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Jiara Laine Montao


Mr. Victor Bautista
En 12 R69
15 April 2016
More than Love: Interpreting the Sasaeng Fan Pathology
Throughout Asia and in the West, people have been riding on what
is called the Korean Wave or the Hallyu Wave. This wave of Korean pop
culture rose during the 2000s, when China was consuming everything
Korea had to offer at a rapid pace: Korean dramas and music. Thus
Chinese journalists dubbed it Hallyu or hnli () in Chinese, which
literally means the wave of Korea (Jung 173). The Hallyu wave is
arguably the most important cultural spread of Korean at the present,
and it is Korean popular music, simply referred to as K-pop, that has in
the recent years become one of the most important and loved parts of the
wave. K-pop just like every music genre has its own fandom, and as it
gains popularity around the world, its fans also receive more attention.
The K-pop fandom is a very unique community, a feature that Kpop has. The fandom, in and outside of Korea, is characterized by its
very committed and dynamic fan clubs (Park 7). These fans are so
committed that Sam Lansky, a contributing editor for New York and The
Atlantic, describes them as mostly the ken of geeky music journalists in
his article Hallyu Tsunami. What he means by this is that K-pop fans do
not simply adore the music of the K-pop artists but also the artists
themselves. They want to know all the can about their idol to the extent
that they become hoarders of information. K-pop fans find it natural to
know personal information from shoe size to blood type. They follow their
idols almost everywhere: to the airports, dormitories, agency buildings.
This kind attachment might seem outrageous but there are fans in the K-

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pop fandom that have unhealthier behavior.
In March 30, 2012 TvN, a South Korean general entertainment
networks, released a news segment about South Korean extremist fans
dubbed as Sasaengs. The news footage showed a clip wherein
bodyguards were straining against a crowd of fans composed of young
women. The air was littered with cameras the fans raised to capture the
face of the idol coming out from a building. The bodyguards looked grim;
the womens faces were twisted with desperation, their faces shining
with sweat; the idols face contorted in a grimace. Then, a hand reached
out towards the idol and slapped him (refer to image 6 in Appendix A).
This is an example of how a K-pop extremist fan acts towards an idol.
These fans are pathological fans in the K-pop fandom called sasaengs.
The word sasaeng comes from the word sasaenghwal which means
private life (Beers 3). They are called as such for being infamous because
they invade the private lives of certain idols and the way they operate in
private online profiles (Iwicka 2) to avoid being discovered. Sasaengs
fans act in such a scandalous and reckless manner, as described at the
start of the paper, that a few studies have tried to figure out why they
behave so.
Renata Iwicka in her paper There will be blood links their
behavior to the South Korean idea that a public person has no personal
life (1). This basically means that as a public person (i.e. a K-pop idol)
s/he belongs to the public. One may be treated as a possession by ones
fans, belonging to them (fans) and them only. However, this study
negates this idea because sasaeng behavior are not limited to South
Korean culture only. Although, the sasaeng phenomenon initially

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emerged in Korea, the sustained intensity of the Hallyu wave led
hardcore K-pop fans from other countries such as the United States,
Vietnam and Singapore, to adopt the Sasaeng social behaviors (Williams
and Ho 82). Rather the sasaeng fans behaviors are products of
dysfunctional interpersonal relationships which are greatly influenced by
the suppression of rational thinking, overpowered by their heightened
senses.
This paper will focus mainly on sasaeng fan behavior and these
incidents, like the clip from the news segment, as these are precisely
what make sasaengs infamous. To illustrate the extent of their behavior,
some examples will be used, in this case from the core of fandoms:
fandom community websites, blogs (i.e. Allkpop, Soompi), social media
platforms (e.g. Twitter, Tumblr), interviews with sasaengs from news
segments and news articles. Together with this, a brief background of fan
studies and the relational concept theory will be briefly discussed for
these will be employed in analyzing the sasaeng fan behavior. This will be
followed by the characterization of the sasaeng and an analysis of their
behavior. However, this paper will not delve into the fan activities such as
fan fiction writing, fan art and K-pop fan wars. Sasaengs have been
described as crazed fans who love a particular celebrity enough to invade
their privacy, but since sasaeng is a Korean term it is mostly used to
describe crazy fans of Korean celebrities. The definition of fandom, used
in this paper, adopts the suggested description of the phenomenon by
Iwicka as a collective of people organized socially around their shared
appreciation of a pop culture object or objects (2). Additionally,

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dysfunctional interpersonal relationships are defined as relationships
between individuals that do not operate normally and a para-social
relationship, as defined by communications scholar Amanda Laken, is a
relationship wherein communication is mediated and the interaction
between the two parties is only one sided (8). A para-social relationship
is one that the viewer or audience member holds toward a media
person (8). This could take the form of celebrity and fan relationships.
Although the fact that fandom culture became one of the topics
in academic research the majority of it deals with fans of sports,
television shows, movies or books. Music fandoms are usually described
as a fringe subculture in relation to broadly understood pop-culture
(Iwicka 2). In spite of K-pops stature as a socially significant
phenomenon, there has been, to date, limited scholarly attention paid to
this cultural trend. Although there are a considerable number of articles
about the Korean wave, a look into the indices of journals reveals that
there have been very few articles that has been published on K-pop and
even fewer on the K-pop fan culture. Consequently, there has been very
little academic research done specifically on the sasaeng phenomenon
(See: Williams and Ho 2015; Iwicka 2014). This paper has been designed
to address this deficiency by carefully examining the sasaeng fan
pathological behavior through fan studies theories and the relationalconcept model.
Fan studies is a field of scholarly research focused on media
fans and fan cultures. According to the fan fiction studies reader Karen
Hellekson, foundational fan studies have flourished during the 1980s into
the early 1990s, long before the internet had begun to influence fan

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culture (5). Camille Bacon-Smiths Enterprising Women: Television
Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (1992) reports on fan practice
in a study discussing her ethnographic fieldwork, conducted within a Star
Trek fan community. Joanna Russ discusses her relationship with
homoerotic fan fiction in her 1985 essay, Pornography by Women, for
Women, with Love. Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diane Veiths 1986
Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines, attempts to
understand why straight women write gay porna topic of particular
fascination in early fan studies scholarship that deals with fan fiction. The
valuable essays collected in Lisa A. Lewiss edited volume, The Adoring
Audience (1992), focus on fans and fandom and considers their
relationship with stars, media texts and media industries. One of the
most important early text contributing to the field now known in fan
studies circles is Henry Jenkinss Textual Poachers: Television Fans and
Participatory Culture. In his study, he claims that fans are not passive
consumers but rather active creators. However, as time progressed,
people started to flock to the internet and begin sharing content. They
became part of a large, geographically dispersed international
community (6). Fan culture used to be spread orally or in person but
through the internet, they are able to share content (e.g. works of
fanfictions, fan art) to a larger demographic. Note from the
aforementioned foundational studies the fan studies prior to the internet
focused on fan fiction activity, particularly the homoerotic genre, and
television studies. However, as fan culture shifted medium from word of
mouth to words in blogs, academic studies focus also shifted not

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specifically on fans but on collaborative communities that provides
insight on fan behaviors (6).
According to Media Scholar Joli Jenson, fan studies is mostly
social theory, which implies that social and psychological conditions of
the fans are also examined. Although fan studies, psychoanalysis and
psychology are different theories, psychology and psychoanalysis have
been employed to make meaning out of fan behaviors and machinations.
Works like The citizen audience by Richarch Burtsch and Fandom
pathology by Joli Jenson have employed psychology and biology to shed
light on the origins of pathological fan behavior. Consequently, this paper
employs the relational-conflict model developed by Stephen Mitchell to
interpret sasaeng behavior. In his book Relational Concepts in
Psychoanalysis, Mitchell likens this model to Freuds drive model and
the developmental-arrest model. This model regards the central
psychodynamic struggle in human experience as involving conflicts
among powerful desires, wishes and fears (10) but also considers the
basic ingredients of the mind to be relational configurations, not drive
derivatives (10). The relational conflict model makes it possible to view
sasaeng fan behavior within a multifaceted relational matrix which takes
into account self-organization, attachments to others (objects),
interpersonal transactions, and the active role of the analysand and in
the continual re-reaction of [his or her] subjective world (8). Basically,
the model allows psychological reality to be viewed as something that
operates within a relational matrix which encompasses both intrapsychic
and interpersonal realms of the analysand.
Although, there has been no significant study on sasaeng fan

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culture there has been brief observations suggesting its emergence:
Even by the powerful standards of music, young South Koreans
have long been some of the most intense, crazed fans around.
[...] Fans surround the stars apartment all day and night, singing
their favorite songs, disregarding neighbors pleas to quiet down.
And woe to the poor woman who dates one of these young
heartthrobs, as she earns the deepest hatred of the stars
thousands of fans. (Russell 134)
The intensity of such fans goes beyond loyalty. In their idolization,
sasaeng fans are reportedly stalking K-pop artists or otherwise intrude on
their private lives. Whether it is going on a television broadcast
recording, outdoor performance, the airport, agency building or even the
artists home, sasaeng fans are identified because of their need to seek
out their idols exact schedule in order to be as close to them as possible,
as often as possible. A few have been reported to slap and harm K-pop
stars for attention, intentionally cause car accidents for the chance to
interact with them, placing CCTV cameras and tracking devices in their
cars and apartments for the chance to follow them, and give lingerie and
even menstrual blood in letters and pads to them in hopes of being
remembered (refer to images 1-6 in Appendix A).
This excessive behavior is defined as a psychological
compensation, an attempt to make up for what modern life lacks (Jenson
16). The fan creates a para-social relationship with the celebrity in order
to form a surrogate relationship, one that inadequately imitates normal
relationships as a compensation for the absence of authentic
relationships in their lives (16). This relationship is inadequate because it

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does not fulfill the social and relational needs of the sasaeng which will
be further discussed in the paper later.
Fans, particularly the sasaeng, are psychologically inadequate in a
sense that these fans lack regular social interactions and relationships.
Thus, they turn to media, which in this case is the K-pop entertainment,
particularly the artists, as they act as these stable objects they can hold
unto. This sense of contact they get from these celebrities become
foundations for their para-social relationships. Hence, it creates an image
of conversation and an illusory sentiment of belongingness in a modern
environment that is alienated and atomized.
A sasaeng reveals in a news segment that up until elementary
school, she just watched the television performances of her favorite stars.
She bought their albums and joined their fan clubs, but was
unfortunately an outcast in her own school, which led her to delve
further and further into the fan clubs. In junior high school, she chased
her idol down in a taxi for the first time, which was the start of her
sasaeng activities (ycantyouletitgo). Here, it is evident that due to the
lack of interpersonal relationships in the sasaengs life, she turned
towards fandom activities and eventually delved into the sasaeng culture.
Considering, however the intimacy of this para-social relationship, the
fan at some point will become dissatisfied and attempt to establish actual
contact (Jenson 16). This further observed from the interview sasaeng
fan. At the beginning of her fan activities in elementary she was just
satisfied by watching television performances of the idol. When she
reached Junior High, however, she starts to feel the dissatisfaction and
proceeds to start her sasaeng activities.

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This need to establish contact also intensifies given the length that
this need is not met. This leaves the fan to turn to chronic desperate acts
of contact. Chronic, since the sasaengs needs are not downright fulfilled
with just one instance of contact. Therefore, the sasaeng recurrently
seeks interaction. This is evident in how sasaeng fan routinely does
pathological fan activities. These sasaengs have adopted their lifestyles
in undertaking sasaeng activities routinely and have even been deemed
as full-time stalkers. However, to routinely do these activities, sasaengs
need a large amount of money. According to the Korean newspaper
JoongAng Daily cited by Elizabeth Soh in her article Sasaeng stalkers,
about 1 million won (about 900 US dollars) per month is spent to chase
around idols, mainly by sasaeng taxis. In order to stalk her idols, the
sasaeng does part-time jobs at convenience stores and lies to her parents
about attending a hagweon (cram school) to get the 800,000 won per
month. Sasaeng taxis are taxi services catered specifically for these
sasaengs. They are willing to accelerate to speeds up to 200 kilometers
per hour, chasing after the company vans transporting the K-pop stars.
One driver told JoongAng Daily that he charged $30USD an hour. It's
hard to stop because you can make a lot of money out of it. I take
sasaengs about two days out of the week. The frequency that this driver
takes out sasaengs and the existence of the taxi service show the routine
activities of this sasaeng fan. This is also observed from international
fans. There has been reports wherein international fans travel to Korea to
take part in sasaeng activities. Additionally, in Singapore, instead of
sasaeng taxis, they use stalking vans (Williams and Ho 88). The amount

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of money that these fans are willing to spend to just undertake in this
activities implies that these fans are certainly devoted in them.
The para-social relationship between the celebrity and the sasaeng
also empowers the fans in such a way that they are now capable of
continuing to struggle to make a difference in their lives. Their
investment in fan activities and practices also provides them with
strategies that enables them to gain a certain control over their affective
life, which enables them to invest in new forms of pleasure and identity
in order to cope with the fragmented modern life. According to Lawrence
Grossberg fandom, is potentially, the site of optimism, invigoration and
passion which are necessary conditions for any struggle to change
condition of one's life (65). Though, this indeed might provide optimism
for a regular fan, for the case of the sasaeng, fandom becomes a
maladaptation. The sasaengs become so invested in the established onesided relationship. This relationship becomes what Jenson refers to as a
substitute for autonomous social participation (17) that consequently
proceeds to defy objective reality (17). In this instance, the objective
reality in the point of view of the fan becomes clouded; the most
dominant of the senses takes precedence. For example, for anti-fans it is
their hate that drives them to invade the private life of a certain idol,
while it is the idolization that take precedence for a sasaeng fan.
Cultural studies reader, Joli Jenson discusses how self-control
distinguishes a regular fan from a pathological one:
normal fans are constantly in danger of becoming [pathological
fans] [] as long as the fan shows good common sense, remains
rational and in control then he or she will be spared. But if the

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fan ceases to distinguish the real from the imaginary and lets
emotions overwhelm reason and somehow gets out of control,
then there are terrible consequences. (18)
Regular K-pop fans are always in the border of becoming sasaengs. This
is because they all are in the risk of losing control. Before becoming
sasaengs, these people were part of the group of normal fans. However,
at some point they became sasaengs, characteristic of out of control
actions. By letting the emotions take precedence over rational thinking it
is very difficult for them to stop as they have stopped listening to reason.
When emotions override rational thinking, the instinct of the sasaengs
also become sharper which probably explains why these fans become
more primal in showing their affection towards their idols.
Sasaeng fans seems to exhibit behavior wherein their sexual drive
or animalistic or primal intentions take precedence. In an TvN news
segment, a sasaeng fan was interviewed about why she does what she
does. She says that:
I feel like I get closer and get to know the celebrity that I love.
There are thousands and ten thousands of people at the concert.
They [celebrities] would not know me. But if I become a Sasaeng
fan, they recognize me. If I continue oppa, I am who. I saw you
before. I am blah. Then they will react like why did you come
again today? To sasaeng fans, [being recognized by celebrities] is
good. (ycantyouletitgo)
Becoming distinguishable from the other fans is one of the main goals of
the sasaeng; by performing excessive behavior they can literally stand
out from the other fans. Leaving a deep impression, albeit an undesirable
one, on their idols, they can keep themselves recognizable which take

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pleasure from.
According to Freuds drive theory, since we are in fact animals,
our bestial nature, is wired into our bodies pushing for expression
(Mitchell 10), what hinders the human animalistic nature is the rational
thinking and self-control. Thus, when a person experiences extreme
emotions, primal behaviors are likely to appear, for it is the emotional
faculties of the body that are leading the body instead of rational
thinking. For instance, when a person is confronted with a lifethreatening experience s/he would have a surge of adrenaline causing
the senses to heighten and become more sensitive to its surroundings.
Additionally, the optical senses are particularly good at symbolic,
aphoristic, many faceted perceiving (Ackerman 282) hence governments
construct monuments for the people who see these rush with emotion
(282) but this rush of emotion can also change depending on who we
regard our eyes (or senses) with. In the case of K-pop fans it is their idols,
that ignite a rush of emotion in them. This rush of emotions in them
results to incoherent shouts and screams for their idols. American
naturalist Diane Ackerman links this lyrical and incoherent speech to
their emotions. She writes that as our emotions flare, our speech
becomes naturally more lyrical (216).
However, in the case of the Sasaeng there is a greater rush of
emotion experienced considering their need for contact. They become
unable to contain their excitement. They not only scream and shout but
they also either mob the idols or chase them in sasaeng taxis to create a
more intimate interaction (refer to images 7-8 in Appendix A). This
reaction to their images can be also be connected to their psychological

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need to form a more intimate connection with the idol due to the
dissatisfaction they feel, given the kind of intimacy and contact they
experience.
Considering this need, the sasaeng also creates a medium
wherein they can frequently feel a rush of emotion while also becoming
more intimate with the idol. Sasaeng fans are known to place CCTV
cameras on the dormitories and homes of their idols. By placing these
cameras on these areas, they are able to frequently see their idols and
consequently feel a rush of emotion. In this case instead of monuments it
is the sight of their idols that brings them a pleasurable feeling. This
monitoring can actually also be linked to their chronic need for contact.
When the idols are not out doing their jobs, they are most likely resting
in the comforts of their dorms and families. The sasaengs know this. They
are not always able to be in a position wherein they can create a physical
contact. Thus, they try to form a visual contact with the idol and learn
about their private mannerisms.
Moreover, in the case of the sasaeng, the rational thinking is now
suppressed by the senses, allowing the bestial nature of the sasaengs to
be reflected. This kind of behavior is heavily reflected in their sasaeng
activities; they reportedly have been breaking in idols houses leaving
urine and feces, writing letters using blood, sometimes menstrual blood
with sprinkles of pubic hair. Some idols also attest that sasaengs leave
used menstrual pads and tampons on the front door of their homes. This
behavior is comparable with the way animals scent-mark their territories.
Voles and bush babies, for instance, spray the soles of their feet with
urine and brand the earth with it as they patrol their territories

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(Ackerman 26). The polecat, as well as the badger, drag their anus on
the ground to mark it (26). Additionally, ring-tailed lemurs have also
been shown to mark their areas using urine; females more frequent than
males (Palagi and Norscia 184).
In light of this, the sasaeng can be likened to the beast in in the
film version of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast by Jean
Cocteau. On the back of the beasts chair, in Latin, runs the motto: All
men are beasts when they dont have love (Ackerman 171). Every
evening the literate, human beast goes into a hunt for dinner chasing
down prey and feeding on its flesh or die of starvation (171). Sasaengs
are fans characterized as being unable to fulfill their needs of social
interaction and thus, lack the experience of emotional exchange. They
are similar to the beast because due to the lack of positive emotions in
their lives they turn to the K-pop fandom. The fandom, in turn, acts as a
cite of invigoration for the fan. However, as time elapses their need for
attachment become greater, considering the indirect contact they have
with the idol. As a result, they have to impose their feelings upon the
people who they want to form an attachment with.
They idolize and profess their love for their idols in their own
twisted way, just like the beast in the story. Their twisted ways are a
result of the overwhelming emotion that takes precedence over their
body. Their self-control breaks. Their rational mind becomes suppressed
by their emotions. This leads them to act in a manner that we deem crazy
or psychotic because there is no longer a rational mind that controls
them to follow social protocols that society has created. They become
individuals who are akin to our primal selves prior to the construction of

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social manners and conduct. Furthermore, just like the beasts want and
need to eat, undertaking in Sasaeng activities is both a need and a want
for the Sasaeng. A need in a sense that by becoming a Sasaeng they are
able to substitute the para-social relationship they have with the K-pop
artists for the relationships they lack, and a want for these idols to
recognize and remember them.
By taking these two factors together, the sasaengs pathological
behavior is not only a condition brought about by the dysfunctional
interpersonal relationships of the fan or lack thereof. It is not only a
condition brought about their primal sexual intentions. Rather, these two
aspects result and greatly influence the sasaeng and their pathological
behavior. By bringing into light the roots of sasaeng behavior this paper
hopes to give a deeper understanding to the sasaengs. If the needs of the
sasaeng continues to be ignored or unfulfilled then this pathological
behavior will never cease to exist. This behavior might even evolve to
something worse. Thus, it is important that the sasaengs problems be
addressed to pace the way to a more peaceful fandom.
Word Count: 4, 152

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Appendix A: Images of Sasaeng fan Incidents

Image 1: Sasaengs following boy group JYJ member, Junsu to a


restaurant. JYJs Junsu looking exhausted in a restaurant with

Sasaeng press against the glass outside. Digital image. Yahoo


Celebrity. Yahoo. Web. 14 Feb 2016.
Image 2: Boy group JYJ member Yoochun surveilling his own

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apartments parking lot as captured by Sasaeng CCTV. JYJs
Yoochun sneaks around his own carpark to avoid Sasaeng, not
knowing they are taping him. Digital image. Yahoo Celebrity.
Yahoo. Web. 14 Feb 2016.

Image 3: Boy group JYJ member hiding in houses balcony, captured


by Sasaeng CCTV. JYJ member hiding in houses balcony, captured
by Sasaeng CCTV. Digital image. Mikolah. Blogspot. Web. 15 Feb
2016.

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Image 4: A fan letter for boy group 2PM member Taecyeon written
using menstrual blood, sprinkled with pubic hair. A bloody letter to
Taecyeon written with her menstrual blood. Digital image. Yongs
Blog. Blogspot. Web. 16 Feb 2016.

Image 5: A Sasaeng writing a fan letter using blood from her wrist to
boy group MBLAQ member Changsun. Fan writes blood letter to
Chang Sun. Digitial image. Jules update. Wordpress. Web. 16 Feb

2016.
Image 6: A Sasaeng slapping JYP member Yoochun. Hotshotlover30.

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JYJs Yoochun gets slapped in the Face by Sasaeng Fan. Digitial
image. Soompi. Soompi. Web. 16 Feb 2016.

Image 7: Boy group EXO get mobbed by Sasaeng fans at Gimpo


airport. Exo arrival in Gimpo airport before and after. Digitial image.
Allkpop. Allkpop. Web. 16 Feb 2016.

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Image 8: Sasaengs chasing an idol with a Sasaeng taxi. Sasaeng


rush to their taxis and start chase. Digital image. Yahoo Celebrity.
Yahoo. Web. 14 Feb 2016.
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