An exercise in analogy:
Celebrity is to ______ as Public Official is to ______.
One day, I woke up to a tweet promoting a cup-sleeve event for a beloved mayor. A glittered cup-sleeve, mind you. But since events leading to such a point were literally nothing short of a pandemic, I didn’t think much of it—a harmless tweet, and a harmless citizen putting on the hat of a fangirl. At breakfast, I was greeted by fan-conceptualized light sticks, album covers, and photo card mock ups. By lunchtime, a fandom name had materialized as a hashtag. Late in the afternoon, said public official had been promised a lifetime’s supply of fried chicken. And I found myself dizzy, scrolling through something that wasn’t inherently wrong, but still downright bizarre: a public official draped in trappings of a K-pop idol.
As someone who has done her fair share of fangirling, if there’s one thing I am strangely fluent in, it’s the language of stan Twitter. And on that day, I watched all the phrases and terminologies associated with that continent of the internet splattered everywhere else— right in my local Twitter salad. Baby (excuse me, pre-debut) photos were dug up. “[Public official] fancam,” was the second most searched phrase on Twitter, and one photo showed him, “on his way to perform at Music Bank.” Many were done in jest, but I found myself not really enjoying the punchline.
I stared at this strange crossover of worlds feeling disconcerted. For a demographic so vehemently against celebrities who maneuver their fame to wean their way into public office, we are interestingly the very same ones eager to laud them with the language and imagery we use when revering our celebrity darlings. Are we then so surprised that incompetent public officials shake their hips for us, put their faces on cosmetic billboards and demand, “are you not entertained?” In our bid to discredit celebrities and spectacles as cheap politicking techniques, we ourselves participate in creating spectacles out of those we vouch for.
As the days went on, I watched as we metaphorically and ceremoniously pinned the word, “oppa,” (say it with a lilt in the end) on a public official, in Hangul no less. What was bothersome about the whole exercise is how we diminished something as salient as national leadership as just another thing to consume, the same way we consume the image of an “oppa.” It is a word we’ve dispensed left and right as a culture whose hearts crash landed into K-drama narratives, and who are married to the (K-pop) music. Oppa is an archetype, the way we use it in our context, a hop away from its intended use as an honorific. Here, it is the pronoun used in place of Perfect Men (an oxymoron, mind you) precisely because its presentation in the media we consume intends for it to be that way. Lovingly we shove public officials into this headcanon; our eyes glittering as we call them a visual. And I have to ask, when did we stop looking up to hard-working government officials, and instead start ogling them?
I can almost feel the comic strip saying, “shh, let people enjoy things,” being taped across my mouth, but hear me out. In the arena of politics, one that thrives in spectacle and is often manipulated by it, flirting with the language of fanaticism seems like a dangerous trajectory to take. We cocked our eyebrows at officials gyrating to budots beats. We denounced gaslighting techniques perfected by a singing Iron Butterfly, not a hair out of place, as their family lulled us to sleep while they looted our economy dry. And while clapping our hands to a mayor dancing to a Red Velvet song is c.a. after elections, and is not insidious in nature, it cannot be denied that the glee we feel watching the same clip, and that motivation to even dig up such a clip, runs along the same veins, churning with blood called entertainment. Sing to me, Paolo. Politics should be one of the last places where, to borrow the phrasing of Postman, we amuse ourselves to death.
Public officials are not idols that we have to stan. They are not ours to consume the way we do entertainment media (a concept that comes with its own can of worms), and ours to dangle mere inches above y/n fanfiction. I understand that the ground will not crumble beneath our feet at our mere mention of, “oppa,” but in the interest of viewing flesh and blood human beings as such, it is probably in the public’s best interest to resist reducing them to an image to be shipped, and to be plastered on seasons greetings mock ups. We cannot prop public officials on the same shrines we make for our idols. It’s all well and good until you wake up to a very real reality where fan art shipping the president and the vice president exists. And really what does that do?
To say there is a dearth of competent leaders in our country would be an understatement (proof of this so painfully evident in the past weeks). So when someone comes along and does their job well, we raise our glasses and cheer them on, slapping a #Protect[Name] to flank them with our support, as we should. Especially since our late night presscons are determined to do the very opposite. However, in doing so, let’s heed the request of the same person we are so determined to crown with our stan terminologies, and not treat them as celebrities to fawn over.
Our administration does not need oppas, it needs accountable, empathetic leaders. So let’s call them as such.
Header art by Zoë Rosal
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