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Surveillance and Abolition in Jimin’s Set Me Free Pt. 2 Music Video

Disclaimer: this blog contains mentions of imprisonment and discrimination. Please take care while reading.

As the biggest musical group in the world, all eyes are constantly on BTS. The level of scrutiny placed on the group has been significantly enhanced by contemporary society’s everyday digital surveillance and information sharing, from paparazzi tweets to news updates. Moreover, BTS is often “hypervisible” and hyper-scrutinized in the West because they are often the only ethnically Asian and nationally non-American faces on the charts. Increased surveillance, particularly when placed on non-white people in the US, has a long and interconnected history with increased discriminatory policing and imprisonment. Jimin’s solo debut Set Me Free Pt. 2’s music video, set within a minimalist interpretation of panopticon prison, deliberately subverts these forms of punishment in a clear demand for abolition: “Set me free.”

Policing, Prisons, and Racial Discrimination in the United States

To understand the setting and implications of Jimin’s music video, one must first understand the history of crime, punishment, and injustice in the United States. Early United States imprisonment and punishment laws were used to enforce a set of human ethics and morality; however, that system is immediately unjust and discriminatory when ethics and morality are legalized and applied to derogatory beliefs against LGBTQ+, Black, and Asian communities.

As a result, prison and policing in the United States have inherently racist origins that manifest themselves far too often in the present. The first recorded prison laws in Puritan colonies punished “acts of homosexuality,” and the first modern-day police forces were “slave patrols” who hunted down Black people escaping the inhumane and brutalizing conditions of enslavement. Criminalization and imprisonment of Black Americans continued legally under “Jim Crow” segregation laws. Today, disproportionate numbers of Black, Pacific Islander, non-white Hispanic, and some Asian people are incarcerated. Moreover, police officers are more likely to use unjustified fatal force when investigating or apprehending Black suspects and are rarely held accountable for their criminal actions. BTS and ARMY have both publicly supported Black Lives Matter, a movement that seeks to end racial discrimination perpetuated through policing and incarceration. This is an important and necessary show of anti-racism, especially when much of BTS’ art draws from Black American music that is anti-policing and anti-oppressive in origin.

The Panopticon and the Surveillance State

ARMY has been more than vocal in condemning police surveillance, playing a huge role in shutting down the Dallas Police Department’s iWatch app designed to criminalize Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. Mass imprisonment is fueled by increased surveillance, from policing technology like the iWatch app to the actual designs of prisons. One such design is the panopticon, wherein the prison cells placed along the edge of a circular building are all monitored by one guard tower in the center.

This allows all prisoners to be observed by a security guard without their knowledge. In addition to being used in mass incarceration today, writers such as Michael Foucault have demonstrated that the “panopticon effect” has extended to other facets of our society. For example, those with public profiles may never know when they are being watched by the paparazzi. Everyone is constantly surveilled by security cameras without knowing if those cameras are being monitored or not. As Jimin himself points out, depression and anxiety, wherein one’s brain reifies self-punishing thoughts, can also be forms of self-surveillance, triggered by the harmful words and actions of others.

Enter Park Jimin

After Jimin’s Set Me Free Pt. 2 MV premiered, ARMY such as Professor Kate Ringland were quick to point out that the set for the music video was also a panopticon (a theory confirmed by Jimin himself in behind-the-scenes footage).

The presence of this particular structure has led to many wonderful abolitionist interpretations of this song. As another Twitter user pointed out, “Jimin takes the center, which means that if we view this through the lens of Foucault’s panopticon, we could argue that he’s completely subverting the threat of surveillance and taking control of the narrative instead. He’s at no one’s mercy. He’s free.” As he declares in the song’s pre-chorus, “Even if they ridicule me, I don’t stop;” while Jimin can never escape the prison of being constantly surveilled, he can reclaim his narrative.

History is Made in the Present (Like Jimin’s #1 on the Hot 100 Chart!)

Unlike Set Me Free, the titular phrase in Set Me Free Pt. 2 is not used as a plea or a gentle request. Jimin’s powerful and unapologetic song demands freedom, and this demand takes on important and nuanced dimensions when engaging critically with an examination of prison structures present in the video. There are so many beautiful solutions to mass incarceration that provide safe, accountable alternatives when people harm each other. As ARMY, we continue to imagine what just and safe communities look like: a fandom that celebrates all seven members equally and non-toxically, a music market that doesn’t discriminate against BTS’ work just because of where they are from or what language they speak, and a world where everyone is unafraid and lovingly held accountable for their actions. Thoughtful discussions about the systems that stand in our way are an important step in making these futures a reality.

Written by: Mariko

Edited by: Lisa K

Designed by:ThornToHisRose

ARMY Magazine does not own any of the photos/videos shared in our blog. No copyright infringement intended.

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