Sasaeng culture, compulsive fans and criminal behaviour

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Where does one draw the line between harmless admiration and an obsession with the lifestyle of your favourite stars? A loyal relationship is made between fans and celebrities to show their dedication and devotion. But how far is too far when fascination turns to mania, which can harm the welfare of idols and the fans?

Sasaengs, more commonly referred to as ‘stalker fans’ are Hallyu extremists who become dangerously dedicated to a celebrity. They participate in many illicit scandals such as phone hacking, home invasions, trailing after vans and scheduling their lives around their idol’s every move. This radical culture has developed into an alarming reality where celebrities’ privacy and safety are compromised and an unstable obsession turns fans to criminal activity. The unfortunate goal of this immoral behaviour is purely to satisfy the love the stalker fans have for their idols.


Sasaengs have been a hot topic in both fan culture and South Korean society. Groups such as DBSK, SNSD, EXO and SHINee have had experiences with such fans that often involved violence and fear, generating great shame and concern for the idols, their companies, their fans and the rest of civilization. From installing CCTV cameras, leaving urine and faeces on their doorstep, disrupting private affairs to even jeopardizing the lives of the celebrities; these extremists don’t know when to stop.


JYJ Junsu’s Twitter picture with a female friend has generated controversy over sasaeng fans (circled)

One of the most infamous incidents was a series of attacks against DBSK. There have been occasions of breaking and entering into the group’s apartment, hacking of personal texts and account details of the members and physical attacks. Former members, JYJ‘s Jaejoong and Yoochun, have been revealed to fight back against them, admitting their frustration  and proving that this dangerous culture can psychologically disturb celebrities’ emotional well-being. Other stars such as actor Jang Geun Suk, Super Junior’s Heechul and Block B’s Zico have spoken out about their dissatisfaction of the sasaengs’ behaviour and urge them to quit their wrongdoing ways.

In South Korea, laws for adolescents do exist, yet are not being properly enforced. According to Article 50 in the Framework Act on Juveniles, the government and families will need to help prevent delinquencies by the adolescents. Harassment laws against another person are also scarcely mentioned in the country. What makes it worse, is that the people who perform these criminal actions are minors (aged under 20). Minors involved in the sasaeng culture can escape prosecution because there are no penalties and no delinquency consequences.

A rational person would recognise that these actions are precarious and repulsive. Fan bases deny the fact that these people are a part of their respective communities and call them nuisances and sadistic. When celebrities visit international fans, the prejudice against sasaengs almost becomes non-existent as avid fans turn into sasaengs because idols rarely visit their countries. Sasaengs do not just exist in South Korea – it is a problem on a global scale and increases with the stars’ visits to their countries.

It is unclear why sasaengs act the way they do. Some may not understand the boundaries and are already allowed to do as they please. Other fans are attacked and subjected to bullying by sasaengs. They may be pressured or threatened to join – either through peer pressure or as a means of catching up with the rising trend. Rigorous educational systems and expectations, low self esteem and fears of loneliness can influence and shape these stalking habits.

South Korea has been recorded to have the highest suicide rate in the world, with youth suicide rates increasing drastically from 2001 to 2011 by 57%. The national philosophy of pushing children to succeed in education has been the main trigger of depression and suicidal tendencies for youth aged 10-24. Family disappointment and insufficient academic capability are fears which put adolescents desperately trying to reach a feeling of accomplishment.

With a society dedicated to educational achievement and routines of stress, an individual’s peace of mind cannot be gained, unless they achieve a form of happiness and contentment with their life. Insert the enjoyment of Korean music and celebrities that give the adolescents a break from academic and educational pressures and a form of happiness.

These feelings of low-self esteem and poor health are linked to a disorder called Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Celebrity Worship Syndrome is derived from fan culture, split into three divisions based on the degree of a person’s infatuation with a celebrity:

  • Entertainment Social: relatively harmless and enjoys news about celebrities for entertainment;
  • Intense Personal:  an illusion of a special bond between the idol and becomes deeply attached;
  • Borderline Pathological: a parasitical love and delusion is formed and a fan feels that they cannot stop their attachment. Stalking can occur when they reach this extreme level.

Fan culture can become dangerous on a psychological level if people do not recognize these levels of obsession.

Perhaps, sasaengs have been impacted by these emotions and further delve into this delusion and vulnerability simply because it makes them happy and gives them a sense of purpose. They dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their beloved celebrities and act in abusive and unlawful way to become a stand out in the crowd of millions of other fans – a form of accomplishment that the adolescent longs for to gain fulfilment of their efforts.

Celebrities provide delight, fun and inspiration for people with have an active interest in fame, talents and gossip. Many yearn to become, see and meet them. Supporters turn to fan culture to deepen the connection and enchantment of celebrities. This provides confidence, naivety and hope in belonging with others who share the same love.

Sasaeng culture should not be encouraged at all, domestically or internationally. It should be stopped for everyone and for the sanity of sasaengs themselves. Sasaengs are compulsive fans who need awakening from their stalker antics. This behaviour is inexcusable but change and help is needed to prevent the Hallyu loving fans from becoming criminals.

Every day, stars are both being showered in adoration and with harassment, but not much can be changed because their job and reputation overshadows their welfare. In the end, our favourite artists are still humans who have true emotional states and their own rights to live in freedom. Fans should understand and accept the boundaries of support without harming others, and stop harmful exploitation of others, their idols and their own well-beings.

Sources: Life of Sasaeng documentary (i) (ii), SG Yahoo Entertainment, Sasaeng activity: (1) (2) (3) (4) Esia, Rates: (1) (2) (3) (4) Laws: (1) (2 – PDF download), Celebrity Worship Syndrome: (1) (2) (3) (4); Photos – (1) (2) (3)


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