A parody on Chilean television of the Korean boy band BTS prompted an international backlash over the weekend, illustrating the power of the group’s many fans and a heightened sensitivity around the world to racist, particularly anti-Asian, speech.
In a short sketch on the show “Mi Barrio,” which aired Saturday on the Mega Channel in Chile, comedians satirized the South Korean supergroup, mocking the Korean language and associating the band’s members with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.
Asked to introduce themselves, the actors portraying the band’s members gave their names as “Kim Jong-Uno,” “Kim Jong-Dos,” “Kim Jong-Tres,” “Kim Jong-Cuatro” and “Juan Carlos.” Asked to say something in Korean, one comedian spoke in accented gibberish.
Fans of BTS are legion and fiercely loyal. They quickly came to the band’s defense and linked the jokes to wider issues of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia that have flared since the coronavirus surfaced last year in China.
Propelled by these ardent supporters, who call themselves Army, the group has made record-breaking runs at the top of the Billboard charts, released platinum-selling singles and won countless awards around the world. The group boasts the most-ever engagements on Twitter and the most video views in 24 hours on YouTube.
While using their power and numbers to promote and defend the group, BTS fans have also demonstrated themselves to be a powerful bloc on other issues. Last year, Korean pop music fans coordinated to embarrass President Donald J. Trump by inflating ticket requests at a campaign rally.
At a time of increased anti-Asian rhetoric and violence across the internet and around the world, “Mi Barrio” quickly became the target of a larger antiracism campaign. The trading card company Topps faced a similar backlash last week after releasing Garbage Pail Kids cards that were intended to mock the band but were widely perceived as racist and tone deaf.
Not confined to Spanish-language social media and BTS fan accounts, outrage about the “Mi Barrio” episode quickly spread across the web, with the hashtag #RacismIsNotComedy becoming the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States on Sunday night. It was an indication that thousands of people were discussing the term at the same time.
“There is NOTHING funny about racism, especially in a time where Asian hate crimes have been rampant around the world. This is disgusting,” wrote one Twitter user.
A Chilean BTS fan account with 150,000 followers pushed people to register a formal complaint against “Mi Barrio” with the country’s National Television Council, calling on the regulator to “ensure that racist attitudes and stereotypes are eliminated from Chilean television.”
In a statement posted to its Instagram account on Sunday, “Mi Barrio” struck a conciliatory, if not wholly contrite, tone. “We will continue to improve, learn, listen and strengthen our intention: to bring entertainment to families.”
BTS has not officially commented on the Chilean episode, but in a statement released in March about increased attacks against Asians, the group said, “We recall moments when we faced discrimination as Asians. We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English.”
“We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected,” the message concluded. “We will stand together.”
That statement, released on Twitter, has been liked more than two million times.