Saturday, January 24, 2009

Esquire Magazine Officially Presents: Professor Jeffery Hodges, Fan-Death Expert

Flailing Fan of Fatality!
(Image from Esquire Magazine)

Okay, I'm now officially famous, for Esquire's 'interview' with me on "Fan Death" has finally reached the internet.

The 'interview' is posted this week (specifically, on January 22, 2009) as a reply mediated by Esquire's "Answer Fella" to the question "Why Do Koreans Think Electric Fans Will Kill Them?"
This week, Esquire's Answer Fella dispels an urban myth that may or may not leave you with hypothermia.
The 'answer' -- which I'll get to in a moment -- was in response to a query directed to the "Answer Fella" from some newcomer to Korea:
I just arrived in South Korea, and my colleague says that I can die if I sleep in a closed room with a fan on. He insists that "fan death" is an actual danger. What the hell?
In response to the reporter from Esquire who contacted me as an 'expert' because of my voluminous writings on "Fan Death," I provided my rather detailed thoughts on the topic, which Esquire pared down to the following:
"I'm told that every Korean believes that fan death is real," Jeffery Hodges, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, tells AF. "I've heard as explanation that the belief originated at a time when Koreans were first able to purchase electric fans and used them to such an extent that electrical systems were burdened, so the government spread a rumor that running them overnight was potentially fatal."

Hodges also shared the following passage from the government-issued Cultural Guide for Migrant Workers in Korea: "In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from oxygen deficiency, hypothermia, or fire from overheating." "Some Koreans," he adds, "give outlandish explanations about how the whirling blades of a fan can sever oxygen molecules."

So far as AF is able to determine, no scientific literature exists to support the existence of fan death, nor does it seem to be a perceived threat in any other country but Korea. File it -- like the faith of the French in the healing power of Rochebaron cheese smeared on the testicles -- under "Urban Myths, Foreign Dolts."
I actually expressed my words quoted within the above passage in a more qualified way during the 'interview', as readers of this blog will already know:
I doubt this explanation [about a government-inspired rumor]. It fails to account for the strangeness of the belief. The government could have just explained that fans were burdening the electrical system -- or have warned about fires from faulty wiring in fans.
I say more, of course, but I don't want to repost what is so easily read at the link.

I must confess, though, that I do fear that with this 'interview', I may have harmed my chances for being awarded the prize in the category "Best Blog for Dire Warnings in Defense of the Absolute and Horrifying Truth Concerning Fan Death!"

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At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffery:
I thought I warned you to stay away from windmills; and (although I had forgotten to warn you previously, so now I add) hobby horses.
Once astride such steeds, there seems to be no limit to one's tilting adventures.
My hope is you will once and for all set your faithful and trusting blog-friends' minds at ease on the truth or falsity of this strange tale......and lower your intake of Korean beer. Something must be done to correct this misconception.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So long as I live in Korea, I intend to stick to a variant on Averroes' doctrine of the "double truth."

Fan Death is true in belief and false in fact.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:22 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...


Congratulations on your new position at Ehwa Womans University. Friends of mine who taught in the English department there were very satisfied with their work. According to a report published several years ago, among the government-seeded international graduate schools at Korea's top universities, only Ehwa's met government goals of placing its graduates in international organizations. Ehwa strikes me as a progressive university, reflective perhaps of Ehwa's large number of women professors and administrators.

At 2:24 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

I forgot to add that there is also a Texas Womans University in Denton, Texas, outside of Forth Worth, but you probably already knew that.

At 3:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"True in belief and false in fact."
Now I am a believer in my favorite nephew's views.
You have convinced me.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, thanks for the congrats, and Ewha is nice, but I'm in the EPO (English Program Office), not the English Department (though I did teach one research writing course for the English Department last semester).

Yes, I was aware of Texas Woman's University -- or used to be, but it had slipped from my conscious awareness. Note, however, the apostrophe (aka "the crux of the biscuit").

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 5:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, I see precisely what you mean, in fact.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:06 AM, Anonymous sonagi92 said...

I lay down for a nap and ealized when I woke up that I had misspelled Ewha. Strange how little details lurk in our subconscious. The friends I mentioned must have worked in the EPO, not the English department. In any case, they were happy in their jobs. What does your wife think about you being surrounded all day by young, smart, beautiful women? There was a jwaseok bus number 12 or something that was nicknamed the ggotcha, or flower cart, because it plied a route between Apkujong and Shinchon, ferrying Ewha students between their upscale neighborhood and the university campus.

At 9:07 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

Where'd that r go in realized?

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Great googly-moogly! I had no idea you were a fellow Zappa fan, Jeffery.

Just yesterday, a young fellow in the office actually said that he might be moving to Montana soon (those exact words). I asked if he was going to be raising any dental floss, but just got a blank look.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, that "r" went to the same place that some socks go when placed in a dryer...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, just advise your clueless colleague to "watch our where the huskies go" in the snow country.

I have a long, twisted history...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:37 PM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

A burst of laughter is a great way to start a Sunday morning. Do you think up those one-liners spontaneously or do you keep a list somewhere?

At 4:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I'm not organized enough to make lists, so I guess that it must be "spontaneous."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:33 AM, Blogger JW said...

Continuing the conversation over here...

Assuming there were a minimally small number of cases where a person found someone dead with a fan turned on, do you think it is possible that panicked explanations linking those deaths to the fan combined with existing folk beliefs about "evil" winds created what is now a widespread fear of fan death? The existing folk beliefs would sort of substitute for the widespread knowledge based on expert analysis that you mentioned would be required to get this sort of thing going.

Anyway, thank you for the interesting conversation.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JW, yes, I think that something like that probably happened . . . though I'm merely guessing, but you've expressed my views more clearly than I have.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Daniel said...

Hello Jeffery!

This reminded me of a pretty morbid story that my 8th grade math teacher recounted. I was in Costa Rica at a Protestant Missionary sort of school that my parents sent me to because English was spoken there in most of the classes, and I had been learning next to nothing besides how to stick up for myself in Spanish at the school they first sent me to. He told us he had worked in this industrial factory where there were these massive fans, and one of his co-workers actually fell into one, and was effectively annihilated in an instant. It should also be mentioned as a caviat that this was the same man who told us every day that natural phenomena such as the frequent earthquakes we were constantly hearing about were signs of life on Earth's impending doom, and that we should accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior, because one day in the not-so-far-off future, about a third of the world's population would disappear, and the newspapers would inform us that aliens had taken them away, when in fact, it had been the second coming.

Is everything going well in Korea?
France is great. I'm auditing philosophy classes at a university and translating articles to make money on the side of my barely-enough-to-get-by salery.

Hope to hear from you soon. My email is

Best wishes,

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daniel, good to hear from you . . . even if you bring tidings of the absolute truth about fan death! It's far worse than I could have believed, for if I've correctly interpreted your comment, then fans are in conspiracy with the Antichrist!

Perhaps flying saucers are powered like hovercraft?

On a more 'mundane' note, if you're auditing philosophy courses in France, then your French must be really good by now.

But be careful. I just noticed that if you excise the "r" from "France," the result sounds almost like "fans." You could be in grave danger.

Thanks for the email. We'll be in touch.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:24 PM, Anonymous Daniel said...

Jeffery-- Now that I think of it, I've noticed lots of people here drinking an orange drink called Fanta. Not to be trusted, those Fanta-swigging Frenchies. Have a good one, -Daniel

At 5:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Daniel. That's more grist for the mill . . . the slowly rotating, fan-like mill.

Where's Don Quixote when we need him?

Jeffery Hodges

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