What the Kpop Digital Sex Scandal Reveals to Us

The scandal is more than a simple warning that there are perverts in the industry— it’s a reflection of the deeply entrenched culture of toxic masculinity in South Korea.

For the past few weeks, scandal after scandal in the Kpop industry has thrown an ugly picture of its inner workings in front of thousands. The controversy started gaining momentum with Burning Sun, a popular nightclub owned by Seungri, a member of one of K-pop’s earliest icons Big Bang. In November, a CCTV footage showing a woman being violently pulled away and assaulted by club guards and the police was revealed.

Little did the public know, at the time, that the footage was merely a small tip of a mammoth iceberg: beneath it hid years of un-investigated drug trafficking, tax evasion, prostitution, rape, and pornography distribution. Since this first scandal, major K-Pop idols including Jung Joon-Young and Roy Kim have been accused of belonging to a group chat in which members shared sexual videos of women filmed without consent, leading to an outpour of public apologies and early retirement.

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If you think voyeurism is a newly emerging phenomenon, it’s not. Last year, about 1,600 people were secretly filmed in Korean motel rooms and live-streamed online. Seoul’s public toilets are still plagued with illegal spy cameras that are concealed in the holes of bathroom stalls. What’s most concerning is the overwhelming speed at which hidden pornography spreads; the transmission process is facilitated through forums and websites, namely SoraNet, that are dedicated to uploading illegal upskirting videos, spy camera footage, and revenge porn. Most victims are unaware of such recordings until months or years after the first upload, and in the face of an entire empire that helps the industry flourish, feel too defeated to take legal action.

Recently, Seungri has made a statement about the allegations.

“I admit all my crimes.  I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social network chat room, and acted without feeling any sense of guilt doing so.”

A key phrase deserves our attention here: “acted without feeling any sense of guilt.” His numbness to the inappropriateness of his actions is not necessarily an indicator that he is psychopathic, but rather a byproduct of a culture that taught him to condone sexual exploitation of women and ignore the importance of consent.

The scandal is more than a simple warning that there are perverts in the industry— it’s a reflection of the deeply entrenched culture of toxic masculinity in South Korea: “the idea that the male role involves violence, dominance, and devaluing women.” Whether it’s from the longstanding Confucianist mantra that explicitly supports male dominance, K-Pop lyrics and music videos that normalize the sexual objectification of women, or high school culture that encourages boys to label anything slightly feminine as ‘gay,’ it is no secret that society breeds a dangerously wrongful understanding of what it means to be masculine.

What does all this have to do with the digital sex scandal? Lots. On the most basic level, voyeurism is grounded in the notion that women are closer to objects than humans- vehicles of pleasure rather than people with dignity. And why wouldn’t male celebrities think this when misogynistic lyrics are embedded in the most popular hip-hop tunes? When two-thirds of female idols are pressured by abusive agents to have sex to further their careers? When entertainment companies bind female singers by stringent contracts that dictate every inch of their movement because they are supposed to be ‘role models’ for the youth within their gender role: dainty, dumb, and sexually attractive?

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Take Irene from Red Velvet. In 2018, many fans launched vitriolic criticism against her for reading a feminist novel, Ji Young: Born 1982 (82년생 김지영). Son Na-Eun from Apink was no exception when she was found sporting a phone case that read “Girls can do anything.” Even when one takes into account that feminism does not have a positive reputation in Korea, it is absurd to think that people were so emotionally invested into one woman’s choice of literature or accessory that they felt a legitimate need to burn pictures of her. Would this have happened to an ordinary female? Possibly, but it is undeniable that male fans’ expectations fueled the fire. It was not only a general distaste for feminism that triggered their anger, but the fact that these idols broke out of their “pretty girl that exists to please you” stereotype and began to demonstrate signs of independent thought.

Whether or not it is a result of K-pop’s pervasive influence in society, this culture persists outside of the industry as well. The uncomfortable truth is that Jung Joon-Young’s group chat is not the only one of its kind: there exist several chatrooms with the same nature in schools, workplaces- our very own community. The sexist, careless, and demeaning rhetoric we heard is not exclusive to these K-pop giants: we hear it in our locker rooms, classrooms, and hallways. Non-consensual filming is not unique to Burning Sun: spy cameras are hidden in thousands of other bathrooms in the streets we roam every day. When a controversy involving high-profile celebrities gives the illusion that the issue is distant, it is critical to notice that the same strands of misogyny are present around us. Yes, massive top-down change in the entertainment industry is imperative, but perhaps we should start by holding those around us accountable and finding hidden traces of toxic masculinity within ourselves.

– Janie Do (‘20)

We Are Not the Enemy of the People

The Press doesn’t exist to be positive or to be liked. To shield our school from dissent, from questioning the status quo, from going against the orthodoxy for the sake of deterring negativity violates the very core of our purpose.

Chris Park is the former Editor in Chief of Blueprint. -Ed.

There is a global erosion of the understanding in the role of the press. We are the daily targets of Twitter rants by the President of the United States. He calls us the “enemy of the people,” a line autocrats around the world are too eager to echo—the same thugs who aren’t afraid to detain and murder journalists.

Over the past 10 years, 700 journalists have been killed. One of them was Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post who wrote scathing articles about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Saudi government assassinated him and dismembered his body last October.

We are the Press.

We exercise and defend the first right of the People guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. Our job isn’t to be liked or deliver feel-good news. We serve as the final line of defense in the corroded state of our democracy, holding in public spotlight every decision an elected body makes.

And that sacred duty starts with us here at our school. Perhaps it’s a bit conceited to fuse together principle so grandiose like the freedom of the press with a mere student newspaper. But even something one might consider trivial, such as student body election, is a microcosm of the larger democratic experiment that warrants a free press. With it should come the protection for the Press.

The piece published by Blueprint a couple of days ago laid out what the editorialist believed was missing from this year’s Student Council elections: a focus on issues. It never denigrated the hard work done by the student leaders in the past. The writer agreed that, in part, elections are a popularity contest: outreach efforts, be it through slogans, social media presence, or face paints, are important.  But it shouldn’t be the only part of it. An election is an application for the job, albeit more public than one we typically encounter.

Blueprint rarely publishes anonymous Op-Ed pieces, as one Facebook commenter noted. But we believed that publishing the article anonymously was the only way to deliver this important perspective to the school community, especially witnessing the level of vitriol in numerous personal attacks and threats made since. The original piece has now been updated, reflecting the authorship. We now ask for your discretion.

Since the publication of the article, a number of people have reached out to Blueprint thanking the writer for voicing a necessary perspective. As opposed to critics of the article who freely expressed their opinions on public and private media (and they have full rights to do so), supporters felt the need to keep their opinion hidden from the student body. We have a climate where free speech and expression are implicitly oppressed by the fear of blind criticism, and where students are so quick to dismiss opposing views that some were taking sides without even reading the article. This is an eerie reflection of the harshly polarized state of the current political climate, both in the United States and Korea, calling to mind how Republican commenters are treated on New Yorker articles or, conversely, Democrats on the Washington Times.

We take no position on whether the writer’s perspective was true, but we do take the position that it was a perspective and merits publication. It has turned out to be an important perspective, at that—evoking critical thought, debate, and discussion throughout the student body, perhaps inviting more intellectual engagement with the significance of student council elections than ever.

Regardless of which side of the debate you were on, the vast majority of the responses showed that our school was a community driven by passion. Democracy is a messy experiment, one full of vociferous and quarrelsome individuals unafraid to voice their opinions. And politics, at any level, can be awfully personal. Its results can determine our financial security or immigration status. Sometimes, as it was in this election, it’s our friend and family bravely taking on the challenge to run. It might seem unfair to have an “October-surprise” article ruthlessly excoriate those we are close to, but we need a place to have a frank and open discussion about the state our politics, no matter how personal.

A free press is an agent to drive that debate. We, of everyone, want a vibrant discussion on issues we bring forward and welcomed the comments and opinions shared since that article went online.

We, however, were disturbed by those who disputed our right to express, to question, and to publish, harassed our writers, and dismissed our work to simply be a desperate cry for attention. They are the very culprits in the global assault against a free press and are no better than the violent mass who assault journalists at Trump rallies.

Again, the Press does not exist to be positive or to be liked. To shield our school from dissent, from questioning the status quo, from going against the orthodoxy for the sake of deterring negativity violates the very core of our purpose. Blueprint, as the only student-run newspaper at KIS, should and will continue to diligently carry out our duty to the People.

We stand by our decision to publish the controversial piece a couple of days ago. Not because we necessarily agree with the piece, but because, we, as a school, need to maintain the integrity of the Press.

Featured Image: Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Jennie Yeom (‘20) and Hope Yoon (‘19) contributed to this article. Jennie Yeom is the current Editor in Chief. Hope Yoon is a former Editor.

The Fundamental Problem with Student Council Elections

When we vote for a candidate’s name instead of his or her skills in this fashion, our election is really no better than the half-baked candidacy of “Make America Great Again,” one driven entirely by personal popularity, professing vague promises that even supporters themselves cannot define.

The Blueprint Editorial Board encourages candidates to demonstrate that the StuCo elections are actually more than what many people believe it to be.

This article has been revised to reflect its authorship and input from readers.

The election to decide the direction of our student body is tomorrow, but we know very little about the candidates running aside from their catchy slogans. That’s it. Apparently, the only thing to know about almost every candidate is who can write the best catchphrase. But who cares? Tomorrow’s election will entirely depend on how popular someone is.

Admittedly, voter outreach using campaign posters around the school and on social media is a useful tool. It helps candidates publicize their candidacy and draw attention to their individual campaigns. However, what most candidates fail to understand is that witty posters are not the only, nor the most important, part of a campaign to lead this school; posters should merely be a means to an end. (An exception to what I just said is in the race for the Creative Director position, where a good poster shows off creative ability and is therefore both important and effective. But I digress.) Many have solely relied on their campaign posters as an instrument of campaigning, and only three—out of twelve—candidates so far have publicized their qualifications, plans for the future, and/or vision for the school and the school body.

The use of campaign posters without the other hallmarks of campaigning — clarification of platform positions, community outreach, debates, etc. — is a recent trend that hints at something more alarming: that most of these candidates are confident that they will win solely by virtue of their popularity. As trivial as this might seem — “Who cares if this election is a popularity contest? They’ll still do their jobs!” — it’s important to recognize that, for most KIS students, this is the first time we will be voting, one of our first experiences with the democratic process. That this entire election seems mostly based on popularity doesn’t really encourage real political engagement.

The unspoken rule of elections states that voters should vote for the candidates who present the best plans, goals, and/or qualifications. Why, then, aren’t we learning more about these candidates? Why haven’t there been more rigorous discussions about goals and plans for how to achieve them? I suspect candidates don’t often worry about engaging in a political process due to their confidence in their voters/friends. They know that a sizable portion of the student body will vote for them unconditionally despite the fact that they have no idea why the candidate should win. Why should they push to be more thoroughly vetted?

Because it matters to the integrity of our student government. When we vote for a candidate’s name instead of his or her skills, our election is really no better than the one that promised to “Make America Great Again,” which was driven entirely by personal popularity and vague promises that even supporters themselves could not define.

Of course, I must acknowledge that many of the candidates have included something of substance in their posters. I applaud that effort. But many of those statements are rather vague and noncommittal; most are merely campaign slogans, one-liners that are supposed to capture the essence of a candidacy that is so much more than one line. Taken together, all of this leads to a lack of faith in the StuCo elections.

That we have a serious problem here is evident when people pass off running since they are “not going to win anyway.” While some might dismiss this as mere apathy, it actually reveals the darker truth that we perceive the election as a popularity contest, and this attitude brings immeasurable harm to our school and our conception of democracy, affecting our civic participation down the line. Too many people in the past have attempted to run for Student Council positions and put immense amounts of time and effort into campaigning just to be beaten by someone more popular than them. It seems that we, as a student body, have grown to accept that no amount of qualifications or careful planning can beat popularity.

I encourage the candidates to engage with the political process and demonstrate that the StuCo elections are actually more than what many people believe it to be.

– William Cho (’21)