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Fan Death and why it’s real[ly funny] in Korea

Fan Death.

One of the most tongue-in-cheek moments that expatriates have to share is the beauty that is fan death. So cast away science and come with me on a fanciful journey to discover why exactly these sweet little fans are harbingers of death.

Wanted Murder Korean Fan Death

To understand fan death is to understand that there are several different theories as to why four small moving blades equal certain death. The more scientific sounding, the more convincing. Also, consider the fact that Korean homes are, in general, smaller than Western homes. Also, it gets crazy hot in Korea. But, enough about me (puns are just rolling today) let’s talk about the theories. But keep in mind, I’m way late in posting this. These comedic claims have long been the fascination by foreigners. Here’s an article from 1997.

One such theory involves hyperthermia. Fan blows on person, person gets hot, fan blows recirculated hot air over person, person gets more hot. Repeat. But don’t get sold on the theory because another theory claims the exactly opposite: hypothermia. Fan blows on person, person gets cold, fan blows recirculated cold air over person, person gets more cold. Repeat.

Soak that in.

Another involves carbon dioxide buildup if left directly facing a person’s body for a prolonged period of time. This hits home for me. Tangent: All of the men of my family have this “bad” habit of sleeping with like a half dozen or so electric fans on at night. Even in the winter. It’s true. I always have a few fans on in the room when I sleep. I like the wind, the white noise from the fan, the circulation – so much so that I have trouble sleeping at night if I don’t have at least one fan facing me. Even in the winter. So, to my future wife, here’s a heads-up – sorry to be a little weird about fans. Bundle up, honey.

There’s also some pretty outrageous beliefs which I think have all but disappeared – only to be replaced with more experts professing the true reason why you’re going to die in the quiet comfort of your own bedroom. Some of these older theories include the fan blades cutting and mincing oxygen particles leaving nothing to be inhaled but fragments of air. Think sloppy seconds for your lungs. Another goofball theory is that the fan death rumor was created by the government in a scheme to reduce consumer electricity demands. My personal favorite is the vortex theory: the fan creates a partial vacuum in the room causing you to suffocate.

Sure, it’s pretty ridiculous. Conservation of matter demands a much stronger machine in order to effect change to the surrounding air pressure. Translation? An oscillating floor fan is not powerful enough to create a vortex.

So, by and large, sorry to disappoint, but fan death is fake. Rest assured (haha, get it?) you will not die in your sleep from that little plastic round guy that makes your voice sound awesome when you talk really close to it.

But I can see the connection. Honestly. News: A man is found dead in his apartment. The cause of death is not readily available. Neighbors get curious and see the paramedics working. Neighbors ask what happened are are met with “We’re not sure at the moment” but the wise old neighbor down the hall confidently proclaims “Must have been the fan”, which, as it turns out, is still running. *Dun Dun Duuun* Now, two independent events (mysterious death and fan running) are linked. But for this story to work, you would have to conclude without any real logic or method. Or just be an idiot.

Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer wanted to buy Lisa’s rock? The one that keep tigers away? In it, Homer proclaimed that because of the Bear Patrol and no bear in sight, the Bear Patrol must have been working like a charm. Lisa applies the same logic to conclude that a random rock keeps tigers away (after all, there were no tigers). Sure, I butcher the comedic timing, but this comparison is not unlike fan death and reinforcement over decades. A mysterious death in the summer results in media hysteria and “experts” claiming to watch out for the warning signs of fan death. The vicious cycle continues.

It’s comical but also kind of real in a small margin. So long as a certain number of factors are played in. For example, the EPA recommends not to use an electric fan in an enclosed room without outside ventilation during warm weather. This makes sense, as the warm air being circulated essentially acts like a turbo oven pushing ever-increasingly warmer air across your body which could possibly result in either asphyxiation or hyperthermia. It’s a stretch but an understandable concern. I’d like to think that the person trapped in the room wouldn’t be held against their will – just open a window. But to be fair, this argument for the validity of fan death has already been made and is one of the best written articles on the subject. But I wonder when will the debate be truly solved?

Fan Death Korea

I have the utmost confidence that Korea will continue to make strides in the area of scientific research and development. Others are seeing hope, too. And far be it for me to criticize Korea or any other country for its false claims on anything. It’s easy to be convinced by anything if one hears about it enough in the news – be it ridiculous claims about English teachers or vengeful electronic fans. I believe that any group of peoples are influenced by not only their own beliefs but also reinforced by their own media, too. Before Americans get too quick to judge Korea for some backwards-thinking theory on common household appliances, I would like to just say one thing:

Y2K.

Thoughts?