Update, September 2013: My original commentary on this article became outdated, so I’ve since removed it. Instead, please see here, here, here, and here for more on the controversial “uncle” or “ajosshi” fandom of teen girl-group members, and here for more on why middle-aged women came to dominate soccer fandom back in 2002 — an important precursor to their fandom of pop stars and actors described here.
Middle-aged People are Head Over Heels about Young Idols
Fan Culture is Changing
#1. Mr. Kim (46), a department manager of a medium-sized business, knows the names and personalities of all 9 members of Girls’ Generation. He thinks that the Wondergirls and 2NE1 do not even come close in terms of purity and class. He dismisses accusations of having a Lolita complex, and says that watching the girls of Girls’ Generation, who are about the same age as his daughter, give him a feeling of life and vitality.
#2. Film company CEO Mrs. Kim (39), suffered severe depression after her movie did extremely badly 2 years ago. But she was able to recover because of her interest in male idol groups, and when she analyzes the charms of members of 2PM, or discusses the potential for the new group MBLAQ, she is indistinguishable from an expert in the music industry. Her dream is to make a movie like Attack on the Pin-up Boys (2007) that Super Junior starred in.
Middle-aged People Are Actively Participating in Fan Clubs
As the name implies, “older brother” fan club members used to be mainly teenagers, but this is no longer the case. But as active consumers of culture, middle-aged women passionate about flower men‘ and middle-aged men heavily into girl groups are actively changing fan culture.
For instance, on flower man Lee Min-ho’s fan club “Dave,” there is an “older sister” section for 30-50 year old women to exchange information about their star, and when there are fan meetings with him they make up over 80% of the audience. And whenever SS501 [James: if you don’t want to show your age, say “double-ess” rather than “ess-ess”!)] have a concert in Korea or attend some event in their region, their middle-aged female fans prepare packed lunches with healthy foods such as red ginseng for them.
And whenever there is an event featuring Rain, his middle-aged female fans call the media and request favorable coverage. Before the release of his first Hollywood movie Ninja Assassin (2009), they even delivered rice-cakes to them, a symbol of good luck for a new venture.
Indeed, it has become quite normal for there to be fan clubs that only allow those older than the flower men themselves to join. And this is true for male-only fan clubs for female idols too. In the Girls’ Generation’s “Girls’ Generation’s Party” and the Wondergirls’ “Wonderful” fan clubs for instance, middle-aged men have regular virtual meetings where they exchange opinions about how the groups can progress and thoroughly how they can celebrate group anniversaries and birthdays and so on.
A New Fan Culture is Actively Forming
Many people have dim views of middle-aged men and women who don’t act their age, dismissing them as merely chasing after their lost youth. But an alternate view is that this demographic shift in membership is an inevitable change.
Professor Tak Hyeon-min, on sabbatical in the Cultural Contents Department of Hanyang University, said “People of the 386 Generation, who have finally established their own unique culture, are used to actively absorbing new things,” and that “from their 20s until now, they have demonstrated that they are the biggest consumers and purchasers of cultural products.”
Also, “members of this generation are stuck with heavy family, home, and/or social responsibilities, so as a means of escapism and renewing themselves, they have created a middle-aged fandom in a sense, fundamentally changing Korean fan-club culture in the process.” (end)
21 thoughts on “Lusting After Teenagers…or the Maturing of Women’s Fan Culture?”
As someone who is involved in International fandom I can say that the trend is there too for older fans (I am in my 30’s myself). Older fans even in the west seem to maintain a much better grip on behaving appropriately, and also are a demographic that often has a really good earning power to support the fandom with buyng CDs, DVDS and merchandise. We tend to know as well when the companies are just trying to fleece the fans with the sheer volume of releases and goods.
As a side note, a lot ot my Korean friends, in fact the vast majority, are in their 20’s which matches my own outlook on life. Koreans I know in their 30’s are all looking for husbands very keenly and wouldn’t be following a fandom.
Thanks for adding that: the spending power of 30-somethings was something I remembered while writing – related, the average gamer is now 30 – but forgot to add.
I confess, I’m a little loose with the age group I’m talking about specifically, so for the record it’s married 30-somethings that I’m focusing in the last third of the post especially. After all, as many authors on Korean feminism have noted, it’s primarily within marriage and/or the restricted career opportunities available to women upon marriage and especially upon having children that many Korean women have a reality check and/or feminist awakening so to speak.
Maybe this also has something to do with the lack of diversity among K-pop acts? I mean, how many “old” K-pop singers can you think of? And by “old” I’m thinking of Ivy (my age, I think) and Lee Hyori, and I guess Chae-yeon, too, but she’s not popular. Jewelry, too, and they’re “old” b/c they’re in their 20s. But all the big ones are teenagers: 2ne1, Kara, SNSD, etc. Add to that, too, that college students and 30somethings here have the same tastes in music as middle school students.
This is off-topic, a little, and maybe out of your zone, but what do you make of the middle-aged women who, in the US at least, who give the teenaged stars of the Twilight movies the Yonsama treatment? I saw one of those parody motivational posters that said something like “if these were middle-aged men and the were teenaged girls, they’d be arrested.”
The Twilight craze stems from a huge Vampire craze right now in the states. I think it is a good pick up and comparison though about Twilight. I feel women would fawn over those stars if they were older than they were, just due to the obsession currently with Vamps. I work with a 40 year old who has posters and calenders in her work spaces about Twilight. My sister, who is 30, went and saw New Moon on opening night with friends and a big portion of that crowd is past their teenage years. I have my own theories as to why there is such an obsession but that’s not the point of this conversation. It’s kinda ridiculous how huge the sensation has become though.
yeah – don’t get me started on how much is wrong with all that Twilight. I have friends who should know me better trying to make me read thsoe books saying how i would love romantic things like this. Even after i proclaimed my disdain fro Dan Brown they still try and convince me its the best book ever. *face palm*.
Brian – Good point: although I suspect men’s fan clubs for singers etc. will always overwhelmingly be for young ones, which again points to a sexual element to their interest, it’s not like there’s a wealth of famous 30+ singers to choose from in Korea.
I haven’t been following the whole Twilight thing in the US, other than to note in passing an hilarious but piercing video critique of how it glamorizes and condones stalking (on a post about the same in Korea), so I had no idea how popular it was among middle-aged women. Don’t worry about it being off-topic – the post topic looks less unique to Korea than I thought – and please feel free to elaborate on your theories Joey.
Saharial – don’t have too much to add to that sorry, although I too think Dan Brown is vastly overrated. Angels and Demons was the first and last book of his I’ll ever read, and while I admit it was a page-turner (I devoured it one afternoon), I skipped over all the discussions about religion and science, which were very much high-school stuff for your average arts student.
Well, the Vampire obsession has changed over the years. Once it was a thing of horror to most on the surface, but if one read’s Dracula below the surface it goes a bit deeper. For that time the act of biting was quiet sexual, the exchange of fluids, placement of the bite and how the female characters are so helpless to the men in the novel itself.
Now they have became romanticized, starting with Anne Rice and her series. Louis, Lestat, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Somewhere in that mess was the transition from Dracula to Twilight. You also have TrueBlood, but I think that is a whole different league but that might do with the Production of HBO.
Vampires are classic bad boy meeting the fantasy. They have power, youth and sexuality that has been with them since their inception. I think the reality and fantasy standards of what women want [or I should say, what I perceive them to want, or at least those watching these movies, it’s my opinion don’t get offended ;-)] are just melding even more so. It’s just guilty pleasures rising to an obsession. The sparkle and mystique of the Twilight vampire is very attractive. Twilight is a little too emo for me. I saw the first movie and liked the first 40 minutes of it and then just found it quite hackey and terrible thereafter. I will probably not see New Moon anytime soon. My own theory is anything new, and is maybe even sexist, but I have to go with what I see with my own two eyes. We have taken something deep and made it a nice little sparkling package. Buy it up ladies, Eclipse is coming out this summer.
I meant to say my own take is NOT anything but new…gotta start proof reading these a little better.
interesting and thought-provoking as usual. saharial raises a very essential point regarding Western fans. most other K-pop fans i know are in their late teen years or early twenties. i also know a few in their 30s and 40s some of whom do behave inappropriately (for example by flying to Seoul in search for their favourite male idols).
w/r/t Twilight, i have kept my distance from everything Twilight-related though i enjoy TrueBlood.
and James, i called SS501, ‘ess-ess 501’…and i’m supposed to be a fan.
“When living at home forces young Koreans to keep their sexual encounters a secret”
I’m sick and tired of your infantile one-liners hardyandtiny. All your “comments” will be moderated from now on.
what completely confuses me about kpop girl groups these days is how they are in this strange netherland of sexuality! just like twilight! these girl groups are so obviously very sexual! it’s so interesting how they are marketed in a way that lets each age group get what they want. 10’s get a role model/sexy idol. 20’s get a friend. 30’s get to fulfill their fantasies. in the end, it all works out because these girls are very young and have yet to be categorized.
i’m surprised to find that 30 something married women lead these idol fan clubs, but i’m also not surprised when i think about the societal context. korean women seem to love taking care of their boys… sometimes i see it occurring so vigorously i get a feeling that these married and/or 30+ women have this deep certainty that the young males will fulfill them as people… what i want to know the most is… does it? how often? and in what ways??????
Western men are probably just as interested physically in young female entertainers as Korean men although they simply ogle images of the girls and do not join online fan clubs. Korean women’s interest in young male entertainers is not shared by North American women. The reasons for the difference invite speculation. Do Korean women find middle-aged men sexually unappealing? Older female/younger male relationships are still uncommon in Korea. Is it a forbidden fruit thing?
Looking at the photo of three members of SNSD, I can believe that some men may have a platonic big brother interest. Only the tall woman on the left is actually attractive. The middle one is cute in a girlish sort of way, and the one on the right…
“that relationships between 30-something women and 20-something women have become popular in Korean cinema”
Is there a typo in there? Or is it that said relationships doesn’t mean a romantic one?
I am a new reader and I’ve been reading your blog for days! It’s so interesting! I’m a little disappointed by the numbers of links that don’t work anymore but I understand that you can’t maintain a big blog like that.
I would have like to find you sooner! ^.^
Thanks for the compliment, and sorry for the confusion: I do mean romantic relationships.
Sorry also that most of the links don’t work. Frankly, I didn’t really take this blog very seriously until just a few months before this post was written, and my writing ability and the topics often reflected that. So, I’ve since deleted 100s of posts from 2007-2009!
Oh that’s a shame! I’m sure that these posts would have been a pleasure to read!
I really like the way you write but what I like the most are your ideas and your opinions, I feel like it matches with my own. ^.^
About the movies with lesbian relationships, I was unaware of their existence, and I’m really surprised.
Thank you for your answer!
Could you be a little more specific please?