GFRIEND, Korea’s hidden camera problem and when fans cross the line
“Hidden camera glasses” started trending on Korean twitter earlier when a video emerged of Yerin from GFRIEND removing the glasses of a man at their fansign after suspecting they contained a camera. At around 40m 30s in the video you can see Yerin politely ask the fan about the glasses and then inspect them for herself.
Yerin’s face is very measured when talking to him but her expression clearly changes to anger, or at least annoyance, appearing to tell a staff member “Those were camera glasses”. SinB also looks obviously disgusted after a staff member explained the situation and another video of the same event shows Yuju appearing to warn other members of the group about the camera.
A fan installed a hidden camera on his glasses. Yerin told the fan took off his glasses bcs she feels suspicious. pic.twitter.com/VJIpckLLEm
— 쏘스뮤직 업데이트 (@Soumu_Updates) April 4, 2017
According to the Busan Ilbo, action was immediately taken to remove the fan from the event and the files were deleted on site while the event continued as planned.
A spokesperson said “Because action was taken to delete the video filmed by the relevant fan, this is not a situation worth becoming an issue.” They said the members were “very surprised but think it’s fortunate it did not become a big problem”.
Cameras at fansigns are everywhere. The reason this incident has become an issue is because every second of the members’ interactions with this man was documented by fans attending the fansign. That is something all idols understand as an essential part of their reciprocal relationship with fans and particularly influential fansites who often put in much of their time for free (and, in fact, often at their own expense) to promote the group. Fandom is often described as a “gift economy” meaning that it relies more on an ongoing reciprocal process of giving and receiving than the conventional transactional relationship between vendor and customer. This is often between fans (such as when fans at one show filming performances while other fans show their appreciation in comments and film other future performances) but can also be between fan and artist (as is the case at fansigns where fans buy albums and promote the group through fancams while idols give their attention to fans through one-on-one interactions).
But this reciprocity only functions properly when there is a sense of trust and respect between parties. This can be broken by idols attempting to exploit fans by, say, liking pictures of expensive watches on Instagram in the hope they will magically appear in time for their birthday or, more commonly, by just not showing their appreciation or recognition to fans for their efforts. But for idols, their biggest concern is often that fans respect their boundaries. While many groups rely on the good will and dedication of their fans to make their, in many cases measly, living, they should still be able to have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
It is not unreasonable for performers to expect their fans to make it clear when they are filming. A fansite camera clearly filming from a respectful distance is fine. A fan taking photos on exit from a broadcasting station is fine. A fan filming outside their house is NOT fine and a fan filming secretly without the idol’s knowledge or permission is definitely not fine.
Ensuring fans meet these reasonable expectations should be a priority for agencies which are ultimately responsible for their artists’ welfare but they have often failed on this front. Although staff in this situation dealt well with the situation and took the appropriate action the attitude shown in the company’s statement that “this is not a situation worth becoming an issue” is typical of a lassez-faire attitude to fans overstepping the line. It can be difficult to prevent specific rogue incidents from occurring but the culture of portraying idols as accessible to fans and a desire to keep dedicated fans on side at all costs can lead to an environment where unacceptable behaviour is tacitly accepted and downplayed.
This particular fan was never going to film anything explicit with his glasses but the incident highlights a larger issue that women face in Korea. Hidden cameras in public are a notorious problem with numerous incidents affecting women in all walks of life, even world class athletes like the national women’s swimming team who were filmed in their locker rooms on cameras allegedly installed by other swimmers on the national team. The police even have dedicated teams to look for these cameras in public places and signs in subway stations warn passengers that hidden camera filming is a crime. Despite that it remains a major problem and women in Seoul interviewed by the BBC last year said it even led them to change their behaviours – not wearing short skirts and checking for cameras in public toilets. Just the thought that someone could be filming you without consent leaves many women feeling understandably uncomfortable and unsafe.
Ultimately, there is always the question of how seriously this would have been taken had Yerin not decided to stick up for herself and her group members by confronting this fan. Her measured, cautious approach – smiling while clearly being uncomfortable – is immediately recognisable to any woman or girl who has ever dealt with someone, almost always a man, massively overstepping their boundaries (i.e. basically all of us). It often feels like a massive risk to stand up to someone like this because you have no idea how they will react. Thankfully in this case, he reacted non-aggressively and the staff were able to handle the situation appropriately.
I just hope he was suitably decimated by that withering glare from SinB on his way out the door.