Trigger Warning: Su*c*de
Whenever a famous person loses a battle with mental illness, the media reaction plays out in a similar fashion, rife with memorials and reminders that suicide is preventable.
But how can a website act like suicide is a tragedy and mental health issues need to be taken seriously when they've directly contributed to the denigration of those same people, time and time again?
Now I want to preface this article by saying that I recognize a certain degree of hypocrisy inherent to writing something like this on a site that thrives on entertainment news and pop culture. But at the same time, I speak from my own personal perspective, and I feel strongly that this bears saying:
Gossip "journalism" that directs constant negativity towards celebrities is cancerous and dehumanizing. It contributes to a larger online culture characterized by cyberbullying and cruelty, and when someone commits suicide as a result, that culture and the people who propagated it deserve a large chunk of the blame.
Recently, K-Pop star and actor Sulli (Choi Jin-ri) passed away at only 25-years-old. From her time in the girl group f(x) to her later appearances in movies like Real and her solo single "Goblin" in June, Sulli stood out as an incredible talent. She was a vocal proponent of women's rights, advocating for pro-choice policies in Korea and shirking traditional idol boundaries by publicly dating and posting pictures with her boyfriend. In many ways, Sulli was a symbol of progress, fighting for her rights and self-agency even when those around her wouldn't, giving voice to mental health issues in a career where those issues are often suppressed.
In return, K-Pop gossip media and netizens (online commenters) bullied her mercilessly, criticizing her fashion choices, making fun of her body, and even sh*tting on her mental health. Then these same sites (Koreaboo, Allkpop, Netizen Buzz, etc.) that profited off her "controversies" turned around and profited off her death, spouting fake platitudes about mental health awareness.
For instance, Koreaboo, an English language Korean pop culture website, has been covering Sulli's passing incessantly while Tweeting about suicide prevention.
But fans have been quick to point out that Koreaboo had contributed to her online harassment multiple times. One would think that if they truly cared about her mental health, they would have listened when she talked about her own struggles and stopped contributing to her bullying. Except they clearly didn't.
Similarly, Sulli had reportedly turned to her management company, S.M. Entertainment, for help in regards to the constant stream of online hatred directed towards her, but their response was less than helpful.
"My life is actually empty, so I feel like I'm lying to everyone by pretending to be happy on the outside," said Sulli on The Night of Hate Comments, a variety show she co-hosted dedicated to celebrities reacting to cyberbullying online. "I asked around a lot for advice. They told me, 'Everyone has a dark side in their lives but they live pretending that they don't. Don't think of it as weird.'"
Sulli's words draw attention to the dehumanization that celebrities often face in the public eye; this is not an issue limited solely to Korea or K-Pop stars. Social media crowds and celebrity gossip sites alike tend to forget that the famous figures they're constantly harping on are, in reality, actual people with complex thoughts, feelings, and identities that transcend their public personas. Their fame does not make them impervious to emotional damage, and anyone who spends years subject to constant online abuse, bullying, and gossip is at risk of long-lasting mental health repercussions. There's also a pretty big difference between valid criticism and bullying––dwelling on someone's physical appearance and dramatizing their every minor action is absolutely the latter.
People can't spend years delighting in taking someone down for no better reason than drama and clicks, only to then feign sympathy when that person succumbs to the abuse. It's more than just hypocrisy; it's an absolute miscarriage of journalism.