And Have Another Irene

Still me, still trying to make sense of this — my feelings, as we spiral toward the end of the United States. I just feel awful. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Barely got any sleep last night. There’s an abundance of stressors in my life — like with everyone — but this has been the most vibrating needle in my eye, and that’s my fault. I made the mistake of reading as many news stories about it as I could, including from gossip site AllKpop. Mistake. What I couldn’t stand about that one was how much people seemed to delight in the thought of Irene’s end. How do you even find out about someone like Irene and decide you don’t like her? There are K-pop groups I don’t really like, but I just don’t think about them. Easy. I wrote up that last post before I had a sense for this slice of K-pop denizenry, and what a loatheful bunch they are.

And to the last post, well, it was unfocused and didn’t come to the point I’d intended. This is the point: The stylist’s post online should’ve been the end of the story, and she probably intended it to be — now her friends know, and they can talk about it. But then Irene apologizes, and the headlines are about her being exposed, about her bad behavior (granted, a lot of the mainstream press I’ve seen about it, on Jezebel or Billboard, has been evenhanded). The situation has entered into the exchange of cancel culture, and it’s disproportionate. The narrative has ballooned. Americans survive cancelation left and right (outside the Dixie Chicks), but K-pop stars don’t always. Idols are far too precarious, too expendable. Consumable by nature, again to the last post. I was reminded of the story of T-ara today, alongside gossip of Red Velvet’s potential ending. As pissed off as I was about Yoona’s public apology a few months ago, Irene’s story has turned to “I don’t see how they could come back from this,” and that is unbelievable. If this is the end of Irene, the end of Red Velvet — it’s unacceptable. Situation could still blow over, and render this post a hilarious time capsule, but what if it doesn’t? What if Irene is always known as an anger bitch and that’s just how everything goes from now on? This is the shit I worry about, because Irene has given me a lot these past two years, and I don’t want to see her go. I feel, and have felt from the start, that I owe her something, and that is where I’ll always be coming from on issues like this — Irene, Yoona, whoever’s next.

The importance of believing victims is emphasized so often because it’s so often unheeded or willfully forgotten, but also because the circumstances we’re talking about involve gender violence — incidents which highlight a failure in society to which we’re all complicit and can do better. What Irene did to the stylist, based on reports — report — is something I have absolutely done: make someone feel bad on purpose. (Here we go). But again, the stylist should post about that. It’s what happened next that fucks me up, without saying I blame Irene for apologizing, because that’s just confusing. But in our response, there’s two options: it’s either “making someone feel bad on purpose” is comparable to other “cancel” incidents, or that it isn’t, but the revelation that Irene is human somehow shocks us. I can’t make myself compatible with either. So when Irene personally apologizes to the stylist and the stylist is mostly fine with it, the story must end there. It must. No more secondhand stories about how Irene is a bitch, no jokes about how Irene is a bitch, no YouTube videos with an angry Irene face on the thumbnail, no more online diary entries about my feelings. It’s over. Because it’s not about us — it shouldn’t be. So Irene is human or even that she’s a shitty person and that’s it for her? After everything she’s done, all she’s put into her art, all she’s given me? The question of Irene’s unmaking reminds me that the power to unmake Irene even exists, and that makes me sick. Not angry — sick.

And I suppose that’s only one layer. The other one is about morality. You can decide to fuck with someone for anything. I don’t blame the stylist, Kang, for posting online (in which she didn’t mention Irene by name, but what use was that), but it’s essentially an opening salvo to a war in which I’m a potential casualty. That’s all. It’s not about right or wrong, because that’s an impossible and self-defeating drive, it’s just about two sides — the secret to humanity, the worst-kept secret, is that everyone’s an asshole. If someone made me feel bad on purpose today, as has happened countless times in my life — more often when I was a small child? — I’d fire an opening salvo in a war and think nothing about the casualties. And that’s fine, that’s all it is. Doesn’t make me good or bad, I’m still an asshole and so is the other person. But then it’s the fucking record label and its terrible fear of its consumers, and everything gets complicated. It becomes things. And I know I’ll regret typing all of this, because I’m supposed to sympathize with victims and not make it about myself — and it’s not supposed to be a conscious choice, but my better nature — I’m breaking all the rules which I parroted for years, being now hypocritical as well as generally disconcerting, I imagine. Like, whoa, is this guy okay? It’s just a — no, I am not okay. It’s been a rough time lately, and this moment in history, weeks from the election that decides the future of American democracy, has thrust me into a state of zen sociopathy. I can’t be that guy I used to be, and I’m glad he’s gone. I’d like to be more sympathetic here to all parties, and to everyone, always, but this is who I am and I have to stop abstracting myself in an attempt to align with that ever-shifting “liberal acceptable self” haunting Twitter. I’m done!

But to the victim in this case, there’s also the issue, which didn’t even occur to me, that Irene/Red Velvet fans were/are attacking the stylist. Are you fucking with me? That’s not just shitty, it’s absurd. Please don’t be absurd in 2020. We’ll have no one left.


4 thoughts on “And Have Another Irene

  1. I’m repeating myself a bit here, having commented on your YouTube videos as well, but I’d really like to see you explore K-Pop idol culture via a critique of the visual literature of Korea. As I’ve said, Reply 1997 gets at it through the fan side, but it’s not central to that series. Dream High gets at the competitive side of the gateway to the business, but it really does not have much to say, and ends up being a bit fluff worth watching only for JYP’s mugging and IU in a fat suit. Maybe Hoo Goo’s Love? It’s sports not music, but does explore at length the person/persona dilemmas of celebrity culture. (Utter digression but that pressure to form to your personal brand can go the other way as well – back in the early days of Sharon Stone’s career she was marketed as the ice queen bitch while one of my wife’s friends was serving lunches to the homeless with her at Glide Memorial in SF.) There’s got to be some K media diving into what trainee and idol pressure to conform to impossible standards is like.

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  2. I’d definitely love to do exactly this. My reservation so far is a matter of “license,” or something like that — I’ve only really been listening to K-pop for two years, and as a straight American male, one degree off of “creepy white guy,” in fact, I’ll have to calculate my approach. But there’s a lot about idol culture I wonder about, and even have opinions about so far, as this now hopefully resolved Irene situation attests. As far as media goes, I bet that recent Blackpink documentary offers some insight into the harsh realities, but I haven’t seen it yet.

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    1. I know exactly how you feel as a cis white guy in my late 50s. Nevertheless, the KPop music scene is vibrant and we all get to like what we like. I trust your voice from the CXG days.

      There is an intense, intentionally created parasocial relationship between fan and idol in modern KPop (and Japanese Idol culture) and, as a result, idol behavior is unbelievably proscribed and when they step remotely out of bounds it has and continues to cost lives. Part of the issue is online bullying which extends well beyond attacking celebrities but is particularly horrible in KPop and reality TV world wide.

      Light Up The Sky is quite good, but also part of the problem since it’s part of the propaganda machine that feeds these vampiric parasocial relationships. If you wish to go the doc route, try the BBC’s doc of Nine Muses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s3p15YAVFo (watch with tissues to hand – Sera is still facing the consequences of her sojourn as an idol and has since become a YouTuber: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEdc9bL-ketM9H6hIxChEPg ).

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      1. Thanks, man, and I’ll look into that recommendation. The bullying thing with K-pop always gets me. I just don’t understand that malice. Like, even racism has a psychological basis. But you see an idol doing an Instagram Live and your instinct is to tell her she’s ugly? Where does that come from???

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