Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Affairs will investigate Korean pop music known as K-pop that conservative experts have portrayed as a threat to Turkish youth from the Far East, Turkish media reported.
“The ministry is investigating allegations that K-pop is leading young people to stray from traditional values and reject their families and lead them to a ‘gender-free’ lifestyle,” journalist Onder Yilmaz reported in the daily Milliyet on Aug. 29.
The ministry reached out to representatives of social media platforms in Turkey to seek their help in combating harmful online content that negatively affects children, the paper read. A representative of a platform that wished to remain anonymous confirmed to Al-Monitor that there were plans to do so in “near future”.
The ministry’s plans to monitor the impact of K-pop on Turkish youth follows news that two sisters and a friend ran away from home earlier this month to go to South Korea. Their mother claimed the girls were fans of Korean Wave or “Hallyu,” a term used to describe the growing worldwide popularity of South Korean culture, from drama to cosmetics, music, and fashion.
According to a Twitter report published in September 2020, Turkey is one of the 20 countries where users use K-pop hashtags. Turkish Twitter users responded by the thousands to songs like the band EXO’s “Obsession” and BTS’ “On”.
“Given that there are millions of fans in Turkey, it is not a trend but an exception that three girls in the center of Istanbul run away from home to go to South Korea. However, it has once again provoked conservative groups who want to stigmatize K-pop as a movement that LGBTI lifestyle, a gender-free society, a society that drives young people to suicide and all that,” said Alptekin Keskin, a scientist working on anti-K-pop rhetoric in Turkey.
Conservative newspapers and commentators have repeatedly accused K-pop idols, especially the popular BTS, from “creating confusion in gender identity.”
BTS is a boy band whose last hit “Butter” at the top of the summer charts. The seven petite and androgynous members of the band went before the United Nations in 2018 to deliver a speech in support of young people standing up for themselves and for sexual minorities. Member Kim Nam-joon, better known as RM, said: “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, your skin color, your gender identityy, just talk to yourself.”
In a column with the headline “Gay armies are comingYeni Akit commentator Ali Osman Aydin accuses BTS of “behaving like neat, decent children who love animals and nature”, but in fact “be part of a global design to create a gender-free society.” The pro-government news channel Ahaber and the state-run Anadolu News Agency selectively quoted psychologists and teachers as endorsing their objections. For example, Goksin Kahraman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said BTS’s androgynous singers can “cause confusion” in “young people whose gender identities are stillunder developmentt.”
Turkish officials’ tightening anti-LGBTI rhetoric often goes hand in hand with claims that youth and children are protected from “gay lifestyles.” When students were forced to stay indoors and study online during the pandemic, a teachers’ association asked them to paint rainbows and hang them in their windows. Alarmed by the connotations of the rainbow, the global symbol of the LGBTI social movement, the Ministry of Education intervened to stop the rainbow campaign. Turkey’s media watchdog, the Supreme Radio and Television Council, closely monitors gay characters in movies and series watched by children and young adults. Netflix, which has more than 3 million subscribers in Turkey, has more than once succumbed to council pressure, pulling a series entirely or altering scripts to remove a gay character.
Keskin added that the K-pop groups, especially BTS, which has more than 20 million followers on social media that the band members call their “army”, also very popular among the youth in Islamic church schools, who are president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees it as the training ground of his “pious generation.”
“This popularity in conservative circles is precisely one of the reasons conservative pundits feel alarmed,” he said. “But the fans – numerous and adept with social media – can refute the allegations” with their own social media hashtags.
“It would be factually incorrect to describe K-pop fans as advocates of an LGBTI lifestyle. For example, BTS opposes toxic masculinity and says it respects all sexual orientations. In the interviews I’ve had with the fans, they feel that the K-pop idols are sending an uplifting message, a message of respect.”
But one should refrain from adopting an overly rosy picture of K-pop, warned Aylin Sener, a journalist who follows Hallyu. She pointed out that the korean pop music world has a dark underbelly in which singers are trained for hours and are subject to strict dietary restrictions and long-term contracts that tie them to their managers, who exercise strict control over their private lives. At least seven singers in the genre, mostly women, have committed suicide in the past three years.