TLF Says You Should Be Watching: Answer Me 1997

The Learned Fangirl is steeped in the experience of being a fangirl. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough pop culture examples that are from the perspective of fangirls. Fortunately, there is Answer Me 1997 (2012), a Korean drama, half-set in 1997, the starting point for K-pop’s unending hallyu wave of manufactured groups. This is a show for present or former fangirls of music — from Beatlemaniacs through the Metallica/Megadeth fan battles to those with Bieber fever.

What is so delightful about this show — from the first episode to the last — is that it shows fandom as a powerful, distracting, encompassing, and motivating force in the lives of fans, especially female fans. The show starts when the characters are teenagers, so it shows all of the aspect of high drama that only is possible with the heady mix of hormones, groupthink, and innocent obsessiveness of teenage girls. I laughed knowingly during the first episode when the main character Shi Won almost loses her mind dancing along to H.O.T. in the aisles, nearly passing out from pure fandom excitement.

Throughout the show, fandom is respected in a way rarely seen (and even rarer to see sustained through the entire run of a show). Friendships are tested, but never broken, due to being part of different fandoms. The show is based around the real-life Sechskies/H.O.T. fanwars, but also delves into real world issues, such as inclusiveness, especially of gay (& closeted) fans to traditionally female fandoms.

The fandom of the characters is so serious that one of the main characters as an adult is still known as Mrs. Tony — her teenage nickname based on her love of Tony (from H.O.T). And as an adult, a minor character despite her high profile job, still manages to be the head of a fan club. There is also a strong flavor for the idea that being an obsessive fan is passed down from mother to daughter — even if the object of the fandom varies, much in a similar way to the honored tradition of sports fandom being passed from father to son.

To show the recursive aspects of the show, most of the actors on the show have also been the objects of this type of fandom, considering many of them have been idol singers themselves. The writers clearly know how much they are poking at fandom by having the equivalent of a former real-life Backstreet Boy (here: member of Sechskies) portray the boyfriend of an obsessive fan of the Backstreet Boys.

This is a show that believes in fandom so much that a character wins a college scholarship based on her real-person slash-fanfic about her favorite group.

Dramabeans has great recaps of all of the episodes, but to watch the show, try Dramafever (my recommendation), Hulu, or VIKI. Be sure to watch Episode 0 if you want background on H.O.T. or other aspects of mid-90s Korean pop.

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  1. […] Korea — complete with lots of fandom moments. I’ve previously written about the show here in more […]

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