Fanfiction has a long history. Fan-made writing has been around since the 18th century, although it was available in the format of retelling, or works that retell classic literature and folklore. Fanfiction began to gain popularity in the 1960s through the Star Trek fanzine, and was increasingly loved by the 90s and above.
Sub-genres continue to emerge along with the presence of sites such as FanFiction.net, Wattpad, Tumblr and Archive of Our Own, so that eventually fanfiction develops into stories that involve real people — not just fictional characters. Any fandom that exists in this world must produce fanfiction, not least in the K-Pop music scene.
Fanfiction where the main character is an artist is better known as “real person fiction” or RPF. The most popular types are of course hot and erotic stories. Fans imagine idols dating their characters, readers and even other artists. Their love may spring from a concert or an unwanted match.
Ana*, 19 years old, is a huge BTS fan. He diligently compiles video clips of boyband members, then edits them into “imagine” videos that have been affixed with fake subtitles. The audience is invited to imagine as if the idol is spending time with them or invites them to chat like lovers.
“I used to read fanfiction a lot when I was young. From the beginning [saya membuat video-video ini]I’m immediately addicted to making [fanfiksi] in a short film format that engages the audience in a way that has never been seen before,” the Spaniard told VICE.
In an 11-minute video, Jungkook seems to ask the audience to be his girlfriend. Most of the screenplays are romantic, telling how infatuated he is with the audience. However, that does not mean that all “imagine” works like Ana’s are pure fluff. Not a few writings and videos created by fans contain sexual elements.
Jungkook reappeared in Ana’s other edited video, this time he spent the night at the hotel with the audience. A black screen of lewd chatter in the subtitles appeared after the video showed a series of photos of Jungkook. Ana confirmed that she had no bad intentions when making this video.
“We all have fantasies, and fanfiction expresses it in the form of stories. This may sound toxic or subtle, but I think these videos can be really fun as long as you watch them with a healthy and realistic mindset,” he said.
Despite its popularity, the smut story is highly controversial among fans. For Ana’s like-minded people, this type of fanfiction is just fun, while other fans are against it vehemently because it is considered problematic.
“It feels weird and uncomfortable to read stories that sexualize real people. Imagine yourself in their shoes. How does it feel when you know thousands of people you don’t know are making erotic content about you?” said Nur Lutfiah, a Seventeen fan.
“It’s a bit inhumane when people put all their energy into writing sexual fantasies about artists whose work is not sexual at all and is mostly targeted at young people, especially minors. Idols go through years of intense training not to be fetishes,” LOONA fan Afiq Batiah argues.
In South Korea, the rejection of erotic fanfiction sparked a petition urging the president to take immediate action against the creators of real person slash. RPS is a fanfiction sub-genre that “ships” or matches same-sex idols. People who are petitioning are annoyed by the vulgar depiction in such content, especially since many are harassing underage idols. A number of idols have even voiced the same thing.
Many RPS stories contain violence and explicit scenes, such as rape and molestation. The problem becomes even more complicated because fanfiction is usually posted on a public site, so anyone can read it. The issue of fanfiction has divided South Korean fans into two camps. Some defended it in the name of free speech, while others argued there was content that could be unlawful for sexualizing real people and minors.
There are also those who think that efforts to ban all types of RPS — not just explicit ones — include sexist and anti-LGBTQ acts. The genre is most popular among women and the queer community, two groups who have historically been unable to explore their sexuality freely. They emphasized that not all RPS fanfiction genre, and not all RPS contains elements of pornography or violence.
Most of Ana’s videos, for example, are romantic. He believes fanfiction can be a means for readers to discover their sexuality, especially if they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. “Why is imagining a sexual scenario with an idol considered despicable, but it’s only natural that what is imagined is a crush?” he asked.
Dr. Tom Baudinette, a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, studies East Asian pop culture. Baudinette confirmed Ana’s statement that fanfiction provides a safe space for readers to find their true selves. They may be queer people, and fanfiction makes them realize there’s nothing out of the ordinary about them. There are people out there who enjoy romantic relationships with men or women.
However, he stressed the importance of distinguishing fans who create sexual content such as fanfiction from those who create deepfakes. The issue of fake porn videos has also hit the K-pop industry. The artist’s face is affixed to the body of a porn star, so that they look like they are doing an exciting scene.
“The problem of deepfake pornography is linked to a long-standing problem with women in the South Korean public sphere. […] Perverted men secretly take pictures of women in locker rooms or toilets. Then there is revenge porn, which is a serious problem in South Korea as well.”
According to him, the difference lies in the intention.
“Fanfiction — some romantic, some sexual — comes from a different space. Fanfiction arises from women exploring their sexuality, which has been controlled by society.”
Noelle*, 22 years old, specializes in making smuts involving members of her favorite groups, such as NCT, Monsta X and Pentagon. For him, fan-created content of a sexual nature only becomes a problem if it is uploaded to a platform that idols often use and displays their photos. “As long as the author doesn’t promote his work to certain K-Pop stars, I don’t think it’s going too far,” said Noelle.
Unlike fanfiction about fictional characters, the line that separates the real and imaginary worlds is more blurred in stories where the artist is the character. The culture of idolizing artists makes fans feel both close and distant from their favorite musician or celebrity.
“There are fans who treat [seleb K-Pop] like a character because they are hard to reach and we idolize them,” said Minh Tan, a 19-year-old BTS fan.
However, there are also those who believe that this is where the problem lies. The inability to distinguish between the real and the non-potentially leads to dangerous behavior in the real world.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the source.