an invasion of privacy. The term sasaeng comes from the Korean words sa (Hangul; Hanja) meaning "private" and saeng (Hangul; Hanja) meaning "life," in reference to the fans' intrusion into the celebrities' private lives.[1] According to estimates given by celebrity managers to Korean media, popular Korean celebrities "have between 500 to 1,000 sasaeng fans" and are actively followed by about 100 sasaeng fans every day.[2] Sasaeng fans are generally said to be females aged 17 to 22 years old who are driven to commit acts of, in some cases, borderline criminal behavior in order to get the attention of celebrities. These acts may include but are not limited to: seeking out celebrities at their dorms or homes, stealing their personal belongings or information, harassing their family members, and sending idols inappropriate "gifts" such as lingerie.[3]

Background[edit]

Taiwanese k-pop fans of the group SHINee. The growing influence of Hallyu draws in many fans of k-pop abroad.

Although the term "sasaeng" was only coined much later to describe highly obsessive and disruptive fan behavior, such behavior has existed since the 1990s with the dawn of K-pop idol groups and "fandoms", as noted by local English-language newspaper Korea JoongAng Daily in a 2001 article.[4] Industry veterans as well as members of first generation groups such as H.O.T. and g.o.d have related accounts of witnessing or being victims of such fan behavior even prior to the digital era.[5][6][7][8] With the rapid development of the Korean popular culture industry and the spread of the Hallyu wave internationally in the 2000s and recent years, increasingly extreme and disruptive fan behaviors towards Korean idols and celebrities have also been witnessed abroad.[3]

Motives for behavior[edit]

Many sasaengs operate under the motive of wanting recognition from their idols and wanting to stand out from other fans.[9] A sasaeng fan was interviewed and gave an explanation regarding this obsessive behavior that is shared among sasaeng fans. She was quoted saying,

“I feel like I get to know more about and get closer to the idol I love. If I go to a concert, there are thousands of people attending, so the idol would not know who I am. But if I become sasaeng, they will recognize me. If I keep telling them, ‘I am so-and-so. I saw you at that place before. I am so-and-so’, they will start to take note of me and ask ‘Did you come again today?’ To sasaeng fans, being recognized by idols is a good thing.”[3]

This want for individual recognition from idols is what has fueled some notable acts of sasaengs. Physically assaulting idols is one perceived way that sasaengs believe they will be remembered.[10] In 2012, a sasaeng reportedly slapped Yoochun, of the boy group TVXQ, in the face and justified themselves by saying that the idol would surely remember them from then on.[11]

While sasaengs have formed a network to help spread and share information, the work of a sasaeng is also individualistic. A sasaeng who can get the closest to an idol or can get private information that no one else can will be more respected among other sasaeng.[12]

Sasaeng fans vs. Anti-fans[edit]

Anti-fans are dissimilar from sasaeng fans in that their main goal is to see the ultimate failure of certain idols and groups.[10] In 2006, member Yunho of TVXQ was given a drink by a supposed fan, its contents having been laced with glue and resulting in Yunho being rushed to the hospital. The suspect in this case also had given Yunho a letter, its contents criticizing TVXQ and seemingly threatening the band as a whole.[13] The person who committed the act confessed to being an anti-fan of TVXQ.[14] While both groups have been seen to engage in activities that have caused harm to idols and groups, sasaeng fans are motivated by the idea of recognition from idols, rather than a want to ridicule and prevent the success of certain idols.

Methods and tactics[edit]

Sasaengs have developed various methods for obtaining information about idols and have formed a network amongst other sasaengs to share information and group together in order to accomplish tasks. It has been noted that sasaeng fans who are of older age and are able to get jobs will try to get jobs in industries that will put them closer to idols or idols’ information, such as airline companies, phone companies, credit card companies, etc.[15] In 2017, Brave Entertainment, home of solo artist Samuel, had two staff members fired due to them being sasaeng fans who were following other artists and spreading Samuel's personal information.[16]

With the increased popularity of social media, it has now become possible for idols’ information to be sold for money over various social media platforms, such as Twitter, KakaoTalk, and Instagram.[17] The volume of information that some sasaeng possess covers a wide range of personal information, including home addresses, flight information, cellphone numbers, personal social media accounts, credit card accounts, audio recordings and videos. Some sellers are even willing to sell the methods they use to obtain this information. One seller of such information had tweeted:

“I have pretty much any idol’s information. EXO, BTS, NCT, Wanna One, Produce 101, etc. Audio recordings, Kakao Talk, phone numbers, passports, Twitter [accounts], dormitories, private Instagram accounts, and videos. Send me a DM [direct message].” [17]

The so-called "sasaeng taxi" is another method that sasaengs use to follow idols to their scheduled activities or personal appointments. Such taxis charge an average of $600 a day and will follow an idol or group for the entire day, going up to speeds of 100km/hr and breaking various traffic rules such as running red lights.[15] Drivers of such taxis have been seen outside of venues waiting for customers.[18]

The expense of such methods in both time and money have resulted in many sasaeng fans skipping or dropping out of school, sleeping in Internet cafes, and sometimes turning to prostitution to pay for the expenses of sasaeng activities.[19]

In 2014, a 21-year-old woman was arrested for selling fraudulent merchandise of the band EXO. Most buyers never received their products, or later found that the woman had sold them products that had actually been rented. She admitted that the money she had accumulated, which was around 4.7 million won (about $4,583) would have been used to pay for the expenses of closely following EXO.[20]

In the media[edit]

Sasaeng fans are understood in the media as beginning as part of the "normal" fandom before abandoning their own personal and social lives in order to stand out or become closer to an idol or celebrity.[21] The media's portrayal of sasaeng behavior is often surrounded by discourses of fear and stigma against selectively represented behaviors, which are viewed as problematic, including skipping school and sleeping in internet cafes to meet with idols.

Typically, media coverage of sasaeng fan behavior will report upon an instance or instances of socially problematic fan behavior, with criticisms of this behavior coming from sources including "average" fans, industry representatives, and other individuals in social positions which lend a perception of moral upstanding. Fans of k-pop are often quick to draw boundaries between the "normal" part of a fandom and the part that is said to characterize a sasaeng fan. Sasaeng fan identity as constructed in mass and social media is often described in extremities; media frequently uses undesirable terms such as "crazed", "obsessive", "abnormal", "psychotic", and "disturbing" to describe such fans.[21]

Selected incidents[edit]

TVXQ and JYJ[edit]

K-pop boy bands TVXQ and JYJ, in particular, have been the targets of many sasaeng fans. Sasaeng fans were reported to have tapped TVXQ's phones, broken into the band's apartment, and poisoned member Yunho, who had to have his stomach pumped as a result. Saesang fans also installed cameras into JYJ's Yoochun's private parking lot.[2] In 2012, audio was uploaded on an online message board of Yoochun and bandmate Jaejoong apparently yelling at and hitting female fans.[22] JYJ members addressed the recording during a press conference, when Yoochun said that the group had been followed by sasaeng fans for eight years (since they were members of TVXQ), saying that the constant surveillance "felt like prison." Band member Junsu mentioned incidents where saesang fans tapped his private phone calls, installed GPS trackers on the band's cars, and broke into their private property. At the press conference, Jaejoong issued an apology for lashing out at fans.[23] A video of TVXQ member Changmin dragging and throwing a fan from her cab was uploaded in 2018.[24]

Car accidents[edit]

Numerous Korean idols have gotten into car accidents while being followed by sasaeng fans. In 2011, two members of Super Junior were caught in a six-car pile-up after being chased by eight fan vehicles in Singapore. The members, Leeteuk and Heechul, were unharmed, but Heechul later tweeted that he still suffered after-effects from the accident and was often afraid to drive.[25][26] In 2013, Seungri of Big Bang suffered minor injuries from a car accident in Shanghai involving a sasaeng fan.[27] In 2015, Chanyeol of Exo wrote on Weibo that he was constantly followed by 20 fan vehicles during a visit to Shanghai.[28] In 2016, Jackson of Got7 sustained minor injuries after getting into an accident with a fan who was following his car closely on his way to an airport in China.[29]

Home intrusion[edit]

Korean idols have reported being followed home by sasaeng fans. Idols including Jung Yong-hwa of CNBLUE, Zico of Block B, Junho of 2PM, and Lay of Exo have reported incidents of sasaeng fans following them home or attempting to break in to their homes.[30][31][32][33] In 2014, a fan unlawfully entered singer Seo Taiji's home and was found sitting in the singer's car when police arrived. Seo did not press charges against the fan, who admitted to have "lurked" around the singer's home before.[34]

Blood writing[edit]

In November 2009, one of the fans of a boy group 2PM’s member Ok Taecyeon posted a blood writing to prove her as a real fan. Soon the blood was found out that it was from her period. This over-obsession toward the celebrity even made the fans of 2PM criticized it. [35]

In December 2009, MBLAQ’s member Lee Joon’s obsessive fan wrote a blood writing and posted on the social media. The writing said ‘Don’t forget me, Lee chang-sun (Lee Joon’s real name). I only have you. I love you’. What was even more shocking was she posted with the picture saying ‘what was that Ok Taecyeon’s fan’s blood writing. Period blood is so gross. I’ll show what a blood writing is’. This shocked most of the k-pop fans made them criticize it.[36]

In January 2010, an obsessive fan of Wonder Girls cut her wrist and wrote ‘Come back, Wonder Girls’ with her blood. She posted the picture of her face half covered with her hand and also with the blood writing showing the scar on her wrist.[37]

Responses from Idols and Companies[edit]

Individual idol responses[edit]

Entertainment companies, idol groups, and individual idols have responded to sasaeng activity through social media or in interviews. Soompi, a site dedicated to sharing Korean pop culture news with readers around the world, has documented many of these cases. In July 2018, Brian, a member of the R&B duo Fly to the Sky, stated in an interview that he had been receiving packages to his personal address and was worried not only for himself, but also his family who were also being harassed. He stated, "I want to know what this person’s reason is for leaving comments this bad, and I want them to stop."[38] Other individual responses include GOT7's Mark and Youngjae, EXO's Lay, and Ailee, all of whom addressed sasaeng fans for following idols back to their residencies,[39] [40] flooding idols' phones with calls and texts,[41] [42]taking unwanted videos and pictures of idols,[43] and following idols on their schedules.[40]

In April 2016, Girls' Generation' member Taeyeon complained about the constant calls from strangers. She posted the capture photos of missed calls from strangers on the Instagram saying ‘Just let me sleep’ and ‘This is not helping at all for both of us’. [44]

In April 2016, Shinee’s member Key posted on intagram a photo of group kakaotalk chat room of full of foreign fans. He mentioned that he is struggling recently due to these sudden invites to chat rooms and missed calls from sasaengfan. He directly cited ‘you can’t call yourself a fan’ and ‘it is really insulting and unbearable’.[45]

Responses from idol groups[edit]

In 2013, the group EXO collectively expressed their frustration towards sasaengs and noted the unfair treatment that their "normal" fans receive from being often mistaken for sasaeng. Member Suho then addressed sasaeng, asking them to stop such behavior if they truly cared about the group.[46]

Responses from entertainment companies[edit]

Entertainment companies have addressed sasaeng fans and their activities. Swing Entertainment, home of the group Wanna One, called out sasaeng fans for causing the members stress while on tour in 2018.[47] DreamCatcher's agency, Happy Face Entertainment, addressed sasaengs who had been waiting for members at their schedules and secretly taking photos and videos of the members, telling them to stop such behavior and pointedly noting that these actions had disrespected the members' privacy.[48]

Effects on Idols[edit]

The actions of sasaeng fans have resulted in psychological effects in some idols. Member D.O. of EXO stated in an interview that he had developed a "victim mentality" due to sasaengs, and that it had severely affected his public appearances and activities.[46] In 2016, Heechul of Super Junior described the sense of paranoia that he had acquired due to sasaeng fans and explained the trauma that certain sasaeng fans' actions had left him.[49] With the increased use of social media to obtain idols' information, idols must be more cautious than ever in order to prevent unwanted information from reaching their public audience, both sasaeng and other fans.[50]

Legal response[edit]

Many countries have laws against sasaeng fan. In United States, California passed “stalking order of protection” in 1990. Laws are different from state to state; however, all states have their own laws against celebrity stalking with serious criminal laws. Germany has a very serious laws against celebrity stalking. Moreover, Japan has many different laws regarding many different aspects of celebrity stalking. For example, waiting in front of house/office, following, wiretapping and repeated relationship demands, etc. will cause them 1 year of imprisonment or fine of one million yen. Japan, also passed laws against continuous messaging, including on social media.

K-pop celebrities have been suffering from 1990s; however, there were no special laws to prevent or to punish against celebrity stalkers (sasaeng fan).[51]

What provoked for the government to move was the band Sanulrim’s lead vocalist, Kim Changwan’s sasaengfan incident. He was stalked by one of his fans for over 10 years and he eventually accused the fan for stalking. But, after the fan got out of jail with a sentence of 1 year, the fan again followed Kim Changwan and physically attacked him and got his nose bone broken. This caused to enforce under the law ‘Persistent harassment’ which is stalking in 2011.[52]

In February 2011, a clause was added to South Korea's Minor Offenses Act, aiming to protect idols from overzealous fans. That same year, the South Korean government's Korea Creative Content Agency reportedly founded a support center for celebrities to offer counseling services meant "to relieve [celebrities] from any psychological stress."[53]

The Minor Offences Act was revised in March 2013 so that a conviction of stalking would lead to a fine of KRW 80,000 (about US$72 at the time).[54] However, due to increased concerns and a rising number of victims related to stalking, a South Korean law was introduced in February 2016 that would increase the penalty for stalking to KRW 20 million (about US$17,000 at the time), as well as a possible two-year jail sentence.[55][56]

On February 22nd of 2018, Coordination meeting of national agendas was held. In this meeting, the government said that “damages from stalking, dating abuse prevention measures” will be settled in the first half of this year. The definition of stalking and its types will be clarified in the new “damages from stalking, dating abuse prevention measures”. Moreover, the punishment against stalking will become more severe: instead of paying a certain amount of penalty, it will be severe amount of fine or imprisonment. “Damages from stalking, dating abuse prevention measures” will be used in celebrity stalking cases/ sasaeng fan cases, because Korean celebrities are suffering from many different kinds of sasaeng fans, not only physically but also mentally as well. [57]

Unfortunately, currently the “damages from stalking, dating abuse prevention measures” has not been settled. (www.law.go.kr lists all the laws that exists in Korea, but this does not show up).

Two different view points in passing the law against sasaeng fan[edit]

There seems to be polarized view points about laws against sasaeng fan. People who agrees with passing laws against sasaeng fan has three different arguments: sasaeng fan is criminal, sasaeng fan not only harm the celebrities but also people around them, and sasaeng fan should be punished to prevent further crimes. First, sasaeng fan is a type of criminal, because they commit crimes like housebreaking, stealing, stalking, illegal use of social security number etc. If any citizen committed one of those crimes they will be punished; however, due to the fact that sasaeng fans committed those crimes because of their love of celebrities, they are taken lightly. Second, sasaeng fan not only harm the celebrities but also people around them. There has been many cases that sasaeng fan threat people around celebrities in order to get in contact with celebrities. Furthermore, while trying to follow celebrities’ car, sasaeng fan have created traffic congestion and car accidents. Lastly, sasaeng fan should be punished to prevent further crimes. The crimes that were committed because of loving the celebrity too much, could lead to much severe crimes. In order to prevent severe crimes and to teach sasaeng fan lessons, there should be a punishment against them.

On the other hand, there are people who disagrees with passing laws against sasaeng fan. First, they claim that sasaeng fan is still a fan of celebrity. Although the way of showing love to the celebrity might be wrong, they do not intentionally commit crimes. Sasaeng fan should be taught ethical and moral ways instead of punishing them. Second, most of sasaeng fan is a minor. Since they are still a minor, they are not mature enough to think what is right or wrong. As mentioned before, they should be taught ethical and moral ways instead of punishing them. If educating them does not work, punishment with laws should be the final measure. [58]

In popular culture[edit]

In the popular culture, the television program called Reply 1997, which covers the popular culture and incidents happened in the late 1990s, was able the tell how the fans were obsessively in to the celebrities. Since there were not many chances for the fans to interact with the celebrities, people tend to turn out to become a ‘Sukso fan’, which is to call a sasaeng fan who stays all night at the celebrity's house until they get to see the celebrity. They used to have rules among them to not to trespass into the house, not to force the celebrity to come out, and not to take pictures of the celebrity.[59]

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