Fanfiction, hysteria and K-Pop

by Kitty Drake in October 2020
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The Stinging Fly is an Irish literary magazine publishing new writing. The 42nd issue is interested in the idea of fandom and hysteria, and some of the most intriguing stories in here are fanfiction. For anyone not already in the know: fanfiction is written as a kind of homage to a favourite book or song or artist; the most famous instance being Fifty Shades of Grey, which was dreamed up by E. L. James as a kind of X-rated version of Twilight. If you can remember Ludwig Bemelman’s classic Madeleine series, about the smallest girl in a Parisian boarding school (In an old house in Paris / That was covered in vines / Lived twelve little girls / In two straight lines) you might enjoy Max Porter’s contribution to Stinging Fly:

Porter imagines Madeleine all grown up, smoking fags and day-drinking, mourning her lost youth. She loafs about in a park in Paris, watching the girls from her old school, and feeling sad. Madeleine’s life went tits up, we are told, when she moved to England for a man:

She moved to England,
For the love of a man.
Sorry, Miss Clavel, a terrible plan.
(He liked warm beer which he drank from the can.)

Another excellent piece looks at the extraordinary suicide rate among K-Pop stars. Inspired by the writer Lisa McInerny’s love of the rapper T.O.P — who is notable for liking Stanley Kubrick and for rapping lyrics like “Francis Bacon in my kitchen” — this essay looks at the restrictions placed on these stars’ lives, and the way those restrictions relate to “South Korea’s experience with, if not proclivity towards, authoritarian systems”. Two pop stars took their lives in two months in 2019, but their deaths are seen as personal tragedies, rather than as a consequence of feverish fan engagement. Stars endure hate from the fans of their ‘rivals’, but the love they receive is almost more violent — adult stars, for example, are forbidden to openly date, “because fans need to believe their idols are theirs until they are ready to move on”.

The Stinging Fly has its weak spots: some essays featured get a little navel-gazey, and there is a tendency towards grand political statement (the Madeleine fanfiction, for example, is described by the editor Danny Denton as a musing on Europe). But overall, this is a literary magazine remarkable for its sharpness, and its formal experimentation. There are many magazines of “new writing” out there, but the writing in The Stinging Fly is “new” in a truer sense: the ardency and the vulnerability of the voices published here can be exhilarating.

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