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On Problematic Celebrities and What to Do When Your Fave Screws Up

There is no such thing as an “unproblematic favorite”. People – and the things we create – are informed by the world around us, and we can be exposed to some pretty problematic environments that are difficult to get out of. And if people, especially those we admire, keep making positive and negative decisions, then finding a mythical angel celebrity who never goes wrong doesn’t really matter in fandom. Rather, it unpacks our own answers. What do we do with the knowledge that someone who is in some way responsible for our fandom luck has been negligent or made a mistake, or was deliberately cruel or predatory?

Nobody wants to admit that they have previously or currently punished someone who is under fire for bad behavior – or even committed crimes. I get it. But on the internet the answer is often reflexive: delete the searches, pretend you did nothing wrong, attack whoever speaks up and position them as the real bad guy, an “adversary.” “Or someone who lies for reasons of power.

A current example of this fandom practice is the conviction of former BIGBANG member Seungri for crimes in connection with the Burning Sun nightclub scandal in 2019. While the case has been documented in national and international media, the backlash in particular of many of his non- Korean fans (not to mention the fans of the group as a whole) and relies heavily on misinformation and denial. “Immediately after the conviction, social media was full of posts alleging that Seungri was a victim of injustice and attempted to undermine the trial against him,” noted the South China Morning Post. “Many supporters, mostly non-Korean fans of Seungri, began wishing him the best of luck with four-leaf clover emojis, while also sharing posts asserting his innocence and claiming the trial was fake.”

As a former Seungri fan, I understand the desire to deny that any of my favorites may have committed crimes. However, it is this public attempt to cultivate the image of Seungri – one that is often accompanied by harassment from journalists covering the case and fandom translation reports – that takes away a defensive feel and turns it into actual harm. It shouldn’t need to be said, but we do say it: Take a break and think about your feelings before reinforcing bad behavior. And yet, that type of reaction is part of a larger pattern in various celebrity-centered fandoms, both for high-profile musicians and actors with massive PR teams, and for influencers, TikTokers, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers who are celebrity and massive are an audience … but almost no media training and supervision. (That’s why they have so many scandals.)

There is a habit of people being distracted when a creator or celebrity is exposed as a creep or screwing them up in any way that is harmful. One of the main ways they do this is by raising their own celebrity favorites through some version of “stan ____ for clear skin” or “see, if you were tanned _____ you wouldn’t have this problem because they are unproblematic.” are.” Sometimes they even drop lists of supposedly “unproblematic” creators in a particular fandom or genre, as if to say, “I could spot the bad person before you did … follow these good people instead.”

However, none of this works. When people respond to legitimate criticism of a celebrity – or news that a public figure has committed crimes or harmed others – with the response, “Follow that unproblematic person instead,” it obscures the fact that we don’t really know who the people are online. A public figure who shares too much on their YouTube channel may seem like one of your closest friends thanks to the magic of the parasocial relationship, but they are all functionally alien. We don’t know what they really are because we only see what they want to show us.

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