A Serious Essay About Harassment, Cultural Mixing and Racism

Well, we’ve all been painfully online over the past few days. We know the situation about the overseas idol group being harassed and we’ve all seen take after take after take. We’re all tired but seemingly, the discussion just isn’t stopping. In the hateful maelstrom of internet give and takes, sometimes things only last a day but more fuel keeps being added to the fire, with a recent YouTube reaction channel inviting more people to belittle them after being doxxed.

Naturally, because idol fans are idol fans, we want to talk about idols. It’s easy to say “they just don’t get the culture”, which is true, there’s no magical barrier over the idea of “DIY groups singing and dancing over a backing track” and this isn’t something sacredly intrinsic to Japanese culture. In fact most people that aren’t idol otaku themselves think it’s a little cringe and weird. Of course we should all support each other, especially Sorb3t themselves, but keeping the discussion singularly on points such as “kpop fans just don’t get j-idol culture” or “anyone can be an idol” while posting our overseas favourites keeps the discussion away from the more sinister aspects. Not that harassment in itself isn’t already abhorrent and that you should stop hyping up the people you care about, spreading love is always encouraged, but there is more to it than just that. Fundamentally we have an entire generation of people raised on Stan Twitter who pervert progressive language to bully others and consider any sort of engaging with Asian culture outside of kpop fandom to be analogous to yellowface. Or, if they don’t think that, they use it as a weapon in order to spread vitriol about things outside of their comfort zone.

While Berry, the pink member, became the centre of the harassment campaign, that didn’t stop the other members from being targeted. Ashe, the red member, faced a lot of racism in the form of people trying to make her confirm her heritage to check to see if she was Japanese. Ridiculous accusations were thrown around like “their label is trying to make her seem ambiguous to make it acceptable for her to be a Japanese idol” or just outright racism, like accusing her of being “the wrong kind.” Kpop fans themselves and those who only experience sociology through Twitter have created a make-believe social dynamic where Asian women are only allowed to act and look a certain way, while throwing around buzzwords to police their behaviour and that, in the case of Ashe, her proximity to a white person suddenly invalidates her as an Asian woman. The experiences of Asian women are often ignored in discussions about harassment, and by soley focusing on the idea of idols and idol culture (again, the “just being attacked over not understanding fan culture” idea), it almost feels like a failure on the part of us discussing the harassment to not address it. Simultaneously, Asian women in these spaces are considered by one mob to be an example of how to engage with culture “correctly” and by another, that they’re “the wrong kind.” 

Part of where this racist harassment comes from is a fundamental misunderstanding of appropriation and the effect that Cool Japan has on cultural fetishism. The idea that, because Japanese culture is comodified and exoticised, that anyone engaging with it is fundamentally a cultural fetishist. The thing with this is the tautology of simply liking what you like because you like it is addressed in academia itself. Studies on how transcultural media, which jpop certainly is, influences and is influenced by the stereotypes of a country it’s exported to acknowledge this, they use it to help form an understanding of the world we live in. Research into appropriation and stereotypes acknowledge the diversity of viewpoints but curiously, people on Twitter have decided that the only people who engage with culture outside of their own are fetishising it. As a matter of fact, Susan J Napier’s “From Impressionism to Anime” quite literally discusses this and moves past it promptly on page 7; A book quite literally talking about the history of cultural stereotypes and how that influenced the formation of Western anime fandom acknowledges that not every eye looking at Japan is looking with the same eye as those that commit acts of harm. But to people on Twitter, TikTok and YouTube, they all have the same eyes and therefore Berry is a race fetishist and Ashe is subjected to a torrent of racial abuse.

Additionally, regarding some of the non-Japanese groups you might be more familiar with, they have also faced similar discriminatory comments, just not on the same scale as this. Nekiru were implied to not understand what they sing in their cover songs by certain people from Japan, and Korean nationalists have said some less than savoury things about Momoko (formerly of Frontier Sensation) for being a Japanese woman in a Korean group and acknowledging the Japanese influence on Korean live idols. Naturally the dynamic between Asian countries and their peoples is not the same as the dynamic between Asian countries and Western ones, but the thread in common is the rhetoric. Korea for Koreans, Japan for the Japanese. Nationalists think they’re progressive too, in the same way the people policing Ashe based on her heritage do.

In terms of fetishism, of course it’s good to ask oneself about how you’re engaging with something and why you’re doing it. Do you have a preconceived notion about a facet of another culture and why do you have it? Do you think it’s earnestly true even if you haven’t seen it firsthand? However, this kind of discussion isn’t happening. There’s no room for it when the bedrock of the last week has been doxxing, harassing, stalking, racism. At the end of the day, that discussion isn’t going to happen on the coattails of anything to do with Sorb3t. None of these people telling them to kill themselves actually have any idea if Berry and Alice are racist white women because unsurprisingly, enunciating a Japanese loan word the way you’re supposed to when you’re talking in Japanese isn’t a crime. You can speculate as to why she wants to have a call in Japanese or why overseas idols still do the calls in Japanese, but you aren’t going to find an answer because you don’t know her based off of some TikToks.

In short, the point of this quasi essay was to actually say something. Twitter isn’t a good medium for pragmatic discussion and the focus shouldn’t just be on idols and idol culture. We live in an age with growing nationalist rhetoric in every country, and as much as the generation after Tumblr’s yourfaveisproblematic try to insist that actually, theirs is the most progressive generation, it’s really not. You can’t repackage ethnonationalist talking points into progressivism, you can’t make a tongue in cheek joke about somebody who was just doxxed without adding to vitriol (sorry to everyone trying to ironically stan Berry or whatever) and you can’t tone police Asian women without being a gigantic racist. You won’t find an answer to problems here, just something to think about and a request.

Let’s all be fucking kind.

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