7:04 pm - 11/12/2012

IU, Eunhyuk, and the Imaginary Korean Netizen Backlash

First Jonghyun and Shin Se-kyung back in 2010, then Junhyung and Goo Hara in 2011…gosh, I was getting worried that we wouldn’t fill our K-pop couple quota this year!

For a scandal that was launched by the still-photo equivalent of a sex tape, the IU-Eunhyuk Twitter scandal has been progressing in a disappointingly benign direction. Several days ago, a photo of a pajama-clad IU and a seemingly shirtless Eunhyuk was uploaded onto IU’s twitter, only to be taken down minutes later. LOEN Entertainment released a statement shortly after the scandal claiming that the photo was taken when Eunhyuk visited IU while she was sick sometime last summer. SM responded the next day with a proverbial “What they said.”

In light of the scandal, the buzz around netizenland was varied — there was something about a sofa, Eunhyuk’s penchant for boat-neck tees, and probably more than a few ELFs out there who were too busy wiping Donghae‘s imaginary tears to really care. And despite LOEN’s pleas for the public to “not exaggerate or make assumptions about IU and Eunhyuk’s relationship due to this incident” — let’s be real; no one visits their sick friends half-naked and selcas while they’re at it.

But at this point, it doesn’t really matter what LOEN or SM say about the matter. This isn’t a case of second-hand information uncovered by Dispatch’s photographers stationed at the Han River, where the information was probably passed through a number of hands and filtered down to be as unscandalicious as possible before being released to the public. Half of the IU/Eunhyuk scandal is substantiated by the fact that IU accidentally posted the photo on Twitter, leaving the public to connect the dots by themselves.

And the public hath spoken: Eunhyuk and IU did the naughty naughty, and there ain’t nothing that LOEN, SM, or President Lee Myung-bak himself can really do to change the public’s perception about it. Even if both LOEN and SM came out and said that IU and Eunhyuk were dating but left out the “sex” part, it wouldn’t take much for the public to fill in the blanks themselves. It really leaves something to be said about how the power of public opinion can turn a mere speculation into a widely-accepted “fact.”

But I digress. It’s barely been three days since the scandal kicked up, and already the buzz is starting to die down. This is somewhat surprising — sex scandals aren’t exactly a common occurrence in the squeaky-clean world of K-pop, let alone one that involves two young and extremely high-profile idol stars who are practically bound by their careers to maintain a pristine image at all times. One might think that the uber-conservative, Christian/neo-Confucian morals of South Korea would cause Koreans everywhere to incite a public outcry. Two unmarried children copulating?! How dare they!

The funny thing, though, is that the reaction on the Korean front has been fairly quiet. Sure, there’s the added fact that Korean fans have been well aware of a possible relationship between Eunhyuk and IU long before the scandal broke out to the rest of the world, but being in a relationship doesn’t always equate sex — and sex adds another, more controversial layer to the scandal. But even the news of this latest development didn’t result in a collective gasp from the Korean public.

For international fans, it seems as if the Korean netizen reaction always plays a significant part in our understanding of the story whenever issues regarding race or sex arises in K-pop. Part of the reason might be that Korean media and pop culture serves as a scope for are observations of Korean society at large. When news of IU and Eunhyuk’s scandal broke out, the attention of international fans seemed to turn towards IU, voicing concern that IU’s career and reputation would be irreparably marred by this scandal. Many believed that because South Korean society places higher social expectations on women to be virginal and pure, IU will inevitably receive a lot more criticism from the Korean public simply because she is a woman. Furthermore, her image as an idol directly plays into the sweet, innocent girlwoman concept, which makes the potential for the backlash resulting from a sex scandal to be that much greater.

These are all legitimate concerns, and while there are still plenty of problematic comments floating around the Korean netizensphere (including one that paralleled IU to a bottle of dirty water and criticized her for selling a “deceptive” image), most of the reaction from the Korean public seems to be rooted in intrigue, not shock. For one, IU and Eunhyuk are an unlikely couple. But above all, IU’s famous girl-next-door image has been effectively debunked. But there is no public uproar; there isn’t even that much slut-shaming going on. There is, however, a good amount of logical thinking and even a little bit of snark:

[+352, -11] If IU’s the one that’s sick, why does Eunhyuk look more exhausted in the photo?

[+1,114, -439] When Jiyeon’s webcam scandal erupted and her company was making excuses that no one believed, Jung Ga-eun still stepped up to defend her on her mini-homepage. IU is more well loved than Jiyeon to the point where it can’t even be comparable and so many celebrities consider her to be their family and yet there is not one celebrity that is stepping up to defend her. Celebrities aren’t even just quietly watching over the situation, they’re publicly ridiculing her saying things like how they want to visit her when she’s sick too… That can only mean that these celebrities have already figured out the truth about how IU’s really like.

[+496, -29] Loen really sucks at dealing with stuff like this. Why don’t they know that making up ridiculous excuses like this will only cause more trouble? They basically ran into a fire while holding explosives to their chests. If they just said that they were dating, opinion wouldn’t be as divided as it is now. Because they made up a BS story, they’re just fostering more hate.

[+1,055, -78] Eunhyuk is a real man that visits the sick not only topless but also by bringing his own sofa

For non-Korean onlookers, the internet brings increased visibility to the underbelly of K-pop and Korean culture. And as the K-pop craze continues to spread globally, international audiences have expressed an increasing amount of criticism towards the problematic facets of Korean society. Most of the time, this criticism is deserved, particularly when the issue deals with racism and cultural appropriation. This is in particular consideration of the fact that so many Korean entertainment companies are now trying to sell their products directly to non-Korean fans — some of whom, you know, might be a little offended if the same broadcasting company that featured blackface on one of their shows is now asking them to pay a fortune for tickets to a K-pop concert in LA.

The increased dialogue on the dynamics of Korean culture and society within the context of K-pop is definitely necessary. But one should exercise caution in assuming that the Korean public will act in a certain manner in response to a certain event because it is their “culture” to do so.

The IU/Eunhyuk scandal is a particularly potent example because the biggest risk of revealing any K-pop idol relationship is the impact that the scandal will have on the idols’ careers. Because K-pop still primarily caters to Korean audiences, the fate of the idols’ careers then lies mostly in the hands of the Korean consumer public. Thus, the main object of concern for international fans (who are at least a little concerned about the welfare of the idols’ careers) is, “What will the Koreans think?”

In theory, international fans have no way of knowing the answer to this question because most of them have never set foot in Korea before, and their image of Korea is one that is built by the videos they watch and the blog posts they read on the internet and maybe the occasional skimmed Wikipedia article on Confucianism. But even with a limited knowledge of Korea that is composed largely of second-hand information, international audiences seem to have a peculiarly rigid picture of what Korea is really like. Judging from the comments I’ve seen among international fandom over the years, many international fans regard Korea to be a sexist, racist, homophobic, overly conservative, politically corrupt, fundamentally Christian country that is stubbornly attached to traditional Confucian values and is unwilling to be “progressive” like the rest of the [Western] world.

There may be some truth to these assumptions, but the real risk in labeling the whole Korea as a sexist, racist, what-have-you country is failing to recognize the historical and political significance of why this might be. There is a huge difference behind the culturalist perspective: attributing the behaviors of an entire society to their “culture,” and the deterministic perspective: recognizing that there are specific, historical conditions why certain sexist and racist behaviors continue to persist in Korean society today. Acknowledging the historically grounded roots of problematic behaviors does not excuse them; perhaps it can be even more productive than simply writing off these problematic issues as “cultural.” In fact, taking a culturalist perspective towards another society or country is highly problematic in itself, especially when those from Western societies do so. To be honest, the idea of a Westerner claiming that “Korea is a racist country” with a “backward culture” (arguments I’ve repeatedly seen come up verbatim within international fandom) reeks a bit too heavily of imperialism for my own personal comfort.

Bringing it back to IU and Eunhyuk. As aforementioned, there have been a fair share of comments about IU from Korean netizens that are problematic no matter how one looks at it. The issue of sexism in K-pop and Korean culture is something that is repeatedly addressed within the English-speaking K-pop blogosphere, to the point where you don’t need me to tell you that a netizen’s comparison of IU to a bottle of dirty water is problematic. But the real, seldom-addressed issue is the way in which we as international fans “expect” the Korean public to react to certain issues. A kneejerk reaction to the IU/Eunhyuk scandal might assume that the Korean public will be unfairly harsh towards IU because of the Korean cultural value placed on the purity and innocence of women, and that IU’s career will be irrevocably damaged as a result while Eunhyuk will probably walk away scot-free. But within this reaction, there’s virtually no consideration of the possibility that the Korean public could actually care less about IU having sex, or at least not care enough to actively punish her for her sins and condemn her to the depths of K-pop hell.

One might argue that similar scandals have occurred in the past where public criticism ended up taking a significant toll on the artists’ careers — Baek Ji-young and Ivy were forced onto hiatus due to leaked sex tape scandals back in 2000 and 2007, respectively. T-ara‘s Jiyeon went under harsh public scrutiny for her topless webcam video, and more recently, SPICA‘s Juhyun was criticized for her relationship with Shinhwa‘s Junjin, who is six years her senior. The idea that IU’s career will be damaged in the same way runs on the assumption that the Korean public’s reaction towards anything related to idol relationships or sex will be the same, regardless of time or circumstance. Funnily enough, Ivy and Baek Ji-young’s scandals happened more than five years ago, and both of them were able to recover and come back to the stage without scarlet letters pinned to their performing outfits. Jiyeon’s scandal was said to be “covered up” and never really came back to the surface — but this cover-up wouldn’t have been able to happen if netizens didn’t stop caring. And apparently Juhyun and Junjin broke up recently, but I don’t think anyone was really paying attention in the first place.

The notion that Korea’s inherently sexist outlook towards women will inevitably cause a backlash strong enough to damage IU’s career is problematic in itself. It’s purely a culturalist argument that relies heavily on the assumption that Koreans collectively behave in a certain way due to their shared culture. And it’s obvious that the Korean netizen response is not zoned in on the fact that IU had sex as much as they are pissed about the falsehood of IU’s idol image. This is an interesting issue in itself because it’s not as if the Korean public really bought into the idea that IU is an innocent little doll who maintains an offstage personality as pure and sugary-sweet as her onstage image. Korea is not that stupid. A lot of the netizen comments express anger and discontent over IU’s onstage image, pointing out that this scandal shows exactly how far detached from reality such an image can be.

[+1,759, -224] I don’t care what IU does in her private life, but she’s the one that took on the little girl lolita concept and always said how she doesn’t know anything.

[+132, -34] And here she was trying to push for the innocent nation’s little sister image ㅋㅋㅋ There was a reason people called her a sly fox.. ㅋㅋ

[+40, -3] Honestly, though, I know that IU is lovely but isn’t it obvious that she’s a fox? ㅋㅋ She doesn’t look all that innocent so where’s all this shock coming from

Again, these comments are somewhat problematic in that they place the responsibility of IU’s on-stage concept squarely on IU’s shoulders rather than her management company, but it’s clear that the topic of contention isn’t that IU had sex; it’s that she was selling an “innocent” image while having sex. This can go one of two ways: either the Korean public realizes that IU is an adult who is not bound to her onstage concept and is free to do whatever she wants in her personal life (with the added consideration that she is a public figure and ought to act with discretion, as is the industry norm), or they insist that IU has some sort of inherent loyalty towards her manufactured stage image, and that she should maintain this stage image by making sure that everything she does in her personal life aligns perfectly with whatever image she’s selling onstage. Now which of these two options sounds more logical? Only the nuttiest of IU’s nutty ahjussi fans might agree with the latter — but they are not powerful enough to hold significant sway over IU’s career. And they are certainly not representative of the Korean public at large.

Criticism of Korean culture and society amongst international fandom is a cyclical process largely built on confirmation bias. Whenever problematic issues arise in K-pop, the international fan reaction is more or less the same. Over the course of time, the discussion surrounding these problematic issues becomes more and more coarse — rather than trying to break down the root of the problem, we attribute the whole mess to “culture” thus conflating an entire country and its people with a set of perceived cultural expectations, all the while shaking our heads because “Korea never changes.”

The IU/Eunhyuk scandal is just the latest example of this, made all the more potent because this time Korean netizen reaction is just as important to the scandal as the scandal itself. And the Korean netizen reaction is not at all what international fans expect of Koreans “culturally.” Of course, international fandom is still waiting with their popcorn for the wave of Korean rage to come, but by the looks of things, it won’t be coming anytime soon.

Source Seoulbeats Netizenbuzz: 123

Very very interesting read imo. It's not really about IU/Eunhyuk but more about international fans' perception of Korea. It basically  addresses all the comments (including my own) I've seen reguarding this scandal as well as other issues. It's long so I tried to bold the more intersting parts but I think I kind of ended up bolding the whole thing at the end.

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devjacaiora 12th-Nov-2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
so far the IU/Eunhyuk ''scandal'' gonna die fast like other one... the only thing people gonna remember is the fact that IU is probably not that pure and innocent. lol

fans freaked less about those thing since couple years... still some of them goes crazy but less... Seungri... the topless thing pics and girls everywhere we heard maybe a month or 2 ago ...? fans freaked but can forget really fast I guess..

but one thing true... LOEN sucks with those kind of thing... lol who visit their sick friends topless... XD LOL
cee_90 12th-Nov-2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
isn't this from seoulbeats, tho, OP?
ceecile 12th-Nov-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
I don't think so? I saw it on the source I gave and they didn't give any additional source but netizenbuzz for the comments included in the article.
shiroki_tenshi 12th-Nov-2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
1) I think IU's last album "Last Fantasy" was meant to mark her transition from childhood to adulthood, or something like, the last remnants of childhood. I think that was it (so why hasn't anyone mentioned this lmao).

2) She hasn't lost any endorsements (yet), which should point to a good sign, right?
b1gay4 12th-Nov-2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
thats what i said on twitter.....
cairistiona 12th-Nov-2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Really good article! I've seen all of these comments about Korea time and time before, so it's nice to see some focus on them.
krobwell 12th-Nov-2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
I am sure as hell that I wouldn't be putting my face that close to a sick person.
dipropylene 12th-Nov-2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
Eunhyuk is a real man that visits the sick not only topless but also by bringing his own sofa

burger 12th-Nov-2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
best part
raiha_kasep 12th-Nov-2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Soooooooo,,,yeahh dense me strikes again,,
idk,,I just pretty chill with it,,

but yeah LOEN sucks at making excuses,,LOL
ayumikoshiro 12th-Nov-2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
I think it makes a good point for the most part international fans don't put as much meaning into scandals as Korean fans seem to. But on the other hand most of our resources come second hand from the fandom community so while ELFs are losing their hair over this maybe South Korea as a whole could care less. It's like if 1 Directoners and Beliebers made up all the information Korea knows as a whole. It would lead them to believe that the country is up in arms about Selena Justin rumors when in reality we could care less for the most part.

A lot of fans draw their cultural picture of South Korea from kdramas and kpop fandom (fair enough news isn't being translated and most kids could care less about international politics). It will be interesting with South Korea's growing popularity to see how they address their cultural picture.

I'm curious how do foreigners view America's cultural picture. I know there are jokes out there that we are fat, rich, spoiled, lazy and stupid... but that can't really be how other countries think right?
hongaerin 12th-Nov-2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
Hm... I guess if you were to ask French people what is their clichés of American people, you could get something like: "Fat gun owners who know nothing about the rest of the World because they think they ARE the World". But on the other hand, everyone in France worships anything American (only listen to American music, only watch American movies and TV shows,...) and Parisians spend their time bying coffees at Starbucks because walking with them in their hands make them feel like they are in New York. Yeah, we are a very hypocritical people I guess :D
anewsymphony 12th-Nov-2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this article - I'm korean and virtually the only thing I've heard/seen in terms of reactions to this on my fb newsfeed was like a comic someone reposted that was essentially poking fun at LOEN's joke of an excuse. no one really cares all that much. korean culture is nowhere near as conservative as some people think...it's just that people aren't as open about it (talking about sex etc)

in terms of IU and her career, like this article emphasises, it's more the fact that she has essentially built her career on the innocent, cutesy girl image that korean guys fap over, and people are starting to realise that it's all fake. but this was going on even before this "scandal" erupted tbh...it's not like rumours of her apparently being a bitch are hard to come by

i personally have no opinion on IU as a person, or this scandal btw, so don't think that any of the above directly applies to me!
b1gay4 12th-Nov-2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
too long, didnt read.
montauks 12th-Nov-2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
i've been mia from kpop

why were there speculations about eunhyuk/iu before the picture?
cee_90 12th-Nov-2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
eunhyuk has been a fan of IU since her debut days. Then they interact in some shows and people around them seem to make fun of eunhyuk as her fanboy, telling them to get close,etc. Then, when people think they then become closer than just idol fanboy-idol, a show that compiled idols' suspected relationship came up with eunhyuk&IU topping the chart. They showed how eunhyuk often pats her head when they're on the same stage, their shows together, etc.
b1gay4 12th-Nov-2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
i am going 2 say what i had said on twitter:
iu was preparing us for this.
this is not the apocalypse.
it all started with good day. when she only had 1 cutesy line (oppa gaaaaaaaaaa)))
then in last fantasy she didnt wear light bubly colors and her album was pretty somber imo
also, i truly noticed this all when she danced to trouble maker at her concert, and when she did the sexy dance from abracadabra on tv.
i think loen was trying to prepare us aswell with ga in's sex video.
this was all planned out we just werent supposed to react this way.
cee_90 12th-Nov-2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
this is a nice insight of korean people's mind. But it's somehow disturbing me more now to really see the impact of an idol blowing up the image his/her company made for him/her. How image is THAT important for the public *shudders*

anyways, it's nice to know that maybe future public idol relationships (without too much damage inflicted) are not that impossible anymore. Because the story of an elementary school teacher finds her class full of crying kids because junhyung and hara is dating is still leaving me deep scars.

Edited at 2012-11-12 07:59 pm (UTC)
luvey 12th-Nov-2012 07:43 pm (UTC)
I find the comment someone mentioned about IU and how her career is built around the "innocence. Kpop is an illusion, one that us usually closely guarded by the gate keepers. I wonder if that illusion wasn't a strong part of kpop if this would have been a "scandal" at all.

Overall interesting article. I do hope this is another crack in the door to open for idols to date openly without repercussions.

Although I disagree with the interpretation of SMe's statement. I found it more of a " whatever" over " what Loen said."

Edited at 2012-11-12 07:48 pm (UTC)
exo_cath 12th-Nov-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
'Although I disagree with the interpretation of SMe's statement. I found it more of a " whatever" over " what Loen said."'

muhnaplusmuhna 12th-Nov-2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
This is definitely food for thought, especially the parts about the other celebrities affected by recent scandals. I wonder if the extent of the correlation between image and public outcry(aka the crazy minority that manage to get on the news).

I honestly feel, like with everything else in life, people don't give a shit as long as any scandal doesn't acquire some moral investment from their personal experience.
lovelyxbeauty 12th-Nov-2012 08:05 pm (UTC)
I hope this doesn't effect IU, and that this article is right and this 'scandal' will fade.

And I also think it's funny how people take netizens comments serious and think that it's what Korea thinks of situations, I would be so embarrassed if someone read comments on ONTD or PerezHilton and thought everyone thought the same lol.
ginevragirl 12th-Nov-2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah I was talking to someone about that as they were getting pressed over netizen comments over B1A4, and I told them that it's like someone taking the top rated comments from AKP and saying that those comments represented the whole of the international fans' thoughts about said issue. It's a sampling of people, it in no way represents the whole of the country.
markthatcoin 12th-Nov-2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Very interesting read. There's a lot of bold but it's genuinely what I found most interesting as well.

"For international fans, it seems as if the Korean netizen reaction always plays a significant part in our understanding of the story" - this is very true, I always find myself wondering if my interest in a story is in any way aligned with what the netizens are thinking

staaan 12th-Nov-2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
a good article, but i don't fully agree with the theory that most netizens are only pressed about the scandal because "IU IS SUCH A FAKE GEE I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT LITTLE VIXEN HAD ME FOOLED". korean or not, i think for many it's just an excuse to rag on her for being a *~slut~*.
charlotterhys 12th-Nov-2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty new to the whole K-fandom thing, but is it just me or is it really just recently that people have calmed down a lot on ~scandals~? Because it definitely seems that there's just been a major shift in how K-Pop is treated in the last year or two from pre-2010, to a much more. Well. Sane isn't really the right term but less like the Wild Wild West of K-Pop you hear about in the DBSK days.

Mostly it just made me laugh at those "insider information" fanfiction pieces that run around English language fandom. I'm pretty sure any actual Korean person involved would have mentioned the whole Eunhyuk/IU thing if it was that relatively well known in Korea.
asnindie 12th-Nov-2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
I feel most fandoms these days are more self aware of how bad it'll look if they overreact so atleast some keep themselves in check and don't go crazy. But there's still crazy out there.
soramai 12th-Nov-2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
I read that the infamous picture was taken in 2010 on netizenbuzz. Idk how they know that but in 2010 she was 17...

the comment:

2. [+1,161, -142] The picture was taken in 2010 when she was in her second year of high school. Departing from whether or not they had sex, is it normal at that age for her to take a picture with a topless man while in her pajamas? As a minor? Shield what deserves to be shielded. Don't try to play the sympathy card. She's the one that dug her own grave.


Edited at 2012-11-12 08:35 pm (UTC)
niav 12th-Nov-2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
Every digital and mobile photograph is encoded with metadata detailing what kind of camera it was taken with, when it was taken, where it was taken (including gps coordinates - quite scary) and various other details. I'm assuming someone was able to access the metadata for the photograph IU uploaded, which would indeed tell them when it was taken.

Edited at 2012-11-12 09:18 pm (UTC)
the_erotomanic 12th-Nov-2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
sexism exists in korea. however you look at it from a culturalist or from a determinist standpoint, it exists.

international kpop fans may have overestimated korean netizens reaction to this "scandal."

this article fails to notice that eunhyuk was never criticized by the netizens. and how could they? he was just being a man for wanting to have sex with a girl like iu. it was iu that was criticized for having an image she wasn't able to uphold. and like the article says, those netizen comments unfairly criticize iu for the image concept and not her management company.

and what this article proves is that koreans are much more open to sex/idols having sex (with each other), but they are not beyond being sexist in this situation.
urbandrive 12th-Nov-2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
Eunhyuk received just as much criticism as IU.
asnindie 12th-Nov-2012 08:49 pm (UTC)
The backlash I expected was from her fanbase, I honestly feared her career would take a hit but I'm glad that most people seem not bothered. But can this article really claim there's no sexism when she's being named and shamed?

I do think some Intl Fans are abit delusional on how nasty K-netz are and as if they're a singularity. Idk about the American or other asians here but go on Digital Spy, a very popular UK entertainment Forum, and those guys make Korean Netizens look like Teletubbies in how mean people can be.

Edited at 2012-11-12 08:52 pm (UTC)
eastern_bloc 12th-Nov-2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
the article was insightful, but i won't pretend that i'm not a little disappointed at how boring this whole thing became -____-
soramai 12th-Nov-2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
lmao ^^

titre ou description
benihime99 12th-Nov-2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
this is gold
aifurikuri 12th-Nov-2012 10:02 pm (UTC)
The one thing I learned from this post.

"Eunhyuk is a real man that visits the sick not only topless but also by bringing his own sofa"

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