I have a friend who is a diehard fan of a Korean star. This young star’s name starts with Kim (no, not that frumpy dictator who is happy-go-a-killing) and ends with Hyun (yes, that's the one; although I think the other Kim looks cuter).
This rising meteoric star is in his twenties and my friend is in her forties. I have a secretary who shares the same mindless abandonment for this young Korean heartthrob. The craze doesn't stop there. Recently, a group of women in Hong Kong forked out about HK$10 million to invite him to an exclusive banquet with them. And I guess he has thousands of other female fans, young and old, who are totally into him. This heartthrob wields considerable social influence over his groupies. And it doesn't help that he has a pristine innocent look with mesmerizing eyes and a well-sculpted body to boot.
Now to do more “damage” to his X-factor, he is an actor who had starred in many juicy roles. In one of them, he played a country bumpkin who turned into a musical genius. In another, he played a young gang member of a cool heist team in an a la Ocean 13 fashion. His popularity skyrocketed with his recent serial foray as an alien professor in a period drama. He has also won many awards for his acting and his looks. And as if the gods have not done enough, he is also a model and a, well, out-of-tune singer (the fans would stone me for this). Finally, he is a much sought after entertainer who charges at least half a million dollars for a public appearance.
I personally have not seen any of his tv dramas or heard his songs. But I guess he has many male fans too. Unfortunately I am just not into the whole throwing-my-unwashed-undergarment-at-you kind of adoration. Still I am curious about such irresistible magnetism. And I am here trying my best to understand this social phenomenon. It is no doubt a phenomenon because the level of adulation he receives from his fans is beyond comprehension.
This is not some kind of affection one shows for his or her mother. It is not a love expressed between spouses. Neither is it the celebration a son receives from his family when he returns after a long overseas hiatus. Oh no, the adulation factor is much deeper, if not wilder. I would never expect a respected freedom fighter like Gandhi or Mandela or their equivalent to receive such an out-of-this-world reception. Consider the late Michael Jackson and how many of his fans fainted and cried with uncontrollable, fits-like excitement by the mere sight of him and you will roughly know where I am coming from.
After some thought, I have come up with three factors that I hope could explain this social phenomenon, and they are, social identity, youthful idealism and momentary escapism.
You see, no matter how enlightened we are, we can't escape the reality that we are social animals. By this, I mean that our lives are interdependent. We flourish via mutual interactions at all levels. We cannot live alone. We may very well go bananas living with a company of one. So, the animal in us craves for social connection. We desire to identify with someone, a group/tribe or a nation. This social identity is layered with family ties first to ethnic/race group to patriotism or loyalty to a particular ideology. For most of us, this craving for social affiliation seethes with quiet desperation.
I recall the time when I was young and I was all charged up in my Christian youth group. I could readily identify with them. We had a common goal, a shared faith and an undivided allegiance. We were as tight knit as the supercool Marvel heroes. When I transposed this desire for group cohesion to the adulation of Korean pop fans, I see the understandable parallel. There is an indescribable feeling of high when we get suck into the frenzy of common group idolization.
If an analogy helps, it is comparable to the convergence of many riverlets from all directions and backgrounds pouring into a common pool and the splash it makes when they rush together at one go is beyond exhilaration. So I should never underestimate the power (or insanity) of social identity which is able to dissolve even our own personality for the greater good (or frenzy) of the group.
The next factor is youthful idealism. Now this affect (or infects) everyone young and old and don't let the word "youthful" misdirect you. We are all young at heart, even for those whose hearts have aged considerably. We have our own ideals. Even for the seasoned amongst us, the disillusioned and the disabused, their ideals are no less pronounced. It is just less professed.
But for some of us, we may feel that our ship has sailed. And this feeling of resignation causes us to chase after the same ideals that are personified in others. This is where superstars come in. From a distance, these stars are idealism-galore. By this, I mean that they represent everything, if not most things, we are not. They are rich, famous and widely adored. They are good looking, multi-talented and seemingly good natured (until we get to live with them for a month of course).
So, it is hard not to like them. It is also hard not to secretly adore them. And since they are widely adulated by others, by diving into the same social pool, we somehow become hip, cool, hot, accepted, favored and appreciated by mere association. It is a kind of vicarious fame very much like riding on the coattails of a Halley’s comet. This is the time-tested us-vs-them mentality. This is also a marriage of convenience between the first factor of social identity and this second factor of youthful idealism.
Now, the last factor is momentary escapism. For this, I am turning the spotlight on ourselves, on our own lives. I call this the blight of everydayness. Most of us live a rut-like existence. The pre-set grooves are predictable. We wake up, doll up, work around the clock, meet deadlines, clock out, dress down and lights out. This is as routine a routine as it can ever be for most of us. And somewhere along the road, the monotony nags and gnaws at us like an old dog nibbling at desiccated bones.
So, many crave for an altered ego or a pseudo personality to escape into. We vicariously fantasize about another life or persona, mostly in direct opposite with our current unrelishing state. This existential longing propels us to scour the globe for a distraction. And the distraction that fits the bill to a tee is, yes you've guessed it, the pantheon of god-like superstars.
Of course, this distraction consists of both positive and negative influences (compare the stellar Mandela and the corrupt Mugabe or the timeless Buble and the misguided Bieber). Whoever the object of our adulation, with specific reference to young heartthrob, we will unavoidably steal some time and attention away to throw ourselves at the glittering altar of these stars. Somehow, such distraction and borrowed fantasy ignite in us a sense of aliveness, a feeling of wonderment, and a joy of unbridled escapism from our dreary reality.
Like the Lego song "Everything is Awesome", we secretly crave for such a bubbled, glamorous and self-elevating world that differs so much from our everyday existence. In the end, this escapism is a form of therapy for us and for some, a form of emotional recharging.
So after all is said here, as long as we do not pull to the extreme this affection we shower on the stars, I guess it is all done in the name of good fun and for de-stressing. And for some, we just want to feel young again. Personally, minus the wild screaming and the torpedoed undergarment, I find a little of this distraction healthy, if not infectiously mood-lifting. And I am sure it would be quite fun to live like a Korean pop star (or intellectual giants like Rowan Williams or Richard Dawkins, for my taste of course) for a day or two.
Being a social animal myself, I can understand why some of us go gaga over these beloved celebrities. And just like a dog chasing after its tail and salivating profusely when his owner comes home, we sometimes do the same when these stars strut their stuff on stage or croon a ballad on screen (or for me, renders a mind-blowing lecture behind the lectern). Cheerz
* Image taken from "seoulbeats.com."