In Korea, the time of the year most hated and feared by singles is probably Christmas. For some reason, Christmas in Korea has evolved into a holiday for couples. When Christmas Eve rolls along, swarms of lovey dovey couples crowd the streets, shamelessly flaunting their romance in public. For those without a special someone in their life, this love fiesta could be a painful reminder of their “singledom,” which seems to be almost a stigma in Korean society. There is even a popular joke about single people having to “stay home with Kevin” on Christmas Eve, in reference to the main character of the Home Alone franchise. However, things might be different this Christmas; thanks to a highly publicized event in the works, it may be the singles, not the couples, who take center stage.
“is now in a relationship.” This has been a popular Facebook status update tag in the past month. Instead of changing the relationship status in the account settings, the tag “is now in a relationship” in one’s status that appears just after one’s name links to a page (nicknamed “Nimyeonshi” in Korean) about a singles’ event set to take place on Christmas Eve. This event, “X-Marth Solo Daechup,” literally translated as “X-Marth Solo Battle,” is basically a massive blind date gathering. It’s easy to participate – just arrive at the event venue at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, men wearing white and women wearing red. Men and women will be stationed in two separate lines, facing each other 100 meters apart. At the sound of a signal, they are to dash towards each other and grab the hand of a person they find attractive. After finding a partner, the participants go on a date. They can also earn prizes by taking a picture together and uploading it onto the Nimyeonshi Facebook page. Couples are also encouraged to participate, wearing green to resemble trees. According to Nimyeonshi, the role of couples in this event is to treat participants who were unable to find a partner to a nice meal.
X-Marth was originally planned by two individuals, a 25-year-old business student who has chosen to remain anonymous and 28-year-old Chan-wook Chang, who is the head of an employment consulting firm called Top Class. The word “Marth” was taken from a charity project that Chang started after appearing on the TV program “Martian Virus.” Though Yeouido Park in Seoul was set as the original venue, the event has now expanded to a national scale. There are now a total of 13 “battlefields,” including the Daejeon Expo South Gate Square and Busan Station, and over 35,000 people are estimated to participate. Celebrities and businesses have also jumped on the bandwagon. Comedian Min-sang Yoo has offered to emcee the event for free, singers Gilme and Hee-Young Jang are in talks to perform, and some celebrities have even stated that they will be joining the “battle lines.” Over 400 businesses have offered to sponsor X-Marth, providing gifts to be given out through the photo event. Rumor has it that the grand prize will be a BMW. Some companies, including the top social dating site I-um, are even offering a paid-for holiday to its employees for them to participate.
X-Marth was organized with good intentions; however, the enormous scale of the event has raised a number of safety concerns. Indeed, the setup of X-Marth is very much like a battle. It has a first-come-first-serve rule, obliging participants to partner up with the first person to grab their hand, and it is expected that single men will greatly outnumber the women, generating a significant amount of competition. In the worst-case scenario, X-Marth may play out in a manner reminiscent of the Cornucopia bloodbath in the “Hunger Games,” with the starting signal launching men into a rampage to reach the most attractive women first. There are also other concerns such as theft and the possibility of sex predators taking advantage of the event to find easy targets. To address these issues, simulations are being held to craft appropriate safety measures. According to the organizers, a total of 300 volunteers and 150 staff members will be on site to prevent the flow of too many people in one direction and to break up potential fights. They have also asked the Yeongdeungpo police for assistance on the day of the event, and received a positive response.
Will X-Marth live up to its hype? Will 35,000 people really turn up on one of the X-Marth battlefields in hopes of finding love? Only time will tell. But regardless of what actually occurs on Christmas Eve, X-Marth has definitely succeeded in demonstrating the powerful influence social network services have on our contemporary culture, and how they are capable of launching a rapid, nationwide movement. Hopefully, X-Marth will be able to solidify its victory by concluding exactly the way the organizers envisioned: a beautiful spectacle of red and white sparks moving in a sea of green when viewed from above. This could be the start of a new Christmas tradition – one that can be enjoyed not just by couples, but by singles as well.