In years past, Koreans set dry paddies and fields ablaze on the night of Jeongwol Daeboreum, the first full moon of the lunar year. In doing so, it was said that the harmful rats and insects would be killed, the frozen ground would warm, and all previous misfortune would dissipate. As the fire died and the smoke cleared, the farmers would get to work once again, rejoicing in the more fertile ground.
As we survey the results of this most recent fire and reflect on so many others that we have seen in our time, it seems that we must choose between two options: The first is to eradicate anything deemed remotely harmful to the safety and good cheer of BTS and ARMY, wipe our hands of it, and busy ourselves with positive news in the hope that it buries all else. The second is to dirty our hands with the ashes and give an honest assessment of the previous crop and soil in order to allow for greater flourishing. This project is our assessment report that we share with you in hopes of achieving the latter.
Know Their Influence – and Yours
Kim Namjoon said that in his adolescence he had begun to feel like a ghost: unnoticed and unheard. He had one sanctuary, and that was music. (Washington Post, 2018 ; transcript) He wanted people to hear his stories, and for them to be presented in front of many people – to be for many people. (Dicon, 2018 ) Min Yoongi also found music to be an escape and wanted to create similarly healthy experiences for others. (Frankenberg, 2018 ). Of course, in the search to make their dreams a reality, they would join Big Hit Entertainment, meet each other, and band together with five others who would adopt the same goal. Eight years later, Min Yoongi, promoting under the name SUGA, sat at a press conference for the group’s most recent album, LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer,’ and confidently said, “we told our story, and the story of those who are of the same age.” (Kim, 2018 ; English translation)
From these two sentiments, we can sense how the group has grown. First, there has been a transition from the first-person singular to the first-person plural; it is not an individual telling their own story, but a unified group telling their story together. Second, there is a recognition that their stories and their lives do not exist in a vacuum; not only do they speak to their generation, they speak for their generation.
We travel with BTS on a journey to love ourselves, and in the growing security of this knowledge, they invite us to speak confidently about our convictions and to reach out to others who undoubtedly are walking the same path.
And so we ask that as much as you recognize the influence of BTS, that you also recognize your own, especially in a group of like-minded people – perhaps as a part of their active fandom, and certainly as a fellow human being who is just as capable of spreading a positive message.
So, with this in mind, we suggest two areas for you to consider – to know what is true, and to know what is just.
Know What is True
As fan translators, we are frightfully aware of the way in which news and opinions are consumed by fans through various platforms. We stand in the intersection of language and have to make deliberate choices every day, if not every minute, to choose what is correct over what is popular, what is wise over what is fun. We bear much of the responsibility – but it is not just ours.
Media outlets of various political leanings, with different interests, and with varying degrees of background knowledge describe the same situation differently. Information can be unintentionally or intentionally omitted, manipulated, and described to suit a particular angle. This, unfortunately, is not limited to the media coverage of recent events; it happens every day. Be patient, read critically, and research as you digest what you read. Ask, discuss, and strategically interact with the media.
Be Willing to Learn
As much as we want BTS to stay out of politics, music is, to some extent, inherently political. The members of BTS have been showing their socioeconomic and political awareness and sending their own messages through music since their debut. In addition, their recent, unprecedented global success, coupled with the fact that they are unapologetically Korean, has led the group to become entangled in political and diplomatic situations. It is our responsibility to build a full understanding of the political, historical, and cultural background and climate rather than unquestioningly absorbing superficial and potentially biased presentations of the story.
It is our wish that this not be a short-term damage control strategy, but a long-term goal that we all carry as we move forward. Living in a time when information is more rampant and easily accessible than ever, we encourage you to take advantage of resources1 that are readily available. Reading articles and books on history, watching documentaries or docudrama videos and movies, and visiting historical sites and museums can be done individually and independently. We want you to understand the value of learning history. This is not just to learn the history of Korea and its geopolitical environment, but to refuse to selectively remember the history of all the defeated, the colonized, and the exploited.
Know What is Just
A representative from Nihon Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations), when asked about the meeting with a representative from Big Hit, said that the organization delivered its wish to rightly promote the knowledge of atomic bombings and to continue to communicate with the company (Hong, 2018 ). Two days later, the Korean Atomic Bomb Victims Association released a statement2 (Lee, 2018 ; English translation) in response to Big Hit’s apology.
“In consideration of the above, we the victims of the atomic bomb understand and empathize with BTS, which has been under fire from multiple sides, and we humbly accept Big Hit’s apology. For a moment we would like to set aside the perspective that the atomic bombs liberated Korea from Japanese colonialism, and instead wish for everyone to reflect on the inhumanity of dropping nuclear weapons on Japan, at that time already a nation on the verge of defeat, for the purposes of experimentation which indiscriminately killed not only humans but all life forms in its path.”
Humbled by the responses of atomic bombing victims of Korea and Japan, we wish that ARMYs as a collective can take this opportunity to remind ourselves of the values we share – empathy, nonviolence, and peace. We hope that we can put aside politics and empathize with the victims of violence of all forms, stand with them, and raise our voice against violence of all forms as we move forward.
This is much in line with BTS’ LOVE MYSELF campaign, which promotes UNICEF’s #ENDviolence campaign. BTS’ message of eradicating violence carries serious implications. We need to recognize that the distinctions between the subject and object through the use of “you” and “me” have brought forth prejudice and division, and become a source of prevalent conflict. And we need to understand that the only way to fix this is to realise that “you” and “I” are the same; to empathise, and to experience this love (Park, 2018 ; English translation).
Our heart goes out to the Japanese fans, for the shock they must have experienced and the resulting discourse that must have been difficult for them to bear. We thank them for showing their unwavering love and support in this difficult time.
We thank the Korean fans for standing their ground in the middle of emotional turmoil, for patiently teaching other fans about the historical and geopolitical context, and for rationally reacting to and interacting with the media.
We also thank all the international fans. We appreciate their willingness and desire to learn and understand, their endeavors to correct false information, and their efforts to spread positivity.
Lastly, we extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has offered their time, wisdom, knowledge, skills, and love to this project.
Like all trials of life, the past three weeks have exhausted many of us in mind and spirit. However, like most trials of life, the recent events also presented us with an opportunity to learn. To learn to doubt, question, and wait. To learn to communicate wisely and lovingly. To learn to consider, understand, and empathize.
Above all, we were extended the opportunity to stand up for the values we believe in, and to stand with the victims of violence.
From this trial, we find hope.