This letter is in response to the article regarding Kim Jonghyun’s death published under The Varsity’s Arts & Culture Section. I would like for you to respond to this letter, or at least acknowledge it, whether you decide to publish it or not.
The title of the article alone almost put me off. But I read it because I wanted to see what The Varsity had to say about a death that shook numerous fans — including me — around the world to their very core.
I was angered and saddened to find: not much.
As a K-Pop fan, I agree that the Korean entertainment industry is not without its problems, but there is a time and place to write about it.
Kim Jonghyun, before he was an idol, was a human. And when a human dies, we remember them for all the good they did, we try to comfort their loved ones, and try to come to terms with our own mortality. Never once in this article did the author mention Jonghyun’s support for his fans, for his colleagues, and for LGBTQ youth in Korea, or his achievements as a soloist or member of SHINee — an incredibly successful South Korean boy group. The author just wrote him off as “one of K-Pop’s greatest talents” and left it at that.
The author wrote that during discussions of Jonghyun’s death, “absent, however, was any degree of in-depth conversation about why it was that Jonghyun felt “broken from the inside,” as he wrote in his suicide note.”
The author apparently did not see the heartfelt letters by numerous K-Pop fans posted online that expressed regret upon not being able to help Jonghyun as much as he had helped them and encouraged those suffering silently that they were not alone. Neither did the author see K-pop fans urging each other to sign online petitions demanding Korean entertainment companies to give idols basic human rights as well as mental health support.
“Jonghyun identified fame as the specific reason he ended his life,” the author continued.
Jonghyun suffered from depression. He was incredibly open about it and while his hectic idol life as well as the stigma surrounding mental health may have caused his depression to worsen, to paint fame as the sole cause of his death is incredibly irresponsible.
The article exploring Kim Jonghyun’s death explained Jonghyun’s death in two paragraphs to get to its main point — how toxic and harmful the Korean entertainmemt industry is. This point is patronizing and Othering — yes, the Korean entertainment industry is toxic and harmful, but the author would be hard pressed to name one entertainment industry in the world that is not. Would it be appropriate for a Korean author to lament the dark side of Hollywood uponChester Bennington’s death? Upon Carrie Fisher’s death?
The author also cited “YouTubers Simon and Martina Stawski” as sources, who are poor sources. Both these Youtubers have been called out repeatedly for using Korean culture for profit; despite living in Korea, they allegedly didn’t even bother to learn Korean beyond basic phrases.
We absolutely need to have conversations about mental health and the stigma surrounding it in South Korea as well as the toxic nature of the K-Pop industry. Perhaps in a less Othering, less demonizing, less condescending way, however, that in no circumstances include the words “I would like to hope that something positive could come out of the death of Kim Jong-hyun“, and definitely not right when the wounds from Jonghyun’s untimely death are still fresh in the minds of fans and his loved ones.
All Jonghyun — and his fans — need to hear is that he did well.