Hobipalooza — Checking in with ARMY
Continuing thoughts on the complexities of ARMY, only peripherally about j-hope.💜 Quite long.
I have looked again and again at the My White House Day With Army post. I don’t write romantic. I really never write romantic. And yet this is the most romantic thing I can imagine writing in my entire life. I’ve thought a dozen times that I should delete it, but I can’t. All I see is an honest account of exactly how I felt that day. It was a peak day in my life, and though I’m embarrassed, I can’t be sorry for it. We’re all just going to have to live with that.
Since then, I’ve continued to spend time with ARMY through many more BTS events. New albums, a lovely puzzle game, music videos, gorgeous photos, parties, and live streams. The 2022 Festa dinner brought a lot of change to us all, and there was of course a great deal of conversation around that. But there has been a constant stream of new content since the “break time” was announced. In these days after Festa, it seems to me most ARMY fans feel pretty content with what BTS and all the members are doing. I see the words “well fed” a lot as a description of this time.
Outside of ARMY though, some responses to BTS and their visit to the White House were disturbing. After professional whiner Tucker Carlson complained about BTS, people online (even some of my own friends) started repeating the conventional wisdom about ARMY as a marauding force. “Ooh, Tucker better watch out! ARMY will get him now.”
ARMY wasn’t actually paying attention to Tucker Carlson, not that I could see. We were all caught up in the upcoming Proof comeback, the early teasers and photos, and all the materials released for Festa. American politics is not something that gets much attention in this community, and heaven knows we are used to public figures tossing insults at BTS.
But somehow it’s always a game to try and set ARMY to fight someone ARMY barely notices. Certainly some of us were annoyed at once again being targeted in this public manner.
we don’t want to be the punchbag of your memes and jokes, or the fighter against your hateful politicians. most of us aren’t even americans. the ‘get him’ moment is not coming.
we are TIRED of bts getting treated so terribly and our valid arguments being seen as entertainment.
— sycamore in the box ⁷ 아포방포 (@galaxytannies) June 1, 2022
You should read @galaxytannies’ short thread there. It is a cry from the heart.
We know that members of ARMY, like members of any group, can be insulting and unpleasant online. Hell, I could spit out a lot of insults towards Tucker myself. Does that speak for ARMY? Of course not. Do insults coming from some ARMY fans mean ARMY is a rampaging monster? I don’t think so.
When you’re talking about a community of literally millions of people, especially when they are global, how do you speak of them as a group? We’re not talking here about media people who have spent a lot of time with BTS or ARMY themselves. I’ve read a few articles by writers who are much more insightful about the fans, where it was clear the writer had thought carefully about ARMY and spent time with us. Those writers are rare.
So why is this theme repeated so often by pundits or other entertainers? It’s a cultural assumption that seems to always be in the air. To me it rings cold and false much like the dismissal of ARMY as little girls (who of course are emotional and can’t be trusted). Is this just sheer misogyny? It’s possible that ARMY sends out tons of hateful content that I don’t see or hear about on Twitter, YT, or Weverse, but it would have to be hidden well given how much reading I do on those sites.
I am honestly unsure how it arose, but I would love to see the meme die. I propose that only BTS gets to reference ARMY as avengers, because BTS are the only ones we care to fight for.
Also, please realize that perhaps you are not enduring the worst thing in life if someone on the Internet snarks at you, and that the nasty people don’t speak for us all. I am wary of elevating insults and haters in general and I don’t think we should assume they represent ARMY. It is not what I see in ARMY’s social media overall, that’s certain.
I do think it could cause trouble, potentially, when ARMY fans have negative opinions about other artists or companies BTS chooses to work with. If enough members of ARMY decide to send insults towards those folks, it could come to a point where BTS gets a reputation as hard to work with because of ARMY’s actions. That would concern me, though I have no idea whether it has been a problem for the guys. I have seen it come up in conversations among ARMY fans, more as a caution of what could happen.
Because ARMY knows how to organize for sure, and organize well. It’s true that when they want to, when BTS is attacked or insulted in ways that ARMY cares about, the fans respond in a flash. I’ve seen that too. But as so often happens with ARMY, the responses I see are measured or have a splash of humor to them.
When Lee Ja Yeon of the Korea Singers Association publicly stated that BTS shouldn’t take the break they so painfully discussed with us at the Festa dinner, ARMY responded immediately. As a fandom, we believed that BTS had made a decision that was truly best for themselves. We discussed this thoroughly in the threads around the dinner, and nearly everyone supported them in that move.
In response, for nearly 24 hours, ARMY kept the hashtag “Leave BTS Alone” on the top trending list of Twitter. Pushback on BTS’ decision was simply unacceptable. As far as I know, the KSA didn’t say anything more about it. This seems to me like a publicly strong but overall harmless response, and it let BTS know with certainty that ARMY had their back on this. As a response it matches how I’ve seen ARMY organize.
I’m sorry to say that the worst fight I have seen so far occurred entirely inside the universe of people who consider themselves fans of BTS. Given the insults that were thrown in that discussion, at least some of the people involved did not consider themselves ARMY, though they were fans. It was a fight about fan behavior, and it simmered with cross-cultural frictions.
The stress had been building for a week or two, I guess. A couple of situations had arisen with BTS members. Kim Namjoon (RM) had recently vacationed in Switzerland. Kim Taehyung (V) was attending a private Celine fashion event in Paris, which gave him some time to hang out and explore beforehand. Each of them was approached in public by a fan who wanted an autograph. For most celebrities this might be an ordinary occurrence, and certainly fans wait at airports and outside venues to at least wave at BTS and cheer for them all the time.
Within ARMY though, for particular reasons, approaching members on the streets, when they are not at a public function, is considered off-limits completely. For official ARMY fan clubs, it’s a policy written into the bylaws. After the fan approached RM in Switzerland, the ARMY organization there published a statement condemning the behavior, and reminding fans that ARMY etiquette is to leave members alone when they aren’t at official functions.
But of course, not all fans are ARMY or have any idea that this is the etiquette, much less why. There is a history of BTS actually being attacked by stalker fans, and more than once they have received death threats and have had to cancel events because of it. ARMY contains millions of people. If every ARMY approached members when they saw them on the street, or lurked outside restaurants to catch them later, BTS would not only be fearful, they’d never get a moment of rest, no matter what good intentions the fans might have.
Because of this, members have asked that we not approach them in this way, letting us know that it makes them uncomfortable. And when ARMY has respected that, letting BTS vacation in peace, the guys have said they appreciate it. You see, “Leave BTS Alone” has another clear meaning.
The situation created a lot of conversation on Twitter, and those conversations got tense at times. At least one of the fans who approached Taehyung in Paris was on Twitter herself, and it was clear that some French fans thought our rules were a bunch of nonsense. I’m not sure why the argument turned so ugly. But it did.
I didn’t see it start. I was randomly following ARMY hashtags as I often do, when I came across one with messages so cruel and sour I couldn’t believe it had anything to do with ARMY. Since this was the day before Taehyung’s event, when most of us were following pictures of him being beautiful in beautiful Paris, it was a shock.
It seemed to be a fight between ARMYs and some French fans, though I admit I was looking at this from the outside and didn’t know any of the people involved. I followed the hashtag for a couple of hours, reading back to find the start. There were some terrible slurs being thrown at ARMY, and ARMY throwing some back. Some were about how stupid ARMY was for insisting on these traditions, some were purely personal, attacking people with name-calling. Some contained insults about languages people used, some about nationalities. Most of the words were clearly intended to wound, and almost none of it was kind.
I did track back far enough to find the original audio livestream, which was apparently ongoing. I think we can confirm now that Twitter Spaces live audio is not the best venue for strangers to try to hash out delicate issues. I didn’t want to be part of that Space, so I returned to reading other ARMY tweets. I found thoughtful people who tried to explain history and what was behind the norms, and I tried to raise their profiles with likes and RTs. But I left the fighters to burn themselves out.
The next day the Celine event was nothing but wall-to-wall happy fans and beautiful fashion, with Taehyung sharing his photos so generously then and for days afterwards. Media outlets and other participants shared videos too and all I saw were ARMYs feeling a lot of love and joy for this graceful trip to Paris, a city that suits Tae so well. I didn’t get even a hint of ashes from the day before.
Probably it’s best not to make too much of that terrible exchange, given how rough Internet fights can get. But it does leave me wondering. Is it even possible to hold together such a disparate mass of people, and still create a common culture? For me, finding BTS and ARMY felt like an absolute phase shift. I was not quite the same person afterwards, for better and worse. Not everyone will experience it that way, and surely there will be clashes in the future, too.
ARMY remains sweet in my eyes, despite that day, still so thoughtful, so cool. ARMY members are all different but they don’t hesitate to speak up for what they believe. They jump in to help other ARMY any time someone asks for information or links. They absolutely love starting hashtags to trend whichever members they are currently loving on (Jin gets a hashtag full of love almost daily), flooding Twitter with pictures and purple hearts. And boy, can ARMY make things trend. They are incredibly good at it.
One element of that generosity I see every day are the fan translators. These folks translate BTS material regularly, most into English but I see quite a lot of Spanish and Indonesian translations too*. It’s another indication of how global and diverse ARMY is, and how ARMY fans work to help each other. As this fandom continues to spread out beyond the original Korean base, is it possible to forge all this into a global culture that can persist? Maybe we can be a step in the right direction.
And there’s one more memorable event that I experienced on Twitter. This came the day before the Yet To Come music video dropped. We’d all seen concept photos from the official video. I was following the #HYYH hashtag where we were discussing some of the imagery in the photos and speculating about the old Bangtan Universe material (a post about that is also YTC).
Suddenly info about #Hobipalooza started filtering through all the BTS hashtags. Lollapalooza’s official account had just announced that j-hope would headline the final day. This was a change in schedule that hadn’t been known before, and some people who dislike BTS, or perhaps j-hope himself, were angry about it in the comments on that tweet.
Almost instantly, word spread through the BTS hashtags that night: haters were trashing Hobi in the comments. The information hit all of us within a pretty short time frame, and I swear it was like a school of fish turning together. The haters were saying they wanted to sell their tickets if j-hope was the headliner, and ARMYs flooded into those comments with joy, offering to buy any and all tickets available.
This worked so well because the offers were utterly sincere. The tickets for that night sold out pretty quickly. ARMY did not come in fighting, either. The ticket-buyers were surrounded by a flood of ARMYs congratulating Hobi, in celebration of this good news, all wishing we could be there too.
I didn’t stay in that thread too long, but from what I saw the haters were routed. Nothing but happy ARMY and ticket buyers as far as I could see. Once again the best of ARMY, showing up with love and support for j-hope’s good fortune, already planning how to decorate their ARMY bombs and get together for the strongest show at Lollapalooza itself.
My romantic feelings for BTS and ARMY haven’t changed. The moments when BTS creates music, dances, and sends us their love are still an incredible emotional high. Sharing that with other fans makes it all the more fun. Though I’ve come to understand, somewhat, the complex nature of the fandom, and seen some ugly stuff, my overall view hasn’t changed. I love BTS as much as ever, and even at my advanced age I am proud to think of myself as ARMY.
*Now here’s something for ARMY to be cranky about: how inconsistent the translation services are as offered by Weverse, YT, etc. The fans shouldn’t have to pick up the slack on this. If you’re building an international fandom, you need international services. You’re certainly making enough money off of it.
Have fun at Lollapalooza, all you ARMYs who can be there! I know you are planning strong support for j-hope in his solo concert. Have a most wonderful time! I can’t wait to hear your stories.
j-hope’s new album, Jack in the Box, is out now and well worth a listen. Beautifully crafted, lovely with deep meaning, and a narrative line that will carry you through many emotions. Please support j-hope and Jack in the Box.
I have no commercial interest in anything related to BTS. I am a fan.