[OP-ED] Guilty until proven innocent: The lynch mob against T-ara and who's really to blame
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The fallout from Hwayoung's split with T-ara has been nothing short of cataclysmic, and resulted in an all-out witch hunt against the current T-ara members. The group has lost endorsement deals, been forced to cancel concerts, fan cafes have shut down, petitions and groups to have T-ara disbanded and to uncover the truth behind the scandal have attracted hundreds of thousands of people, netizens have called for the members to be removed from their current television shows, and much more.
In less than a week, T-ara has gone from being one of the most loved groups in K-Pop to the most reviled and hated. But whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty, and why are the members of T-ara receiving the majority of vitriol instead of their controversial CEO, Kim Kwang Soo?
The bulk of the anti-T-ara bandwagoning has stemmed from various reports of bullying -- most of which have turned out to be either misconstrued or completely false. The situation has gotten so bad that anonymous posts on web forums have been picked up by the media and reported as fact, and everybody has been so desperate for answers that they're not stopping to separate the fiction from the fact.
A photo of Hyomin accidentally bumping Hwayoung as she raised her arm was transformed by netizens into "Hyomin pokes Hwayoung in the eye!". Screencaps of Hwayoung opening her mouth for Eunjung to put a rice cake in it suddenly became an attempt at choking by force-feeding -- what people failed to mention was that it was part of a Japanese game where you had to stuff sweets into someone's mouth. Even a photo of Hwayoung chatting with INFINITE and SISTAR at a broadcast was somehow turned into Hwayoung having to sit with them because T-ara wouldn't speak to her.
There was never any speculation that Hwayoung had been bullied before last week, yet now all it takes is a photo of her hanging with Bora to serve as evidence that she's been ostracized by her group. Does this selca of Eunjung and KARA's Gyuri mean that they too, are victims of bullying? Anybody can take a photo and fabricate a story around it.
There was even a report that Jiyeon slapped Hwayoung across the face -- a report that literally stemmed from an anonymous forum post from somebody claiming to be a member of T-ara's dance team, Yama & Hot Chicks. When the leader of the dance team came forward to shoot down the reports as false, it was too late. The article was already a most-read story across the web, and the damage was done.
It should take more than some out-of-context photos, anonymous forum posts, and unsubstantiated stories to convince the world that T-ara is a pack of evil bullies who tormented and assaulted their bandmate. This is 2012, but right now people are acting like it's the 1600s in a modern day digital Salem witch trials.
The only thing that seems somewhat accurate in all of this drama is that there was an incident on last week's Music Bank where Hwayoung was upset for an as-yet-unknown reason, and refused to go on stage for T-ara's scheduled performance. This caused the other members to have to cover for her at the last minute, and resulted in a mistake being made during the performance. Some T-ara members were then unprofessional and tweeted** their disappointment over the situation, which led to them being labelled as bullies. This information about Music Bank does not confirm that T-ara are bullies, nor does it confirm that Hwayoung is troublesome. All it confirms is that Hwayoung refused to perform on Music Bank that day --which may or may not have been for a perfectly valid reason-- and that the others members disagreed with that decision.
**Tweets were made two days prior following the Budokon concert, in which Hwayoung only participated minimally due to injury.
Does anybody remember what happened to the famous British girl group Sugababes back in 2009? Member Keisha Buchanan was kick from the group amidst claims she was a bully, but fans and the public still took her side and blamed another member, Amelle Berrabah, for the entire thing. People adopted a lynch mob mentality, similar to the one we are currently seeing against T-ara, and eventually their attacks against Amelle were so vicious that she had a nervous breakdown and had to spend three-weeks recovering in a treatment facility. Reports that Keisha had been a bully were never confirmed, the fans eventually calmed down and got over it, and life went on as usual. If only everyone had behaved more rationally and not jumped to conclusions, then Amelle's unfortunate breakdown could have been avoided altogether.
While everybody is busy blaming T-ara for Hwayoung's departure, few seem to be looking towards Kim Kwang Soo, who may very well be more responsible for this entire ordeal than anybody else involved.
In my April article about T-ara's then-announced member changes, I expressed my concern over the way Kim Kwang Soo was managing the group. I said that he was creating an unhealthy environment for the group by encouraging them to compete against one another and by threatening to fire or replace any members who didn't comply. Now that he's made good on his threats, it's T-ara who are being blamed.
In that same article, I also took a look at how severely Kim Kwang Soo had been overworking T-ara. In a nutshell, the group hasn't had a vacation since their debut in 2009 and hasn't received a day off in one year, members were performing on top of serious injuries, Jiyeon collapsed on stage from exhaustion, and at times the group's work load was so heavy that they had 12 schedules in one day.
Now picture the kind of stress that would bring on the members of T-ara, and then remember that Hwayoung was not part of the original T-ara lineup. She was added to the group in 2010. So Hwayoung was added to a group that was already successful, a group that had been together for years if you include their trainee days, a group that was being severely overworked in a high-stress environment, and a group that was encouraged by their CEO to compete against one another.
If any of the unsubstantiated bullying claims are true, or even if Hwayoung was simply just an 'outcast' in T-ara, it's not hard to see why.
If you need any more proof that Kim Kwang Soo isn't the greatest CEO on the planet, then look no further than Nam Gyuri. The idol was a member former CCM girl group SeeYa, before she left back in 2009 for financial reasons and to pursue an acting career. What followed was a messy and very public war of words in which Kim Kwang Soo revealed scandalous information about Gyuri in the press and claimed that she was uncooperative and missed schedules. The remaining SeeYa members held a press conference and painted Gyuri out to be a selfish diva, and Gyuri denied his allegations against her and implied that it was a smear campaign against her, and claimed her former bandmates were cold towards her and spoke behind her back.
There was probably a little truth to both sides of that story, but at the end of the day, people are going to disagree and have conflicts. It's a normal part of life, and it's happened to everybody.
When you're looking at a Korean girl group, such as T-ara, a CEO is like the teacher or the parent of the group. The CEO has a responsibility to create a safe and healthy environment for the group, both at home in the dorm and at work, and to ensure that any petty issues are taken care of in a proper way so the dynamic of the group can remain positive and professional. Kim Kwang Soo appears to have done the exact opposite of that, and if there is any true disharmony in T-ara, it is he who should be held responsible before both Hwayoung and T-ara.
As of now, the only real bullies in this whole situation are the netizens. Take one look at the comments section in a T-ara post on allkpop right now, and you'll either see a hypocritical flood of cruel and mean-spirited attacks directed at the group and its individual members, or just people laughing at the group's current predicament. T-ara is being torn down for something that nobody even knows if they actually did or not. And if they did do it, then why did they do it? Not everything in life is black and white.
If it turns out that T-ara truly is just a bunch of evil bullying witches that tried to choke Hwayoung on rice cakes, poke her eyes out with their fingers, and gang up to destroy her umbrella, then fine -- bash 'em, hate 'em, demand their disbandment, and more. But until then, everybody needs to put their torches and pitchforks down, and wait for a little something called the truth to come out.
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