Mini Note #1 - Parasocial reliance

“I wonder what it means for me to be relying on such young people for my joy and mental/emotional well-being away from my own stressful life?”

I often have bite sized thoughts I want to share with you, and completely forget to put them in a Google Doc or something for a future edition of Notes on K-pop. So going to try really short, quick fix edition of Notes. I’ll try not to spam you, don’t worry. Let me know if you like it, or to stfu Tamar! I appreciate all feedback, and appreciate you reading always.

TW: Suicide.

I keep going back to a very astute response Kirsten Han’s sent me after seeing a screenshot I shared recently, of an email to myself (how I often remind myself of ideas) that reads, “i wish people cared about living kpop stars as much as they did dead ones,” which I wrote after being bombarded with media requests after the tragic passing of ASTRO’s Moonbin.

Kirsten responded very thoughtfully to me privately after reading a previous edition of Notes on K-pop where I referenced this email, and gave me permission to share her contemplations on our emotional proximity with K-pop stars.

“That screenshot is really powerful. I’ve been thinking so much about how, for all the visibility and adulation and glamour, so many k-pop idols are children — either literal, or living some weird extended adolescence sort of thing because their lives and work haven’t allowed them to experience certain adulting milestones that so many of us go through. And then I think about all the millions of other kids who rely on them as a sort of coping mechanism or escape or ‘safe place’ from the stresses and pressures of their own lives, and it reminds me of something I read in Gabor Maté’s The Myth of Normal [Trauma, Illness, & Healing in a Toxic Culture] where he wrote about how it’s not a good thing that so many kids rely on their peers for emotional connection and growth and guidance, because kids are not equipped to provide emotional safety for other kids to grow and mature. That’s what adults should do, but there is such disconnect in our societies and communities now, and generations of trauma or anxiety or stress, that even adults are probably not very well equipped to really be there for kids, because we lacked that in our own lives.
NCT Dream on stage, looking at stuffed animals fans threw on stage. Crowd is full, featuring fans in attendance at a concert, holding up green NCT lightsticks. One lightstick is in the forefront of the picture.
Kirsten is a SKZOO lover and we frequently discuss how she engages with the stuffed toys inspired by the Stray Kids members. While talking with her about stuffies, I was reminded of a recent concert I saw, when NCT Dream - originally a teen-age only group, now aged up -- roamed the stage picking out stuffed animals and fluffy hats fans had thrown on stage, to wear while performing “Candy.” The show had featured them performing in very grown up ways ( Quiet Down and stuffed animals are quite a dichotomy!!!!), but this instance threw me back to my own thoughts on their youth and childhood in the entertainment industry. I keep thinking about that moment while Kirsten's thoughts run through my mind.

Which then leads me to think about my own position as an adult fan of K-pop groups where the idols are all quite significantly younger than me… the parasocial relationship is fun and a coping mechanism for me too, but then I wonder what it means for me to be relying on such young people for my joy and mental/emotional well-being away from my own stressful life? And a lot of fans talk about “protecting” their idols, but what does that mean in a concrete way? I see so many idols as kids and do feel protective in this “big sister” way (because so many of them are even younger than my actual little brother!) but what can I do from this distance and this remove to really support such young people in such a high-stress industry?

These are all things I’ve wondered about now and then, but really came to mind in a big way after hearing the news about Moonbin…” - Kirsten Han, Managing Editor of Mekong Review