Korean idolgroup Big Bang's fans, who dub themselves as VIP, in the Soundfest outdoor music festival held in Ho Chi Minh City on April 14, 2012
K-pop lovers boycott exam question that criticizes their infatuation with celebrity idols and one netizen stirs controversy by claiming that fans' ties to pop stars are more important than family bonds
Throngs of Vietnamese students refused to answer a question on this year's university entrance examinations because of its implicit criticism of the local youth's infatuation with pop-idol culture and celebrity worship.
A question on the literature exam asks them to argue that infatuation with celebrity idols is a problem, and scores of students have not only boycotted the question, they've started an angry opposition movement to the sentiment via online forums and social networking websites.
Resistance to the question found a loud voice in 18-year-old student Le Minh Ho's open letter to the Ministry of Education and Training, which demands an official apology from the authority to local K-pop fans.
"Since the day I first learned about Suju [the nickname of Korean pop boyband Super Juniors], I knew that I was born to belong to them and would die the same way," the letter posted on voz.vn said.
"No matter how modest I am, I cannot ignore the fact that Suju is the sunlight that awakens and supports us. They are the gods that bring happiness and smiles to human beings."
Ho also went as far as to threaten that "Vietnam might be flooded with blood and tears if an apology is not offered."
Many fans like Ho have chosen to skip that question rather than betray their idols. They have created a page on facebook that has become a hub for those who reject the question.
Prior to the university exam sensation, a frenzied but highly popular online forum posting by a girl nicknamed binhminhden also shocked the public for its criticism of what are considered traditional Vietnamese family values.
"The love for Suju is higher than any mundane affection, including blood ties. The blood ties are nothing at all," she wrote.
"When we are young, we mooch off our parents. And when our parents were young, of course, they also mooched off our grandparents. In fact, this relationship is just a kind of parasitic and mercenary relationship from generation to generation, neither more nor less."
Ho and binhminhden are just two most controversial recent examples of local Vietnamese youth's infatuation with Korean pop idol groups, an important part of Hallyu, a term that Chinese journalists coined to emphasize the rapid growth of Korean culture in China in the 90s through movies, music and food. The word now refers to the spread of Korean culture across the globe.
THE HULLABALOO ABOUT HALLYU
The international conference "Understanding Korean Cultural Wave (Hallyu) in Asia" reviewed the history of Hallyu, beginning with when Korean entertainment first became popular abroad in the 1990s.
According to Dr Kim Myeong Hee from Dong-eui University, Hallyu's development can be divided into three stages. The first country that Hallyu reached was China in 1990. The term "Hallyu" was born at that time to distinguish it from Hangryu, which refers to the huge regional impact Hong Kong drama series had in their heyday.
2000 is considered the peak of Hallyu's second stage when it "attacked" other neighboring countries like Japan, Singapore and Thailand. It also began to reach Africa, the Middle East Asia and America. This second stage was when South Korea began presenting its traditional cuisine to the world through the hit series "Dae Jang Geum Jewel in the Palace," which aired in 2003.
Since 2005, Hallyu, now called the new Hallyu, is regarded as faltering in influence. However, Vietnamese youth are seemingly more addicted to K-pop now than they were to K-drama in the first and second stages. Hallyu has also expanded its influence into the tourism, fashion, cosmetic, cell-phone and household products sectors.
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Luu Thuy Trang, a Vietnamese citizen who has spent four years studying in Korea, said that the teenage admiration for Korean music groups and pop stars is a form of expression that has taken hold across Asia, not just Vietnam.
"The teenagers, who are similar to me a few years ago, seem to have found themselves in the ubiquitous shaking, crying and screaming at their idols' events. It is part of youth and nothing about it is abnormal," Trang told Vietweek.
"It was the love for Korean culture that pushed me to try to learn Korean and find a scholarship in the country."
However, Trang said that the rapture for K-idols should have limits and that many teenagers have been going overboard recently, such as when fans tried to rush the stage and many passed out and had to be hospitalized at a performance by Korean boy band Big Bang in Ho Chi Minh City a few months ago.
"The admiration is not bad, but do not let it spoil your life," she said.
But she's still reluctant to judge the K-fans, and instead questions those who would prohibit or censor culture and art.
"It is easy for teenagers to lose their self control and it is the responsibility of their families to pull them back. But I think forbiddance is useless in this case. It just makes the youth more resistive. It is also useless just to sit and find faults in what the teenagers do with their idols. How about [the critics] just talk to a fan and find out the reasons for their actions?"
Nguyen Huyen Chau, an analyst at the Youth of State Capital Investment Corporation, said that Hallyu worship is similar to American pop culture worship in Vietnam and across the globe.
"The eye-catching and talented idols are just what we can see with our eyes, but K-pop culture does more than that," she said.
"According to some documents that I read online, K-pop idols undergo harsh training from acting to languages to make the best connection with their fans and promote their career beyond the border. They also absorb and select the appropriate lifestyle and modern elements from developed markets like the US or Japan."
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Chau also said that the local media has helped popularize Hallyu in Vietnam, knowingly or not. Many articles have commented on the phenomenon, saying that the landing of Korean TV dramas in Vietnam including "The Doctor Brothers," "A Wish upon a Star" and "Winter Sonata" have given birth to the "Korean Wave" here.
"I can find not only one but many Korean series at any time I turn on the television," said Chau. "Previously, local housewives just gossiped about Hong Kong movie stars. But now, their chitchat focuses on Korean celebrities. Local newswires also peek daily into Korean showbiz and gossip. People are addicted to Korean fashion and it leads to the emergence of many Korean brands and malls here. Hallyu is created for all ages, by any means for any field."
Indeed, it's not just about K-movies, K-pop and K-drama, but also Korean-culture-inspired online game, comics, cartoon, tourism, traditional medicine and literature.
However, many people were surprised that a recent international conference called "Understanding the Korean Cultural Wave (Hallyu) in Asia" at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in HCMC on June 26, some Vietnamese and Korean scholars argued that the Korean Wave, which began in Vietnam a little less than a decade ago, is actually petering out.
According to Phan Thi Thu Hien's survey of more than a thousand students, only 50 percent of them said they loved Korean dramas and music. Hien said that the figure is much lower than the figure of 86 percent given by the Korean Cultural Center in Vietnam after a survey done in 2009.
Thu Hien also told Tuoi Tre in recent interview that the absorption of Hallyu in Vietnam should be studied more closely to assess any negative impacts it might have had on local youth.
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