The danger of being a fan, no matter what type, has to be the relationship they think they have with the person they look up to. This is how parasocial relationships develop, especially during these times of social media, where so much information is publicly available. According to the Find-a-Psychologist website, parasocial relationships are one-sided, where one person expends emotional energy, interest and time. At the same time, the other party, the persona, is unaware of the other’s existence. Although these relationships can be toxic, they can also be a force for good. 

Fundza interviewed Jessica Dewhurst of The Justice Desk (TJD) to discuss  the positive side of these relationships. The Justice Desk is a human rights non-profit organisation based in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Established in 2013, the organisation’s main goal is to promote the power of everyday activism. They want to empower ordinary people to understand and defend their human rights – so that they can transform society and create a more just and equal world! 

Before we dive into  the Q and A with TJD, below is a glossary of K-pop words and context for those unfamiliar with this genre. 

BTS is the acronym for Bangtan Sonyeondan, the biggest K-pop boy group.

K-pop  is Korean pop music.

ARMY  is BTS’s fandom, which in full means “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth.

RM – stands for  Rapper Monster, the alias of Kim Namjoon, BTS’s

TJD’s CEO Jessica Dewhurst recalls, 

“We were inspired to start The Mbokodo Club project after hearing BTS’s “love myself, love yourself” speech, which laid the foundation on which our project grew. We are now able to offer vulnerable girls from communities facing rape and GBV, leadership and empowerment workshops, mental health care, trauma counselling, self-defence and fitness classes. This project has gone on to become a phenomenal success, reaching and empowering hundreds of young girls and inspiring countless others from across the globe!”

BM: What is The Justice Desk’s connection to BTS?

The Justice Desk (TJD): The Justice Desk team was inspired by BTS to launch “The Mbokodo Club”. BTS is a South Korean boy band who, through their music, have inspired countless people to love themselves, love others and make a difference. The ‘love myself’ joint campaign between BTS and UNICEF was created in 2017 to end violence against children and youth, it was a plea for young people to find their voices and learn to love themselves. We launched our Mbokodo Club Project as a result of the campaign. 

At the United Nations (UN), BTS’s RM’s speech called all those listening to reject the world’s unjust narratives of who we “should be” to be valued. Rather, he encouraged people to speak their own truth, tell their own stories, embrace and love themselves, and create safe spaces for all people to feel seen, heard, respected, and protected. The Mbokodo Club Project was inspired by this powerful message. 

Many experience South Africa as a country that enforces gender norms heavily which has serious consequences for women and the queer community, who are prevented from being their authentic selves or from embracing identities that differ from what society dictates. When people step out of the cages of identity society puts us in, violence often results. This is called gender-based violence (GBV), which has ravaged our country and many others worldwide. It is the most unsafe place in the world to live if you are a woman in South Africa, where GBV rates are 5 times the global average. One in three women experiences GBV; a woman is murdered every 6 hours, and 40% of women or girl children are raped in their lifetime.

BM: How do you view the parasocial relationship between BTS and the ARMY?   

The Justice Desk (TJD): Like in any relationship, the impact generated could be used to influence the best or the worst in people. If used for the right reasons, we believe that the relationship between BTS and the ARMY can be an incredible force for good.

We have already seen this force in action through things like the apps created by police to obtain info on Black Lives Matter protestors being taken down; in Trump rallies being left empty due to army falsely booking seats and then not attending; in racist hashtags being filled with fancams and in the millions of dollars being continually raised across the globe for humanitarian action. Literal hospitals have been built, forests have been saved, wildlife has been protected, and people left on the margins of society have been reached. The possibilities for positive actions are endless.

We hope that ARMY continues to be inspired to do good through their connection to BTS, and not to use it as a “club” or space of exclusion, which we believe would completely counter BTS’ message. 

BM: As an ARMY myself, I, for one, have given up – but do you see BTS coming to South African shores anytime soon?  

The Justice Desk (TJD): We do! If not to perform a concert, we do see BTS visiting South Africa to meet with ARMY and see the impact their music has had on the lives of so many, including the girls at our Mbokodo Club Project.

BM: Plan of action to get BTS to South Africa? 

The Justice Desk (TJD): We are spreading the word about TJD’s Mbokodo Club via social media, Weverse and through contacting Hybe Entertainment in order to invite BTS to one day visit the project in person. We hope that they hear our call and visit one day soon.

Tell us: How do you use stan culture like TJD to benefit your environment? 

If you enjoyed this article, we also recommend these articles