Slate on Fan Death

At Slate, Ken Jennings—who apparently grew up here in Korea—discusses “fan death” and “other momisms from around the world.” (HT to Charles)

It’s even includes a nod to our very own TK, a notorious purveyor of “fan death trutherism”:

The popularity of the Korean fan death meme probably arises from its central irony: that one of the world’s most technologically modern countries has hard-to-explain issues with a simple mechanical device invented in the 1880s. But sometimes the world’s new obsession with fan death veers into crypto-racist sneering at the oddball, backward Asians. One of the first Web pages to publicize Korean fan-xiety was, on which “Robin S.,” a Canadian who moved to Seoul in 1999 to teach English, marveled at “the lack of critical thinking” displayed by the “loyal natives” he confronted about the issue.

This casual Western contempt has led, charmingly, to the rise of fan death trutherism. “Fan death is real,” announces “T. K. Park,” a Korean-American Washington, D.C.-area blogger, on his popular “Ask a Korean” blog. Park wasn’t a fan-death believer himself, not at first, but—annoyed to see his culture becoming an Internet punchline—he started researching the subject and was surprised to find that U.S. government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control have also recently come out against electric fan use in enclosed rooms. Could Koreans actually have been right all along about fans?

Read the rest on your own.

  • Andrew Barbour

    In Jennings’ “Maphead” (a great read, by the way, as is “Brainiac”) he mentions that his father was a foreign legal consultant at a law firm in Seoul, although he doesn’t mention which one. What firms (or their predecessors) were around in the early 80’s and hosting FLCs?

  • pawikrogii

    can anyone show me a 13th floor here in the states? thanks.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Sure, why?

  • One for all

    How about writing someone’s name in red and putting a 4 next to it?

  • Wedge1

    Dunno, but I do know he’s a Seoul Foreign School grad.

  • Ian

    Just wanted to post the EPA doesn’t say anything against using a fan in an ENCLOSED ROOM, which is what the Fan-death urban legend is all about. Even people believing the myth will still go to bed at night with a fan on in the room as long as the window is open.

  • madar

    This all comes from traditional ondal heating. If you have a wood, oil or coal fire heating water under your house, there is a real danger of carbon monoxide seeping into your dwelling and killing you in your sleep if you don’t have good ventilation. This real precaution has been continued into the present and applied to all modern types of climate control. People also open the window with the heat on to change the air in the winter, and many keep it open continously. (My mother would kill them!) All this stems from the same historically basis.

  • Richard Hankin

    Is ondol heating still used?

  • nayacasey

    Fan death, I love you, I don’t care if you are real or not.

    * Two years ago, I should have reported a Fan Death Homicide attempt. The air conditioner at work was broken. A Korean coworker located a fan, and pointed it directly at me–then closed the door and left the room.

    Was that an attempt on my life?

    * I wonder, have there any been any attempts at killing someone through fan death? Such as, a wife closing the door and turning on the fan while her drunken husband slept.

    * Or attempted fan death suicide?

  • Wedge1

    All I know is Dexter would have it easy here: Poison the vics, put ’em in a closed room and turn on the fan. No autopsy, nothing. CSI Seoul calls it another fan death and heads for the nearest soju-jip.

  • Ladron

    Remember years ago when that French guy had his dead infant stashed in the freezer and then fled to France? I always thought it would have been so easy for him to just put the kid in a room with a fan and claim that’s what killed it. A little cultural awareness could have saved him a lot of trouble.

  • Scott N

    Heating water under the house, what? Koreans used to create a fire with wood on one side of the house and then draw heated air under the floorboards with a chimney on the other side of the house. In the 1960’s Koreans did tried to use charcoal for a brief period of time but quickly realized it was too dangerous.

  • stereo

    The fact that sleeping with electric fan blowing to the body could cause hypothermia is widely known in Japan, too. The risk climbs higher if the clothes and the body is wet with sweat, if the window is opened during the night so that cold air comes in the room (this part is different), if the person is not using a blanket so the wind directly hits the body, and if the fan does not swing. I think it is pretty much an established fact.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Cough, cough…In Canada we have drunks who pass out in snowbanks and they don’t die of hypothermia. So, the notion that a fan can cause hypothermia in summer of all times…

  • madar

    I have a friend in his early fifties who lived on mountain side in a one room house as a kid and collected branches in the woods to keep the ondal fires burning, and talks of richer friends using charcoal. The middle class places had decent infrastructure and had safe ondal systems in places, but the average country home had the fire, with chimney, built under one side of the main structure, to keep it out of the wind, in a building made by the people who lived in it. And this could allow for a dicey outcome as far as fire and CO emissions were concerned. Given, the charcoal use in and of itself may have been the main cause of the urban legends today, and may well have been short lived due to the obvious shortcomings.

  • keyinjpop

    lol This is rich. Imagine a kid drops a paper plane and a fan flies it into someone’s eye. Fan assault.

  • keyinjpop

    I too wonder why many hotels I’ve been to never had a 13th floor.

  • Tapp

    There’s a pretty big difference between something being considered ‘bad luck’ and believing that an electric fan can kill you if the windows are closed. Potential ‘bad luck’ impressions on Chinese gamblers caused the MGM in Las Vegas to completely remodel their entrance so that they don’t have to walk into the mouth of a lion. Casino’s also pay people to swim so that there aren’t any empty swimming pools in public view during Chinese New Year.

  • stereo

    This is a typical reaction from people who know little about hypothermia. Let’s say room temperature at summer night is 25 degree C, and body temperature 36 C. If body temperature ever falls to 25 C, it is a life threatening hypothermia. The body temperature stays at 36 C in 25 C environments because (1) body creates heat, and (2) air has very low thermal conductivity. But, for example, if you stay in 25 C water for extended period of time, since water has higher thermal conductivity than air, and water takes more heat from body than the body creates, the body temperature steadily goes down resulting in hypothermia. This is why swimming pool operators advice swimmers to take a few minutes break in every hour or so. If wind blows at body, it takes heat from the body due to (1) evaporation, and (2) contact of large mass of air. The second reason is the same reason that the little fan in a lap top computer cools down chips. If strong wind blows at body for a long time, even if the room temperature is around 25 C, the body looses temperature little by little and ends up in hypothermia.

  • bballi

    I think the air in your head is swirling around your pea brain causing hypothermia…..better get that checked out…..

  • stereo

    If you think otherwise, you can conduct your own experiment on your body at your risk and prove that electric fans do not cause hypothermia while spleeping. Do not accuse me if you die, for I warned you it is not safe.

  • DC Musicfreak

    Hypothermia is real; “fan death” is bunk. Stop confusing them.

  • stereo

    And the reason for “fan death is bunk” is? Yeah, it is because you say so.
    If you say an electric fan can cause hypothermia, why does not it cause possioble death?

  • Charles Tustison

    After a night of drinking, finished off by soju shots with friends at the covered cart down the street from the room he rents in a traditional house, bachelor Kim stumbles back to his room. He is not to drunk to unlock his door, but as the alcohol in his stomach hits his ability to do something complicated like opening those thumb screw locks on his windows is gone. He falls on the floor and as his last conscious act, he hits the “high speed” button on his fan. The next morning, the old lady who rents him his room, brings him breakfast. When he doesn’t answer her repeated calls, she opens the door and sees bachelor Kim, motionless in front of the fan, it’s head going to the left, pausing menacingly, then going to the right.

    When the police arrive, they note that there are no signs of forced entry or struggle. Obviously,young men don’t just die. Something killed him. Invisible things don’t kill you. By a process of elimination, it had to be the electric fan….