“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” -Sir Winston Churchill.
In a strange twist of fate, EXO-L’s and ARMY have recently found themselves on the same side of the political indignation coin. I’m sure neither fandom expected to see themselves in this position, but with the power and prestige each group holds in our modern tragedy called humanity, it seems unavoidable in hindsight.
EXO and BTS are undisputed leaders of their generation. As such, they have been called upon, symbolically and officially, to act as messengers and representatives of their nation and generation. However, these associated responsibilities and opportunities come with added scrutiny brought on by the outrage train; most notably social media where “wokeness” isn’t a matter of truth and compassion but a matter of being cool and using that buzzword.
Of course, I’m referring to EXO greeting US President Donald Trump and Big Hit’s recent announcement that BTS will perform in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Both incidents have garnered a loud minority of dissenters who drowned out the overwhelming majority of positive responses to both events.
However, this loud minority is unequivocally short-sighted, and likely hiding ulterior motives. They categorically ignore common sense and geo-political realities to further their one dimensional understanding of over-complicated issues, in which, the boys of EXO and BTS are undoubtedly positively contributing.
Legitimacy. A horde of the outraged immediately called attention to the idea that EXO meeting Trump and BTS performing in KSA, somehow lends their popular legitimacy to the fool and tyrant respectively. Of course, this would be laughable if not so contemptibly idiotic. Trump received his political legitimacy from the people of the United States. The royal family in KSA, received their political legitimacy from NATO and the United States military. KSA’s economic legitimacy is derived from taxpayers in the EU and USA who secure KSA’s economic power through their over-reliance on oil. There is no rational metric which can be used to justify otherwise; the “pass the buck” legitimacy scheme can best be described as juvenile; at worst, senile. The idea that the action or inaction of a boy band would fundamentally alter, in any way, shape or form, the hard-line policies of men in power who are already corrupted is absurd.
Risk v Reward. It has been clearly stated that EXO were invited by South Korea President Moon notably due to the fact that Ivanka Trump, adviser to the US President, and her children became fans of EXO after seeing them perform at the Olympics. Realistically, except for the children of Twitter, EXO runs no real risk by representing South Korean culture on behalf of the South Korean President. However, the group stand to gain increased goodwill on behalf of their nation and fandom with the American Presidency.
BTS also have little risk outside of the wrath of the children of Twitter. Marshmello, Mariah Carey, One Republic, Rihanna, Black Eyed Peas, Stray Kids and Super Junior have all played The Kingdom. BTS are not participating in an official capacity as EXO at the Trump meeting, but their reward is given in expanding their message and performing for a large segment of their fandom which has NEVER had the opportunity to experience a BTS concert.
Hypocrisy. Perhaps the arguments of the little and loud hurled at EXO and BTS wouldn’t be so dismiss-able if they weren’t witheringly hypocritical. KSA has well documented human rights abuses. Trump and his administration have also begun to cement their own legacy of human and civil rights abuses including continued airstrikes in Yemen. China, the Philippines, Argentina, Russia, and France also hold their own records of civil and human rights abuses, as well as a history of many Kpop concerts. The point is not moral equivalency; saying “yeah, well they are worse” doesn’t settle the score. The sticking point is hypocrisy. Exactly what is the cut off threshold for human suffering?
This cannot be the standard for cultural exchange. If it is, what exactly is the point of diplomacy? What exactly is the point of the UN? The goal of diplomacy and of the United Nations is to reach across borders and languages with universal ideas of brotherhood and co-existence. If we start saying people are less worthy because of their government, we adopt the very logic we seek to eradicate.
The Fairytale. Quit putting EXO and BTS on a golden pedestal where they are above the people. The boys are of the people, and as their representatives, they may be asked to do work that is “dirty” or that is imperfect. Quit trying to separate them from the people and any associated controversy in order to maintain your picture perfect image. Let’s be real, certain EXO-L’s and ARMY are more concerned about tarnishing the boys image as opposed to whether or not they are actually doing the right thing on behalf of their nation, fans, and generation.
Ulterior motives. Goes without saying that Anti’s are using these instances to poo-poo on EXO and BTS. However, and particularly in the case of BTS, it’s pretty easy to spot the underlying Islamophobia (sinister and uneducated alike) moving through the conversations despite the best efforts of persons actually living in Saudi Arabia to offer realistic insights about Saudi Arabia’s social and political structures.
The proof is in the pudding. Ultra-conservative voices is Saudi Arabia are calling for BTS’ invite to be revoked because they deem it inappropriate. Likewise, the upstanding naysayers would also stop it nothing to see BTS removed from performing in KSA. So, congratulations you woke folk now sound like the people you claim to dislike as you both have the same goal: Get BTS out of Saudi Arabia. To the other, there were many bigoted voices in the US curious as to why Trump had to meet with EXO. Those who opposed EXO meeting Trump on moral grounds wound up sharing the same sentiments as the bigots who didn’t want their dear President to condescend to meet with Asian pop stars. When your end goals mirror the people whom you claim to subvert, you might want to rethink your exclusionary strategy.
FOCUS. What are you seeking to change? Suppose BTS pulls out from the concert in Riyadh? Suppose EXO pulled out from meeting Trump? Describe to me what would be gained in either of those scenarios except that those in favor might feel some sort of self-righteous victory. Do you think such will magically cause the Kingdom to repent of all their sins? Do you think such will cause Trump to back track on every unraveling of American democracy and goodwill throughout the world? You are living in a world of absolute lunacy if you truly believe the singular actions of musical acts will impact the geo-political, human rights, and economic actions of an authoritarian one way or another. You won’t shame them into behaving. You’ll alienate the people whom it should be your goal to persuade. EXO and BTS are cultural tools of persuasion.
Youth. You will never convince the old men. They are lost at this point. But still, the children are there. Historically, cultural exchange has been a foundation point for political and social reform throughout the world from the fall of the Soviet Union to the US Civil Rights Movement. Saudi Arabia and the United States are nations struggling with pervasive systems of entrenched abuse. Yet, the new generations are already born; they are eagerly watching and listening. How does forbidding EXO from offering Asian cultural representation to the US further a socially responsive world? How will continuing to isolate Saudi youth from positive outside influences improve the climate for the coming generations? Young people, no matter where they are, who are vulnerable to the effects of religious and political bigotry, need positive male influences. In the quest for universal human rights, our battlefield is the hearts of the youth. Taken together, EXO and BTS further the missions of diplomacy and the UN by using culture and music to directly engage the youth. We will not gain the youth by giving the Saudi’s or Trump the cold shoulder, shriveling and running away. We have to engage these dangerous ideas directly. As I earlier stated, the actions of boy bands will not impact the decision making of tyrants and fools. But, we can win the youth.
To EXO and BTS: Keep winning the hearts and minds. Go to them, the people, no matter where they may be, and no matter who you may have to contend with.