House of the Dragonfly
Kuan, “Kuan (feat. Vasco)”
“Kuan” was released almost exactly a year ago, but it is still one of the most significant music videos to be released in a very long time. Korea is particularly known for its scandals, some more serious than others. A few recent scandals include Nichkun’s drunk driving scandal, Crayon Pop’s ilbe scandal, Tablo’s Stanford degree scandal, the absolutely absurd incident of Eunji and the tangerines… the list is infinite, really.
Sometimes these scandals start with a small seed of wrong-doing then get blown out of proportion by uninformed but self-righteous public opinion. Sometimes a particularly ill-meaning netizen or group of people intentionally target a particular figure. Sometimes a star did nothing wrong at all, and yet somehow found themselves suddenly at the center of an overblown media frenzy.
Kuon is not the first to comment on the demonization of stars, though. BIGBANG’s “Monster” pushed a similar agenda but from a more personal perspective following G-Dragon’s marijuana scandal and Daesung’s driving scandal (and, ironically, preceeding Seungri’s sex scandal). “Monster” pleads with a loved one not to listen to false accusations.
But the lyrics of “Kuon” are more widely applicable. They are defiant. They send an accusatory note to those who rabble-rouse “for fun” or “for gossip.” They point out that such destructive habits are a lose-lose situation, an empty-sum game where “there is no victor.” That the effects of these scandals can be emotionally damaging to the victim, inflicting “a wound that doesn’t heal.”
The video reminds me most of two significant scandals: that of actor Park Si Hoo and of idol group T-Ara. Park Si Hoo was accused of rape, but texts complicated the whole situation and the woman later dropped all charges. In the case of T-Ara, a few questionable tweets were followed in short succession by the departure of Hwayoung, spawning never-ending claims of bullying, blah blah blah blah blah. In the cases of both Park Si Hoo and T-Ara, netizens were like sharks at a feeding frenzy without pausing to confirm facts, wildly speculating without a shred of evidence. The defendant in the video for “Kuan” is similarly persecuted despite a distinct lack of substantial evidence to verify accusations against him.
What isn’t explicitly shown in the video, but which nevertheless happens with frightening frequency in real life, scandals significantly and negatively impact the victims’ livelihoods. Every time a scandal happens, the figure has to retire from the public eye at least temporarily… if not permanently. If they don’t take a break, netizens accuse them of being too brazen and failing to reflect upon their mistakes. T-Ara attempted to continue promoting without a break and received huge backlash for this. But even if a break is taken, re-entering the public sphere can be incredibly difficult (and sometimes impossible) as the scandal still looms in the background. Despite all charges being dropped and Hoo taking essentially a whole year off after his scandal, his return to the KBS network was tenuous and he is only now contemplating a drama… and netizens still think his return might be premature.
The video does, however, show the frivolous nature of netizens (and netizens are quite obviously Kuan’s focus since the video shifts to a still of a forum before ending). As soon as the defendant, clear of his “monster” accusations but still ruined and nowhere to be seen, the true monsters turn on their next victim… the Cat.
To aide understanding, I’ll transcribe and translate the dialogue of the video:
Judge: Everyone, please pay attention. I have heard a rumor that the man you see before you is a monster. However, he confidently insists that he is not. Well, from now we shall investigate whether or not he is a monster.
(여러분, 주목하세요. 이 앞에 보이는 저 남자가 괴물이라는 소문이 들고었어요. 그런데 저남자는 자신이 괴물이 안이라고 주장하고 있어요. 자, 지금부터 저 남자가 괴물인지 아닌지 우리 한 번 이야기 나눠 들어보도록하죠.)
Defendant: I… am not a monster.
(ㅈ~저는 괴물이 아닙니다.)
Horse: Shut up, you’re a monster!!
(닥쳐, 넌괴 물이야!!)
Goat: That’s right, that’s right.
Rooster: You… aren’t a person.
(넌… 사람이 아니야…)
Defendant: I’m truly not a monster.
(전 정말로 괴물이 아닙니다.)
Hippo: Look here, can’t you see what’s going on? Just admit it.
(이봐… 상황파악이 안돼? 그냥 인정해~)
Cat: Um, but… isn’t it possible that he’s not a monster?
(저, 근데요… 진짜 괴물이 아닐 수도 있지 않을까요?)
Hippo: Ah, so frustrating. Isn’t it because of guys like you that that monster can pretend to be human?
(아~ 답답하긴… 꼭 너같은 놈들 때문에 저 괴물이 사람인 척 판치고 다니는 거아니야)
Cat: Aren’t those words a little too much? Do you have any grounds (for your claim)?
(저… 말이 너무심하신 거아니에요? 무슨 근거라도 있어요?)
Lion: Grounds? Didn’t you hear me say that monster was from California? But look at the color of that skin… Using your common sense, if he came from a place like California there’s no way the skin color could be that white…
(근거? 나는 저 괴물이 켈리포니아에서 왔다고 들었고든? 그런데, 저 피부색을 봐봐… 상식적으로 캘리포니아 같은 더욱 지방에서 왔으면 피부색이 저렇게 새하얄 수가 없다고…)
Defendant: That doesn’t make any sense…
Pig: Oh ho, so it’s true that that thing is a monster!
(오호~ 저거 괴물맞네~)
Rooster: Jeez, hurry up and admit it already…
(아이~ 빨리 인정하라고~)
(The audience starts to chant “괴물” (monster))
Defendant: I’m… I’m really not a monster!!
(전… 저 정말 괴물 아닙니다!!)
Hippo: Ah, that’s right. I heard somewhere that monsters don’t have a belly button…
(아, 맞다. 내가 어디서 듣기에는… 괴물들은 배꼽이 없다던데…
Pig: So if he takes off his clothes, that would be fine.
(그럼 옷을 벗어보면 되겠네)
Rooster: Well then, take of your clothes so we can verify whether you’re a monster!
(그럼 옷을벗어서 괴물이 아니란 걸 증명하면 되잖아!)
(Audience begins chanting “벗어” (take it off))
Cat: Isn’t this too much? Aren’t you all being a little crazy right now?
(지금 너무한 거 아니에요? 지금 다들 제정신인 거예요?)
(Audience continues to chant “벗어”)
Judge: Well, it seems as if we’ve arrived at our answer, yes? That man… is a monster! (Monster, really is a monster!)
자, 답이 나온것같죠? 저 남자는… 괴물이에요! (괴물… 괴물이네!)
The end scene:
Judge: Attention, everyone. He’s not a monster. He’s not. Nope. Let’s- let’s go.
(여러분, 주목하세요. 괴물이 안이래요. 안이래. 아니란다야. 가-가자.)
Cat: Hey, you saw that, you saw that, yeah? I was right. All those guys who were asking what I was saying earlier… where did they go? I asked where they went! Everyone I can see gathering here are all the same… People who probably can’t (don’t) go outside…
(야, 봤지, 봤지, 응? 내말이 맞다그랬지. 아까 나한테 뭐라하던 놈들… 어디 갔어? 어디 갔냐고? 내가 보기엔 여기모여있는것들 다 똑 같은것들이야. 밖에 나가선 암말도 못 할것들이…)
There are a couple important things to note:
First, that the defendant and the cat are both using polite or formal language (~요 (yo) at the end of sentences, 저 (jeo) for pronouns) at the trial, whereas the accusers are using informal language (dropping the 요, using 나/너 (na, neo) for pronouns). This sets an important tone to the opening dialogue. In contrast, this is all changes in the closing scene, where the judge opens with formal language, gets flustered, then starts speaking with informal language. The cat also uses informal language to berate (or, more accurately, brag to) his counterparts.
Second is that the way in which the defendant is addressed very quickly devolves from the already informal “너” (basically “you” instead of using a name like in polite Korean) or 저 남자 (“that man”) to calling him “monster” or using words that are used to talk about objects and things.
Third is that all the audience members are wearing masks… symbolic of the faceless netizens that are more confident spreading rumors due to their anonymity and the unlikelihood of facing repercussions for their actions.
Fourth is that what the Cat is saying at the very end is what appears as the text on the forum screenshot… with almost equal thumbs up and down. The responses include things like:
그러는너는여기서뭐하냐? ㅉㅉ (What is someone like you doing here? Tsk tsk)
여기똑같은것들추가ㅋㅋ (Here is an addition that is exactly the same (You’re just like us) haha)
그래서괴물이아니란증거가있냐고… (So do you have evidence that he’s not a monster…?)
But it is most important to remember that this issue is limited neither to Korea nor scandals. This is our world today, where “information” can be found in an instant, but the accuracy of that information can be questionable. Too often, half-truths get swept up by social media or some news source in such desperate competition with social media that they fail to thoroughly fact-check and thus spread misinformation. In this amazing time when we have access to wonderful, seemingly infinite resources, those sources should always be checked, reasonable skepticism should be employed, common sense should be used, and basic! common! human! decency! should be priority. That means not ruining someone’s life simply because of some baseless rumor.
(P.S. I’m not saying exonerate celebrities from every and any wrongdoing. I don’t even disapprove of holding them to a higher standard – they are typically role models in the eyes of many people, and thus should take this into consideration with their actions. But I find the thirst for blood, especially in Korea, just flabbergasting.)