South Korea: YouTuber finds pitfall of cashing in on public adoration of the rich and famous

Just after midnight on Jan. 25, YouTuber Song Ji-ah — better known by her channel name FreeZia — posted a public apology for a recent controversy surrounding her wearing of fake designer label clothes and accessories in her videos and on TV.

It came after nearly a fortnight of criticism, which on the surface seems like a disproportionate amount of fuss over something far from important. She wore some fake items, so what? That’s not a state crime.

What lies behind the anger, experts say, is the feeling of being deceived by someone they adored for seemingly living out their fantasies.

Lim Myung-ho, professor of psychology and psychotherapy at Dankuk University, pointed to illusions of conformity that may have played a part in the public’s initial affection toward Song.

“There is a tendency for some people to want to be a part of certain groups, ones with authority and wealth,” he said, explaining it is a mob mentality of some sort. “By pressing ‘Like’ [on videos and posts], people tend to feel like they are part of that group.”

Prior to the controversy, Song’s channel had well over 2 million subscribers, with over 3.6 million on Instagram. She had been among the most popular rising creators in the country.

She has built a persona of being young, attractive and rich, living in one of the most expensive homes in Seoul and wearing luxury items like top-ranked K-pop idols do.

While it was not directly for profit, she did falsely claim her belongings to be authentic, leading people to believe that she was wealthy.

In recent years, Korea has seen the rise of the so-called flex culture — in which individuals boast their wealth via lavish consumption. A 2019 video of rapper Yumdda spending 40 million won ($33,390) in a single day has garnered nearly 7 million views as of Jan. 28.

Being rich, or pretending to be so, sells, apparently.

“Many people have the desire to be rich, and [watching these videos] is a way of circumventing such desires,” said Lim, explaining that these videos allow viewers a vicarious experience. “Which is not a positive direction, as it derives from the desire to be in the group and feel superiority toward ‘normal’ people.”

Predictably, the problem with such illusions is that it is not real. Lim explained that such a feeling of conformity toward rich celebrities tends to backfire when these celebrities are discovered to be false.