Moral subversion: Vietnamese youth treat real life villains as heroes

By Ngoc Dinh   April 5, 2019 | 05:12 am PT
Moral subversion: Vietnamese youth treat real life villains as heroes
A person watching a video of Kha Banh. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nguyen
The adoration heaped on gangsters by millions of Vietnamese youth point to a breakdown of moral values, experts say.

Their language is vulgar.

Their message is violent.

Yet the purveyors are looked up to and adored.

It does not take much effort these days to find videos of Vietnamese gangsters flaunting their lives and plans.

One click on the Trending tab on Youtube, the world’s biggest video platform, users can easily see videos about gangsters who publicly threaten to beat their enemies, show off their tattoos, and use vulgar language. These videos attract millions of views and elicit thousands of comments.

One of these so-called online thugs is Kha Banh, whose real name is Nguyen Ba Kha, who frequently uploads videos of himself carrying weapons to fight or burn vehicles.

Kha was recently detained by the police to investigate his betting activities and use of drugs.

His YouTube channel, which was taken down Wednesday, had two million subscribers and ranked 57th among the top subscribed channels in Vietnam, surpassing many well-known video channels with educational content.

Before Kha, Duong Minh Tuyen, another cyber-thug, was a phenomenon on YouTube, making belligerent comments, threats and claims in ‘colourful’ language. His channel had garnered over 500,000 subscribers and 40 million views before it was taken down on Thursday.

These are just two among many such gangsters with widespread support with their thuggish content. Others include Ngan T with 172,000 subscribers and 24 million views or Khanh S with 69,300 subscribers and over 24 million views.

Sociologists and psychologists are worried that such people and content are so popular among Vietnamese youth. The phenomenon has increased and spread widely, sociologist Ngo Van Huan of Ho Chi Minh Officers Academy told local media.

He said it was seriously worrying that these online gangsters attract a huge following among the youth who treat them like idols, asking for photos and autographs.

Photos circulated online show Nguyen Ba Kha surrounded by many young students and adults a few months ago near a high school in the north, asking for selfies. Similarly, when Duong Minh Tuyen was released after 32 months in jail for disturbing public order and destroying property, he was live streamed and received a lot of supportive comments on social media.

Such support manifests in financial benefits. Kha was earning up to $20,000 per month from YouTube, he told the police.

Duong Minh Tuyen’s channel fetched him from $5,000 to $79,800 per month, according Socialblade, a statistics website certified by YouTube.

Such huge incomes not only sustain the activities of these people, but also trigger emulators like Giang Ho Song Ao (Gangster Living Online), Giang Ho Dat Cang (Gangster from Port City), Giang Ho Channel (Gangster Channel)

Rebel attraction

"Kha Banh is a symbol of contemporary young people who long for freedom and desire to express themselves. Young people like him because he is free to do what he likes...," Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), told VnExpress.

Education expert Nguyen Thuy Anh also said that the problem was rooted in lack of social understanding.

Hong said that the phenomenon of online gangsters and their followers was a sign of the failure of the nation education system to instill moral values. The messages from the school, family and society to young people are mechanical and are not inspiring them to follow positive values, Hong said.

Young people are also tempted by the glamor of the gangsters’ lives. "The success of these online gangs these days is partly because of the way they boast about their wealth, which makes many people admire them," said sociologist Huan.

The young no longer have faith in "standard values" and are attracted to "temporary rebellion," said Thuy Anh.

Real consequences

The phenomenon of glorifying gangsters is also reflected in real life. Violence in schools has become endemic, and in almost all cases that have come to light, there has been no intervention when someone gets beaten up by a gang. Instead, the violence is recorded and posted online.

"I am worried when young people use wrongful actions to boast and become famous .... This will shake the foundation of moral values...," said Nguyen Phuong Linh, head of Management and Sustainable Development Institute (MSD).

Young people first follow the gangsters out of curiosity, but in the long run they can shape the behavior of the youth, become their lifestyle, and build a set of values that are seriously deviant, Pham Manh Ha of the Vietnam Youth Academy said.

It will form a society that prioritizes money, that does not highly regard morality and laws but only values strength, he added.

For now, two prominent channels, that of Kha Banh and Duong Minh Tuyen, have been taken down. However, deleting some channels does not comprehensively solve the problem, with other similar content still widely available online and celebrated by a lot of young people, experts noted.

Hong said she believed that the gangster trend will soon fade, but it revealed a problem in children’s education.

"Children need more space to play, release energy and express themselves. The educational philosophy needs to change from just producing machines," she said.

There also needs to be a comprehensive and effective remedy to prevent the trend on the Internet, according to experts.

Dang Hoa Nam, head of Department of Child Affairs, felt there was a need to act against specific cases of spreading harmful information.

He said the system should have sanctions in place to "deal with businesses and individuals who deliberately put up information that negatively affects young people and children."

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