WINGS & ARMY
In this chapter I will address the audience and how it relates with WINGS Short Films. In accordance with the already mentioned definition of k-pop idols as fictional popular texts and factual popular icons (chapter II), I will use media studies and notions, like the term ‘fandom’. Thus, BTS, their music and their contents are not only objects that the audience consumes but also narrative texts that the fandom has to interpret.
The Fandom: ARMY
In his book ‘Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture’, Henry Jenkins suggests five characteristic activities of fandoms such as the mixture of emotional proximity and critical distance, interpretative practices with the text, a base for consumer activism, the presence of cultural production and the function of a social community (2012). All of these are activities we can find in k-pop fandoms as well.
In fact, Lee points out that k-pop fandoms practices go far beyond the “common” fan activities like, for example, providing fanfictions, fanarts or fan videos: there are planned strategies to earn high score at award shows, “streaming lists” to follow to get more views on Youtube or Spotify, dedicated accounts and pages for translations, donation campaigns led by fans for charity and so on (2019). This is possible thanks to the strong bond between the artist and the fandom, which is fueled by “illusion of intimacy”, the idea of authenticity and the always more blurred line between ‘real’ side of the artists and their stage personas. Moreover, the main traits of the so-called ‘third generation idol group’ (which includes BTS) are “intimate communication with fans and active globalization based on social media” (Lee 2019, p. 93), which contribute to create more autonomous fandoms. These ideas are also conveyed by the common practice of a fandom name given by the artist (or the label) instead of letting the fandom find its own name. BTS’ fan base is called ARMY (which stands for ‘Adorable Representative M.C for Youth’) and it refers to both Korean and international fans.
In this sense, we can say that ARMYs refer to BTS and their contents (which include WINGS Short Films) as media texts and they are characterized by what Jenkin define as a participatory culture, where “fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content” (2006, p. 290).
ARMY and WINGS Short Film
As we noted before, WINGS Short Films are not mere audio-visual texts: above all they are BTS’ content. Someone must be aware of how they relate to the other contents to understand the meaning behind them and this is the reason why the target audience of these shorts are ARMYs: being a fandom, they have a vast and deep knowledge of the band and therefore they are the ones who are fully able to decode and connect the texts.
Roland Barthes claims that “text’s unity lies not in its origin [author] but in its destination [reader]” (1977, p.148), and this is exactly the case: there is a coherent and clear idea expressed by the author (the band/label/director) that ties all these texts together; however, due to the already mentioned transmedia and serial nature of these short films, the audience (fandom) is in charge of collecting the clues and filling the gaps in order to create the story.
Furthermore, because of the conceptual portrayal of the three intertwined narrative layers, the viewers must literally decode the narration’s hints to grasp the meaning behind them. This idea fits perfectly with what Stuart Hall calls ‘encoding/decoding’ mode: he states that “there is no intelligible discourse without the operation of a code” (Hall 2006, p. 511) and every communicative exchange (from language to visuals) requires a common code to be encoded and then deciphered. However, when there is no inevitable accord between these two phases, the audience has to break away from the passive position in order to understand the text. This is what happens with #1 BEGIN and WINGS Short Films: their form and contents ask the audience to take an active role when dealing with the text.
As we saw in chapter III, these short films fit in Mittell’s definition of narrative complexity. While explaining what led to the growth of this type of storytelling in television, he mentions two important factors, connected to each other: he affirms that technological transformations moved more toward viewer control, giving the audience opportunity to re-watch contents and therefore stimulating the creation of a more complex storytelling. These technological developments, alongside with internet, enabled fans to embrace a ‘collective intelligence’ for information, encouraging participatory engagement (Mittell 2006, p. 31). These dynamics can also be applied to our case study.
From a technological point of view, #1 BEGIN is a video on YouTube and can be watched and re-watched plenty of times. This and the accessibility to the other materials related to Demian’s (1917) storyworld, BTS Universe and the artists’ personal lives helps to decode the content of this era.
From a narrative point of view, the lack of explicit storytelling cues in narrative complexity creates moments of disorientation, allowing viewers to build up their comprehension skills through a long-term viewing and active engagement (Mittell 2006). This encourages the fandom to come up with theories and provide contents that could help understand and solve the puzzle behind them, like explicative videos, dedicated websites or just randomly suggesting hypothesis on Twitter or other social medias.
Speaking of content, in this and all the WINGS Short Films BTS address topics that not only Korean people, but many people around the world could understand: their variable is not geography, but age. Through the three narrative layers they decided to portray themes which younger people could relate to, such as the struggle of growing up, possible problems someone could face during adolescence (like mental illness and past traumas), temptation, facing adulthood and self-discovering, sticking to their aim of speaking for and to the young generation (see chapter I).
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