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Posted by AKP STAFF Saturday, March 31, 2012

[OP-ED] Confessions of an Uncle Fan


un•cle fan

1. An older man, typically thirty and above, who is a fan of K-pop girl groups.
2. A fan of uncles.

I've been a K-pop fan for quite awhile, and there used to be a time when I was an early version of what is now known as the "fan boy". I was 'that guy' who knew the latest news of all the groups, had the music videos saved on my computer and was the central repository of all things K-pop.

But that was a long time ago...

It's been several years since I've been a K-pop über-geek and I don't quite follow it like I used to. But there is one exception, my kryptonite, my one glaring weakness: girl groups. If the topic of idol girl groups comes up, my inner-dork can't contain itself and breaks free of its cage, spilling out into the world like Pandora and her box (not as evil though).

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine and the topic of the Girls' Generation appearance on the "David Letterman Show" came up. Almost immediately I was transformed and back into my über-geek mode. I got all excited and started explaining why this was a big deal and eventually I fell into my fantasy world about the reasons why I would marry Taeyeon if I had the opportunity and how Sooyoung transformed into a beautiful woman. During my alternate reality monologue, my friend started laughing hysterically out of nowhere. I asked her what was wrong and she said very matter-of-factly, "Dude, you are such an uncle fan."

What?! I mean, I know my friend meant it as a joke, but that kind of remark can make you think about the meaning of life. I took the better part of that evening thinking about whether or not I was getting too old to really be following K-pop. I mean, it's not like I have to stop listening to the music because I'm getting older, but should I be following the groups this closely and risk being branded with a scarlet "UF" on my chest?

For those of you who may not know the term, "uncle fan" refers to older men who are fans of the Kpop girl groups. Now, let's clear something up here: uncle fans aren't perverse or weirdos. They are normal men who happen to have a group or a few groups that they enjoy and support. These fans will give gifts and attend concerts and events just like any other fan does except, many times they go home to their wife and kids or into the office the next morning.

The "nation's younger sister" IU undeniably leads the field in the number of uncle fans which include the likes of some of the biggest stars in Korea like the "nation's MC", Yoo Jae Suk, hip-hop master Tiger JK, and K-pop legend Kim Chang Ryul of DJ DOC. Just recently allkpop ran this article about the latest exploits of her uncle fan group and that's only the tip of the iceberg.

While uncle fans are now a part of the K-pop culture, it doesn't mean that I enjoy being called that name and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way. The term 'uncle fan' makes you think of old men with receding hair lines and black socks with sandals. I, on the other hand, am still young(ish), with a full head of hair and never wear socks with sandals. So, is it really fair to lump me in with these older men just because I'm not a teenager anymore? Sadly, if you look at the age of some of today's idol stars and me, uncle may be more fitting than older brother.

Most of today's girl group members are at least ten years younger than I am, and some up to fifteen years younger; and those are just the ones that I know of. I was recently watching an episode of "Invincible Youth" and because of the number idol girl group members, I started wondering how I compared in age with these ladies. It's kind of disturbing:

Woori - 8 years younger than me
Sunny - 9 years
Hyoyeon - 9 years
Yewon - 9 years
Bora - 10 years
Amber - 12 years
Suzy - 14 years
Ji Young - 14 years

That's an average younger age of 10.625 years. As the kids would say, that's ridonkulous. I'm actually closer in age to the oldest 'uncle' member of the show, Lee Su Geun (born in 1975), than I am to the oldest girl group member, Woori. Clearly to members like Suzy and Ji Young, I am an old man (ahjuhsshi). It's not like we would ever hang out and go watch a movie together. In my actual life, I know girls who are around the same age and it would never cross my mind to socialize with them and I'm sure the thought of socializing with me makes them gag. So the question becomes, is it normal to even like these groups and these girls? In any other setting, saying that I like a girl fourteen years my junior would be seen as strange, but in the K-pop world, it's totally accepted.

Of course, much of that is the business aspect of K-pop. The fact is that the companies creating and managing these girl groups are marketing to appeal to a mass audience, which includes young boys, guys like me, and older men. Their companies don't want to limit their market by discouraging anyone from enjoying their music and have made it easy to be fan. Groups like SISTAR have openly embraced and acknowledged their uncle fans (see #9). Whether or not they're comfortable with that kind of attention is unknown, but it's a part of the overall public relations plan. I, like many other men, are helpless against the power of pretty girls so maybe I was brainwashed to be fan.

So how should we, the uncle fan, actually be a fan? While it's quite normal for younger fans to have pictures, maintain personal blogs, and join fan clubs, is that how all fans should engage with their favorite groups? There's a sketch on the show Gag Concert called "The Guy Who Clarifies Ambiguous Situations". So here's an attempt to set the ground rules for how uncle fans should engage with their beloved girl groups:

The Rules of Engagement for Uncle Fans

Uncle fans can attend concert/events if you're accompanied by your kid and/or niece or nephew. If you're going with friends, there must at least be a 2:1 girl to guy ratio.
Uncle fans can have pictures of  girl groups as their computer/cell phone wallpaper. But if you're ashamed to show your coworkers or friends, you need to take them down.
Uncle fans should NOT comment on girl group community boards. Let the younger kids do that and you're too old to be arguing with 15 year olds.
If you are at a maximum of 10 years older than the girl group member, it is OK to have a quasi-fantasy crush on her. If you're more than 10 years apart, that's just gross.
Above all, uncle fans should not be ashamed to proclaim their support for their favorite girl group. Just remember, you're old so don't get all crazy.

The bottom line is, it's all in the name of fun. K-pop, girl groups, boy groups; is that it's about entertainment. Of course it's OK to be an uncle fan because it reminds all of us that we were all young once and that we can still appreciate youthful energy. So yes, I am an uncle fan. I'm just too old not to be at this point, but if I am going to be one, maybe I could be the cool uncle who can still be fun and isn't that old yet.

Whatever happens, let me NEVER become like these guys:

  2. IU
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