To face reality and accept it

Sabrina Elasri on a concept album from Korean Pop band BTS.

Like many psychology teachers, I find students get to grips with psychology best when they can relate it to their everyday lives on some level. Yet pop music is probably one of the last places many teachers would look for a way of helping the understanding of complex psychological theory. Could they be missing a trick in a 'K-pop' band who have just hit top spot in UK album charts?

The Korean boy band BTS recently released an album in April called 'Map of the Soul: Persona'. The album is heavily rooted in the psychology of the self: in particular, it is named after and inspired by Dr Murray Stein’s introductory book on analytical psychology, Jung: Map of the Soul. The book became so popular amongst the BTS fanbase (nicknamed the ARMY) that it sold out on the band’s official online shop within a matter of days before the album was released.

A quick search on YouTube shows countless videos from fans explaining in many languages what Jung’s theory of self is, and how it has built the concept. There are so many guides on the importance and meanings of the upcoming album titles (hidden in their videos and lyrics): Persona, Shadow and Ego. Quite radically, millions of people from all educational backgrounds have been encouraged to explore a branch of psychology that they arguably would not have looked into, simply because of this Korean boy band. On the viral Twitter hashtag, #PersonaChallenge, fans have shared their stories of personal growth following difficulties in examining and accepting themselves, whether that involves accepting their physical or mental health, race, or gender identity. This was a widely welcomed follow-up to the Love Yourself campaign, last year’s worldwide attempt by BTS and UNICEF to encourage self-acceptance that was promoted by the band at the UN General Assembly.

Whilst it is not news that fanbases can be very dedicated, it is noteworthy how engaged and intellectually stimulated fans have been by the content, discussing the music’s links to psychological theories in such depth that it is clear they are taking enjoyment in the learning of it. Fandom is often believed to be an escape from reality, yet the basis of BTS’s new concept is to encourage others to face their reality and accept it. The ARMY are learning about their ‘self’ in a psychological sense and learning to love all facets of themselves through introspection. Fanbases such as this are also often viewed as juvenile, yet evidently the recent popularity of Jung’s theory demonstrates otherwise.

As a psychology teacher and now postgraduate psychology student, it has always been my goal to take learning outside of the classroom, and to encourage students to think about the practical applications of psychological theory in their lives. Carl Jung said 'Who looks outside, dreams; Who looks inside, awakes', and 'the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely'. I definitely consider it a success seeing so many people so committed to trying.

- Sabrina Elasri, Psychology of Education postgraduate at the University of Manchester.

Find more on Carl Jung in our archive.

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