Korean Popular Culture

The Textbook-in-progress of the Ivy League's first class on the Korean Wave. This blog is the work of University of Pennsylvania EALC 198/598 students (Spring 2006 & 2007). Please apply proper citation when using any part of this blog. For details on citing this site see: http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/cite5.html#1

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hallyu Overview

I began this course with minimal exposure to Korean culture, represented in four random Korean words: oppa, unni, saranghae, ahnyong and the imperative statement gong bu hae. At the end of the semester, I feel like I have been exposed to a whole new world, and become culturally educated. I really enjoyed this class, and I think one of the hallmarks of a great class is the percentage of the material you studied that you will actually recall after the course is over. I definitely won’t forget the material we covered because I see it manifested in so many areas of my quotidian life. This class has impacted me in a myriad of ways I shall elaborate upon later on in this post, but first I will start with an overview of the course.


We began the semester with a look at historical dramas. “The Immortal Admiral Yi Sunsin” highlighted the efficacy of utilizing this genre of popular culture to heighten Korean nationalism and glorify national heroes. Not only do historical dramas serve as entertaining history lessons for the locals but help preserve and make the rich past of Korea more assessable to the average citizen. Historical dramas take advantage of the Hallyu to spread Korean popular culture, history and heritage on an international stage, preserving it as something important and noteworthy of showcasing.

Next, we examined more entertaining popular (“low-culture”, “of the masses”, “low-brow”, as Matthew Arnold outlines in Cultural Theory) drama serials. The Hallyu is almost synonymous for Korean dramas; these mass entertainment Korean drama serials have become somewhat international cultural symbols for Korea. These dramas are not only entertaining, high addictive, but also act as a gateway for other aspects of Korean culture to be broadcasted: music (discussed further later), food (how it can serve as a form of identity and high culture, also a very portable product that can be easily globalized), fashion (a factor for constructed culture), literature (as we’ve seen in “Goong”, intertextuality adds another dimension), comics (and its visual inspirations) etc. Another factor to consider is the misrepresentation of Korean society as an affluent, commercialized nation of luxury, expensive cars, leading-edge technology and beautiful men. While it is true that this thing do exist in Korea, like any other country, Korea has its fair share of social, economic, political issues and ugly people (plastic surgery is always an option, and in fact, a social pressure). Overindulgence in such portrayal can lead to disillusioned and irrational acts, such as the one Japanese woman in the article I posted at the beginning of the semester, who was so enchanted by the Korean men portrayed in dramas that she invested exorbitant amounts of time in money to travel to Korea on a personalized manhunt. On another note, it’s pretty fascinating how a traditionally isolated, Confucian-influenced, conservative nation can explode into the international scene with the Hallyu and emerge as a global (well, predominantly SE Asia) entertainment leader.

A huge part of Korean dramas are the love songs and soundtracks. The love song plays an important role in the drama by creating an ambiance and intensifying the on-screen emotion. Furthermore, these love songs help promote the drama serial and allowed music artists the social mobility to transition into the TV and vice versa. We discussed how Korean music videos differ from American music videos in the originality of each mini-production. Each video often tells an individual story, and the visual imagery may/may not have any relevance to the actual song lyrics. The concept of “han” (unspeakable sorrow, long suffering, and shared pathos) is a recurring theme throughout Korean love ballads.

The music section opened my eyes to hidden genres of Korean music I never knew existed. My impression of Korean music beforehand was the archetypical Korean Pop Princess or Korean boy band; who knew Koreans could be so edgy and rebellious with genres such as hip-hop and punk rock? We talked about how music was just more than music, how it acted as an outlet of expression, and especially in the explosive genre of punk rock, a release to the highly stressful education system implemented in Korea. We also explored the question of authenticity (East vs. West) and used post-modernist theories (David’s favorite) to justify the originality of Korean popular music.

In our internet chapter, we discussed the internet and how it facilitates democracy and globalization, yet paradoxically hinders it with the censorship of political issues such as North Korea. We all found Sze Hui’s “Wired (and wireless) Korea: Information Technology and its effects on Korean Culture” an eye-opener to the world of communication technology in Korea. The social function of PC Bangs as an alternative space for the Korean youth (to get away from parental pressure, school stress) and the ingenuity of love seats were two elements that we discussed extensively.

I really enjoyed last Monday’s class, where I think we wrapped up the whole semester with the Chua’s essay and questions about the Hallyu and its relation with nationalism, regionalism and globalization. (Why is nationalism significant as a category of analysis vs. regionalization/globalization). We also explored the topic of Hallyu backlash and its economic implications. Assertions from other Asian nations about the Hallyu being a one-way cultural exchange and the rising consumer prices of Korean culture (with regards to dramas) were refuted with criticisms about naïve and insecure governments who, in a desperate attempt to protect local film industries, forget the basic economic rules of supply/demand and expect step-by-step guidance and a formulaic strategy in a competitive industry that demands creativity, originality and innovation. This cross-discipline approach lent another dimension to this culture course, and helped to place the Hallyu in a larger global context.

Personal Reflections:

I really like the way the syllabus was organized topically (dramas, music, etc.), which help structure an abstract topic (pop culture) and each section built upon the previous, which helped enhance our learning. I really enjoyed High Pop and Cultural Theory (it was at times initially agonizing, but satisfying afterwards to grasp certain challenging concepts that were presented), which helped to solidify a lot of abstract theories we were learning. A course on pop culture is definitely an academic subject worth teaching at an institution of higher learning--the close examination of popular culture, something we experience and live in daily, but never really find the need or take the time to gain an intricate understanding.

Blogging was an innovative and dynamic method to share ideas and interact with classmates outside of the classroom. The concept was extremely refreshing (and befitting, for the focus on our course, as internet culture such as blogs make up such a huge part of popular Korean culture), and I’d never done something like that in any other class. The articles (ranging from Korean pop stars to the eligibility of Korean bachelors) from outside sources (Korean newspapers, etc.) complemented the material that was covered in class and the in textbook, and help add a third dimension of relativity to what is really going on in modern Korea today.

What I really appreciate about this course was the real impact it made on my life outside the classroom. I really like it when a class makes an actual impact outside the classroom, being exposed to a culture is not something one can easily forget (unlike memorizing facts for an exam that one will forget a week after the final). Two concrete examples would be the Ch’unhyang movie we watched as part of the syllabus and the Crying Nut “Let’s Ride the Horse” song in our music section. The 2007 KSA/KAP culture show held a couple of weeks back had a spin-off, modernized play based on the legend of Ch’unhyang. I was sitting in the audience, extremely pleased with the fact that I know had the foundation of the origins of the myth, which lent me a greater appreciation and deeper understanding of the parody. The 2 hours in Rosengarten watching the movie was definitely not wasted, and resulted in me becoming more culturally literate. The second incident was at a concert KAPacity (a band made up of several members from Koreans at Penn) concert where they did a cover of Crying Nut’s “Let’s Ride the Horse”, which was part of our syllabus, and coincidentally a song I did a presentation on (dun dun dun). My choice of background study music has also done a 180 degrees switch-up from hiphop/indie to Korean music. After a whole semester, I can proudly say “Na neun hangook saram ib ni da”.

It’s extremely fulfilling to realize that the material covered in lectures and readings are not esoteric and rendered obsolete once the course ends (nor do I need to wait for next summer to travel to Korea next to garner the full benefits of a semester of Kpop, but can experience right here right now in my everyday life). As my high school teacher said, there comes a moment in time when one realizes education is not just about the “stuff you are reading in textbooks, but how that ‘stuff’ relates to what is actually happening out there in the world.”

Thanks for a great semester everyone =)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lean back, lean back

Hello class. My apologies for the late post. Due to the Spring Fling festivities and keeping true to my Korean nature of alcohol consumption, I was mentally, physically unable to submit a coherent post yesterday. Anyhoo, let me just say Wow. I can’t believe we spent over 40 hours talking about Korean popular culture. To be honest, like Teresa, I enjoy the consumption of Korean pop culture and did not expect to extrapolate deep meaning from them. However, Jina totally pushed me to my academic limits with this class. I guess since I am a science major and the farthest I’ve digressed from science intensive classes would be like a writing seminar, I never really took these deep thinking almost philosophical classes. I mean that Cultural Theory was so convoluted to me. No matter how many times I would read Storey’s book, I was completely lost on what he was talking about. I’m still unsure about post-modernism vs modernism. With that being said, I can definitely say I’ve learned a new aspect of learning. Instead of learning concepts and remembering how things work like in the science world, I was exposed to an abstract thinking type of class which I am still in the process of learning. I mean who seriously watches “Jewel in the Palace” to extract the significance of the plethora of Korean food presented in the film and relate that to Korean nationalism? Personally, I saw the food and just wanted to call mommy and tell her to have that pahjun made when I arrive home. But no. I am an edumacated college man now. I shall try to see beyond the food and try to see why this food is being shown so ostentatiously. Is the government trying to impose some new culture on us in a form of Marxism? So yea. To make a long entry short, I just want to say after taking this class I’ve learned to look past the entertainment factor in Korean popular culture. Sure, Korean popular culture is addictinly entertaining; however, leaning back, stepping back and examining why it’s popular and digesting concepts like Hallyu will enable me to learn about the society that I live in and about myself and my interests. I know am not gifted with So-Jin’s articulating skills or Geoff’s audacity to comment on everyone else’s comments, but I hope what I tried contributing to our discussion in my vernacular form didn’t detract from all your guys’ learning experience. With that said, there is only one last topic we haven’t covered: Korean soju. Let us take full advantage of this Spring Fling atmosphere and experience first hand this great beverage that is not only part of high Korean culture but with the low as well. One shot homies! Thanks for a great semester!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Done Already?!

Looking back, it was interesting to make the connection that I started and ended with Hwang Jin-I in the class. As I am watching that drama for my paper, I've noticed so much more subtleties than before. I noticed and understood the messages that the drama tries to pass (in which I won’t discuss now since it is my paper), and identified elements in the drama with all of the isms we’d discussed in class. This class also made me aware of that there are other aspects to the Korean pop culture other than their drama. Although drama is what is most popular, I have neglected their music (not the soundtracks) and history. I began to take note of the actors’ and actresses’ mannerisms, speech, even the language itself.

Among the readings–to be honest–the articles were much more enjoyable than the texts because they pertained to the Korean culture, and felt a little detached when reading the texts since their examples didn’t. I can’t wait until there actually would be a condensed text of Korean Pop Culture. I especially liked the section about the internet and technology because it shed light on a new aspect of the Koreans. However, it seems to be a neglected segment of popular culture: internet is what spreads the culture. Learning that this also permeated the lives of youngsters in Korea and how the governments tried to regulate some of their behaviors was most interesting. It was also interesting to know how the government tries to preserve the traditional integrate those elements into the current lifestyles of the Koreans today. I can really see the effort in the drama out there. Although this class may be over, I will continue watch Korean drama with a critical eye and listen to pop music with an appreciation that I never had before.

Closing thoughts on kpc

As my motivation for taking a class on Korean popular culture was to learn about Korean popular culture, I am satisfied after these three months. I have gotten exposure to all sorts of mediums and exotic audiovisuals I would otherwise never have experienced (drama, k-pop, etc). I found some brutal tunes for my playlists while doing research on Korean alternative, and I joined the Lee Young-ae fan club. I began watching more Starcraft tournaments and gained a new respect for that cultural and culinary phenomenon of a dish called budae cchigae. I have become attuned to spot the inescapable influence of history in popular culture and hummed the tune of Arirang in an elevator. The very fact that we are all reading this means that we have each found something intrinsically appealing in Korean pop culture.

Hallyu has indeed been an interesting topic to study. Reading different dramas or songs through the lens of the culture theorists was challenging (if not painful) at times, but has given me a useful vocabulary to discuss popular culture and its relevant issues and industries. As an expert on the subject, I will be interested in watching how the permittivity and prevalence of Korean media expand or change in the future.

My favorite section was definitely the music section. My opinions and views on music tend to be somewhat polarized. I found some groups such as Drunken Tiger or the ballads in general painful to listen to, but that was counterbalanced by some of the fresh riffs and grinding vocals from some of the alternative bands I encountered.

As the course ends, I reiterate something we spoke about in class last week: it’s really about enjoyment and pleasure in the end. The phenomenon of hallyu may be some unique confluence of economics, politics and creativity, but discourse of that nature obscures the fact that Koreans are simply making more media that is enjoyable to consume. In that sense, hallyu has been effective in expanding the audience and increasing the amount of regional and global exposure of the many, talented Korean artists. Thus are my final thoughts. Korean popular culture has a little bit of something for everyone.

Final thoughts on Korean Popular Culture and Hallyu

My love for Korean dramas is what led me to take this class. However, before this class when I watched Kdramas, I watched them on a superficial level, looking only at the actors while not paying much attention to the plot and possible theoretical/historical/literary underpinnings. After reading John Storey's book, I was introduced to the many perspectives that I could view these primary texts from like postmodernism, marxism and post-marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, etc. Analyzing the primary texts from these perspectives made me think more about why these texts were made and what they were trying to convey.

For example, music especially is an interesting category because of all the foreign influences that Korean music possesses, from Japanese enka to British punk to American hiphop. Yet these products don't seem to be straight copies and instead includes Korean aspects like traditional instruments, references to folksongs like Arirang or the sadness evoking the feeling of "han". Thus it seems to be a negotiation process that falls into the category of postmarxism.

More interesting was the wider range of Korean popular culture products I was introduced to. Before this class I never really paid much attention to the Korean historical genre of dramas. However, after watching Yi sunsin and emperor of the sea, I was impressed the the amount of effort and skill that went into the production of these dramas, especially in technical direction of the boat fighting scenes. I feel that the Korean drama industry was able to use these dramas to tell a very compelling, albeit possibly fictionalized, story and stimulate the audience's interest in Korean history. Similarly, Jewel was able to do the same thing for Korean food. Feffer's article on food and globalization (or possibly glocalization) was one I found particular interesting as it mentioned the foreign influences on Korean food, and how the Koreans were able to adapt these foreign influences to create a unique Korean product.

Finally, our study of Hallyu was something I found especially interesting. Previously I had heard of the term from the Taiwan news media but I had never really knew what it meant and entailed. The class not only gave me a better understanding, but also helped make me think about why the Hallyu was able to sweep through Asia and if it could possibly endure. As we talked about in class last week, I feel that as long as the Korean culture industry churns out good products, the Korean wave will go on, though possibly not with the current intensity. If you think about the popularity of Japanese dramas in the late 1990s, I feel that the situation is quite similar. Kimura Takuya was as popular as Bae Yong Joon is in Asia (or at least in Taiwan) now and women literally cried when he got married. Tokyo Love Story is supposedly a romantic classic, while Hero and GTO were popular because of how wacky they were, yet the golden age of Jdramas seem to have passed, though there are still some decent offerings each season and thus I still watch it religiously.

Thus, though I learned from this class that Korean popular culture has much more breadth and depth that I had previously thought, the question of sustainability of the Hallyu is something left to be determined.

My Last Thoughts on Korean Popular Culture

It's been over three months since we started thinking about Korean popular culture in an academic setting. I never have imagined that something so contemporary can be imbued with traditional concepts (such as a continuation of Confusian values), and at least even worthy of studying. I decided to take this class because I wanted to know more about what Korean popular culture has to offer. To be honest, my expectations were not high. Contrary to my initial doubts about the breath and depth of the course, I got more out of this class than I expected.

Culture is a difficult term to define. In my previous class on cultural anthropology, we defined the term as a set of beliefs, ideas, practices shared by a group of people that gets transmitted through generation. Even with this definition, it doesn't encapsulate every nuance about different cultures. With that convoluted thought, you then tag on the word popular. What does that mean? If culture is something that is shared by the people in that culture, what makes some popular whereas others are unpopular? I think it's a fine line to draw. As we have seen previously in the Storey chapters, scholars like Leavy will argue that studying popular culture is a waste of time. It's a source of distraction, and it creates illusions of real life. Others like the postmodernist theorists will argue that high and popular culture have no real distinctions. While scholars argue about what popular culture entails, it galvanizes and propels forward. It has not died out.

One of the accomplishments of Korean popular culture is the creation of the Korean Wave (I'm anthropomorphizing here). Yes, the cheap price helped, fast dance music also helped, but is that all? I highly doubt that Hallyu would have been as successful if it wasn't for the entertainment value. It really is a time sucking monster. It also would not have been as big of a hit in Asia without the recent technology. We discussed earlier that technology has allowed us to keep in "contact" with Korea. Global technology such as the internet has served as an agent to mass circulate Korean dramas and Korean music. As we have talked about earlier whether or not Korean dramas or music would be successful in the U.S., I agree with the majority of the class. It probably would not be a huge hit. However, I don't think success should be measured as an all or nothing phenomenon. If it can manage to get attract new audience like those of us who are interested in learning new culture, it deserves some credit. I also think that watching dramas can be a useful tool in learning a new language.

Going back to what I got out of this class, I have a deeper appreciation for Korean popular culture. Initially I thought it would be more along the lines of celebrity gossip and compare/contrast dramas. I mean, in the U.S. people treat popular culture light heartedly. Korean popular culture, when going beyond the surface, serves various functions. It is an instrument that sustains Korean history with historic dramas. The tension between Japan and Korea is still portrayed in the dramas that we have seen. Historic figures are venerated, but also challenges the viewers to think twice about the meaning of history. The Jewel in the Palace, for example, presents history in a whole new level. Besides getting hungry while watching the episodes, it deals with the lives of women in the palace that are often neglected. I think this drama, in particular, has provided Korean women with a model to emulate. It is a shame that she did not get much recognition until recently even when she was the first female doctor in Korea. In this sense, the drama does justice.

I think my attention has shifted from the storyline or lyrics to the functional role of dramas and music. They serve purpose. Like we said, punk rock is a way for Korean youth to free themselves from social oppression. Music videos are not just a visual replica of the lyrics. It has a value of its own. I guess the take home message from the course (at least for me) is to look at Korean popular culture in a grand scheme of things rather than having a tunnel vision.

Final Thoughts on Hallyu

Final Thoughts on Hallyu

Introduction :
Throughout this semester I had thought that I knew almost all there was to know about Korean pop culture and the Korean wave. I was already engrossed with the music and immersed in many Korean dramas. Little did I know that there was so much more to learn, especially when it came down to the deep analysis of Korean pop culture. I knew nothing about post-modernism, Marxism, the use of gender roles and globalization. I used to watch Korean dramas with a grain of salt and never really thought about the elements that are used for production. I am still a little confused on the differences between nationalism, regionalism and globalization, but I do understand that every culture deals with all three.

Music :
Ever since I was young I have always listened to Korean music. It has been my favorite genre and while I never understood the lyrics till college, I was always able to follow along the tunes and beats. Korean music has gone through many processes throughout its history and has adopted many new genres and styles. Starting with Seo Taiji, who is known as the father and founder of Korean hip-hop and dance music, Korean music has adapted in so many ways. This poses a tough question. Has Korean music developed throughout the years on its own accord, or has is been the influence of other cultures that has helped to stimulate the growth and changes? From what I have learned in this class, it seems that globalization combined with the lifting of certain restrictions has helped in opening the ears of Korean listeners. As people start to listen to these new genres, they develop their own creation by mimicking the elements they enjoy and adding it with a unique twist of their own. Many genres such as hip-hop, punk, techno, and ballads have all been created through this way.

Dramas :
Korean dramas are very hard to analyze since there are many different types of dramas, including historical dramas that are exclusive to Korean culture. It seems that although all Korean dramas display some cultural background that only pertains to Korea, through the process of globalization many of these dramas have become a hybrid of Korean culture and Western influence. It is very similar to Korean music in the sense that many of these dramas mainly have a Western theme but also carry a sense that lets the watcher know that the drama was produced in Korea.
Dramas are regionalized in the sense that they appeal to many regional viewers and in the sense that viewers other then Koreans can capture a sense of coevalness with these dramas. I believe this is the cause of foreign popularity with these dramas. The fact that foreign housewives and students receive the same feelings as Koreans while watching these dramas definitely is a major factor for success.
I personally had an affinity for the historical dramas such as Yi Sun-Shin and a Jewel in the Palace. These historical dramas definitely produce a sense of Korean culture that is its own. I had never really ventured into historical dramas, but enjoyed them very much nonetheless.

Poetry :
Throughout the course we have read and discussed a few Korean poems in class. Most of these poems were about love and sounded as if they could be the lyrics for many Korean ballad love songs. Indeed it seems that these poems may have been in the past, but they still contribute a great deal of culture to the present and future. They retell part of Korean history while also using the same lyrics as modern songwriters.

Conclusion :
Overall this class was a very enjoyable and educating experience. Coming into the class with some previous knowledge about Korean pop culture, I am very shocked to find out there are so many fields that I have not cared to venture in before. I was particularly interested with seeing the way Korean culture has adapted foreign themes and genres to produce music and dramas, but has still been able to maintain the Korean atmosphere. I am glad I was able to hear the in depth analysis from fellow peers. As a previous viewer I never cared to venture into the meaning that a lot of these dramas and music carry, but after this class will definitely be watching them with a new pair of glasses. =)

K-pop Reflections

Korean pop culture... I don't even know where to begin! When I started this class in January, I literally did not know a thing about K-pop. I'd never heard of Rain or BoA or seen any of the dramas. I'd never read a manwha or watched any of the movies. All I knew was that when I asked my Chinese roommate what she thought of Korean pop culture, her response was, "I've never heard of anyone who got into K-pop and didn't like it." And how right she was.

My initial impressive of Korean pop culture was that it was a bunch of boy bands and pop princesses which were put together by managers for their looks and dancing ability and then paraded around. Coming from a background as an American girl who grew in the 90's (the reign of New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, and NSYNC) I thought this was wonderful. The 90's were alive and well in Korea with an updated look and feel, and I thought that was great! But the thing I've learned from this class is that K-pop is so much more than that. Sure, maybe these pop stars are similar to my beloved 90's boy bands, but they are distinctly Korean. Their music videos and performance styles are unique, their clothes, their hair, their style. They are much more a reflection of Korean sensibilities than I think their American counterparts ever were.

And that's the thing which I think makes K-pop so great. The history and the traditions of Korea are a part of everything which comes out of it. From the historical dramas celebrating national heroes like Yi Sunsin to the more modern dramas which reflect the value of the family and of modern urban life, the stamp of Korea is all over these products. I think Koreans have done a great job of taking popular cultural products like music (especially punk) and TV dramas and really making them their own.

The thing which I think makes K-pop so, well, popular though is that while it is truly a Korean product, it also reflects universal values which everyone can relate to. We talked about "coevalness" amongst East Asians which has help K-pop to spread to other Asian nations, and I think that "coevalness" exists even outside of that region. Anyone who's ever been in love, or wished to be in love, or been hurt by love, or who has a family, or has lost someone or felt any emotion of any kind can connect with Korean pop culture. If you like to look at beautiful people, you can appreciate Korean pop culture. Even if you don't know a thing about Korea, you can still appreciate Korean pop culture. And that, I think, is where the value truly lies.

The Hallyu wave is going strong, and I think it's only going to continue. Korea has knack for making great cultural products which can easily be loved all over the world. As they become more and more popular, I think it will honestly be hard for people not to jump on the bandwagon. Everyone can find something to love in K-pop, and as long as that remains true, I don't think there's anything that could stop it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thinking about Korean popular culture

Before taking this course, I had a much more ambivalent attitude towards Korean popular culture due to my limited exposure to it. While there had been some Korean shows and films that I had enjoyed, I thought mostly of maudlin dramas that produced unrealistic expectations of love, media images that sent women to the nearest plastic surgeon, and gimmicky pop music. At the same time, I conceptualized Korean popular culture as assimilating to Western models. So, I was thinking about Williams' second definition of "popular"--"inferior kinds of work"--when thinking about Korean popular culture (Storey 4). However, this class has also made me think of Korean popular culture in terms of "culture actually made by the people for themselves" (4).

What I found most interesting about the direction of this course was thinking about the intersection of the past and present. More so than in my experience with American pop culture, history has a great influence on what is presented in Korean popular culture and is more prominently displayed. We talked about how historical dramas translate past events in ways that are related to current events (i.e., The Immortal Admiral Yi Sunsin and present-day territorial disputes). It was also interesting to think about how thinking about the past allows contemporary Koreans to think about their own identities (What does it mean to be a good woman? How do traditional values and customs fit into a modern lifestyle?). By using the past, Koreans are also able to translate Korean experiences for non-Korean consumers and possibly allow other East Asians to identify with Koreans through their shared Confucian heritage. Going back to the first chapter of John Storey's text, popular culture is definitely a "site where 'collective social understandings are created'" (Hall qtd. on 3).

When thinking about Korean popular culture, discussing mass production, mass consumption, commercial culture, and hegemonic imposition of ideas and values definitely makes sense. But, what I wanted to highlight in my final blog posting was how I have come to see Korean popular culture in a more positive light. Korean popular culture is not just about escapism or creating fantasies that take away from productive action. There is room in Korean popular culture for alternative viewpoints (presenting women's issues in dramas such as Jewel in the Palace and providing youth an outlet for their frustrations in punk music), which is necessary in a postmodern world. I also think that through popular culture, Korea is able to show how modern, globalized, and worthy of attention it is to different kinds of people. So, that's cool.

Initial Thoughts and Conclusions

I had a very naive perception of Korean Popular Culture back in January. I initially thought that Korean Popular Culture was completely a product of modern capitalism and that it was all about offering Americanized products. I also thought that Korea's current popular culture had nothing to do with any former Korean history or cultural practice. Furthermore, I falsely equated Korean Popular Culture to only Korean popular music, or current kpop (BoA for example). Many of these thoughts were disproved though during our first few weeks when we studied the immensely popular historical dramas.

The historical dramas contained authentic Korean elements like the battle scenes from "The Admiral Yi Sun-Sin" and the Korean cuisine in "Jewel in the Palace". The dramas were not purely entertainment though; they commented and reflected on tensions with Japan and women's roles. John Storey's cultural theory book complicated things for me though in the middle of the semester. It seemed that Korean popular culture was simply recycling or quoting history to generate nostalgia which in turn would increase profits for the cultural industries. I began to think that maybe my original thoughts were correct and that Korean Popular culture is something forced on cunsumers and that it does not reflect the acutal sentiments of the people. I learned though through post-modernist theories that it is almost impossible to seperate the cultural from the economic.

For example, Korean punk music initially seems like something completely created from below (or from the masses) and not from capitalistic entities. It is not that simple though because the 'punk' image itself is marketed and treated as a commodity in many instances. So essentially by the end of this course, I have realized that Korean and popular culture in general does not follow a single linear model. Popular culture bounces around in a continuum between both cultural and economic forces. Furthermore, the relationship between the two forces is never static but constantly redefining itself.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

In Defense of Hallyu backlash

Ladies, feast your eyes...

a picture is worth a thousand words, how could you hate something so beautiful...

okay you may now begin reading my post.

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The success of Hallyu brings about a backlash from other threatened Asian nations. According to an article in The Korea Times, the Taiwanese government is considering a ban on the broadcast of foreign dramas during prime time as audience ratings of Korean dramas have surpassed those of local dramas: 4-5 Korean dramas are broadcasted nightly on local Taiwanese TV networks. Similarly, “China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television recently announced that it will cut the quota of Korean dramas by half this year”. In Japan, anti-Hallyu sentiment have risen to such heights that “Hyom-hallyu”, a comic book about a Japanese high school student who realizes the “real ugly nature” of Korea has sold more than 300,000 copies.

Kwon Ki-young, a manager of Korea Culture & Content Agency cites the motivation behind the animosity as a defense mechanism to “protect and support local dramas, movie and television industries.”

Kim Tae-won, a managing director of drama production company Olive 9 pointed out that spreading hallyu through unilateral investment rather than a cultural exchange and coalition only sparks animosity from local people toward Korean pop culture.

"The best way to continue hallyu in China and other economies is to pursue its localization, which means producing dramas in China with Chinese staff and supply them directly to the country," said Kim.

"Many Korean production companies in China give the impression that they are obsessed only with making money through the export of dramas and movies rather than sharing their know-how with locals."

"Only when Koreans realize the importance of building such a reciprocal and trustful relationship with China, can the future of hallyu be bright. More and more Korean movie directors and production companies should team up with those from other Asian countries."


1) Why are Korean dramas such popular forms of mass entertainment and such efficient Hallyu catalysts?

Not only are they entertaining, they are also ridiculously addictive. Subtitles remove the potential problem of a language barrier. Even though certain nuances and a level of sophistication are lost in translation, there is still an innate and intricate appeal of Korean dramas that cause the viewer to be glued to the screen continuously for extended hours. And even though the plots tend to be clichéd and repetitive, they never fail to create pathos with the audience.

As a commercial tool, Korean dramas are an excellent platform for incorporating other elements of popular Korean culture: fashion, music, food, etc. Therefore the visual spectacle that culminates is a cultural product that showcases the multi-facets of Korean culture. (Also, in the case of the drama serial Full House, which was based in a comic book, highlights and glamorizes yet another element of popular Korean culture.)

2) Why does the popularity of Korean dramas supersede those of Chinese dramas?

Personal taste is subjective, so there a myriad of possibilities. Here are my speculations: it could be simply a resistance to local music/tv talent. In Singapore, Taiwanese stars fair better locally than the local starlets, as a result many Singaporean singers/actresses have to travel overseas to succeed.. paradoxically, they often rise to stardom in Taiwan. Even in Canada (where I’ve lived for the past 5-6 years), Canadian artists are regarded as a little less prestigious as American artists. It’s the old “the grass is greener on the other side”, snobbery towards local talent is based on the belief that foreign talents posses something special.

A personal opinion is that Korean actors are simply better looking than Chinese actors. (Granted, the plastic surgery rates are higher in Korea, but in the entertainment industry, an actor is essentially selling his image, it is his JOB to look good, he is PAID to look good.) In the superficial culture of the entertainment industry, looks are everything. The abstract notion of Korean actors being better looking can be solidified by the concept of the “Korean jaw-line”. This is a theory of a friend of mine that Korean men have more defined bone-structure and a stronger jaw-line and are thus better looking than Chinese men. Even amongst Korean actors, the degree of definition (of jaw structure) defines the level of attraction. Take for example Bi and Kim Sung-su in Full House. Bi is considered “cute”, but not “hot” because his face is softer and rounder than Kim Sung-su’s.

I did some research to substantiate this theory and found something interesting on an online medical journal:

High cheekbones and a distinct mandibular (jaw structure) contour characterize the appearance of East Asian persons, especially those of Korean and Japanese descent. In the West, such features are valued, and these areas are frequently enhanced for optimal aesthetic appearance.

3) How legitimate is the claim that Korean production companies should try to localize their dramas (according to the article) and share the “know-how” of creating a successful drama with Chinese directors?

I think the Chinese government is acting extremely immature and over-reacting. Not in the sense that they are putting a limit to Korean dramas—it is after all, a government’s duty to protect the best interests of the nation, but the anti-Hallyu sentiments stemming from insecurity and jealousy. Just because the local entertainment industry is not competent enough to capture the hearts of local viewers, cancelling foreign favorites and demanding to be taught the ‘trick of the trade’ is not the manner to operate. In our capitalist society, cream always rises to the top, the reason Korean dramas are more widely received than Chinese dramas is because they are better. Cancelling a viewer’s favorite program for the sole purpose of protecting one’s economy is an infringement on human rights. There are alternative methods to boosting the local film industry than simply cancelling out the competition. The Chinese film industry should look towards the Korean model as an inspiration, not a threat. The TV industry at its core is all about entertainment, viewers should have the prerogative to pick and choose from a variety of shows that suit their palate, and not have their options limited because the government feels threatened.

Furthermore, demanding that Korea shares its secrets on how to make successful drama serials is, in lack of a better word, cheap. The Chinese film industry is completely removing the element of artistic expression by wanting to utilize a set formula—to guarantee that their dramas are economically successful. Furthermore, by localizing the Korean drama, it loses a lot of its authenticity. Why should France share its secret of making good wine to the world? Why should Switzerland disclose its chocolate-making recipe? Each nation has its niche of production, something it is known for internationally and is proud of. Therefore, if Korea is so awesome at producing spectacular dramas, the other Asian nations should accept that and not react in animosity or bitterness.

Just a note about the “cultural exchange” and import/export. A nation would not bother to import a resource that it already has. Therefore, the criticism of Hallyu being a “unilateral investment rather than a cultural exchange” is not a valid argument.

In an attempt to be more objective, I shall explore the other side. What if the Korean film industry actually collaborated with the Chinese entertainment industry to produce an appropriated Chinese but Korean-stylized drama? I actually watched a localized Chinese-genre-Korean-influenced drama. The concept seemed to work in theory and along with the “cultural exchange” concept: a globalized cast drawing actors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The main lead was a Chinese male, and starring opposite him was the only Korean actress in the movie. The Korean actress had no knowledge of the Chinese language, therefore she was filmed speaking Korean, and later dubbed in Chinese. The male actor had no knowledge of Korean either, so he would simply respond to her in Chinese, not understanding what his co-star was saying. This all seems extremely unnatural, and takes away the authenticity of the drama as an artistic expression—it’s simply turned into a commercial exploit. Anyway the drama itself was the most horrible thing ever. It seemed like an extremely watered-down version of a Korean drama. Furthermore, the actor were ugly, (no strong jaw-lines here… just kidding!) so there was no eye-candy to alleviate the pain of the clichéd plot line.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and who wants to buy me a plane ticket to Korea? :)

Friday, April 06, 2007

East Asian Identity?

In Chua’s paper, I found it was interesting that the drama, Romance 2000, failed. I would assume that the larger the scope of the object, the wider the audience it should attract. However, since this is not the case, answering his questions about the “East Asian” identity might give some insight about this.

“Are the audiences of the East Asian popular culture ready for the mixing of cultural and political themes that are hewed from different locations?”–In this current time, no. As in Storey’s definition on foreign, “it is always a question of national difference…[and] it can equally be a question of…ethnicity” (148). Although countries like Singapore are populated with “Chinese” people, they would not identify themselves that they are from China. To illustrate this further, I, with a Cantonese Chinese background, find it very difficult to even identify to, for example, someone from Beijing, let alone to another country. I am definitely interested in other countries, but I would never forget that I am Chinese-American. Even with the “Japanization”, as mentioned by Chua, the Taiwanese–as they were most influenced by the Japanese–were still Taiwanese. They might have admired and went crazy for Japanese idols, they still knew they were the residents and a citizen of Taiwan, through and through. Even the Koreans, who emulated Japanese manga and animation still wanted to repackage them into “Korean” products. This shows the strength of nationalism in these countries. Another point that Romance 2000 might not have succeeded was that even though it tried to include too many cultural topics that it just became too burdened with the differences that there was not “universality” in the drama.

Continuing on to his next question where he asks about, “Does the failure suggests an absence of a possibility of an emergence of what might be called an ‘East Asian Identity’ from emerging through popular culture, in this instance television drama?” In the short term, because of the economic differences–and the cultural differences described above–among all of these East Asian countries, it is still a long way off before they all can call themselves “East Asians”. We cannot guarantee that this cannot happen in the long term, since globalization is spreading cultures more and more into the depths of each country than ever before.

* * *

I was surprised when I read Sung’s paper, I was surprised to find out that it was Kpop that first began the Hallyu instead of Kdrama since that is what is most known. I suppose that, as the author mentioned, their marketing strategy was really successful when they pushed for the drama instead of the music. When he mentioned that “visual” was the way to go, the obvious medium was drama if the Koreans want to spread their products. Music, although it can also be visual, it is missing the “intrigue” element from a storyline that can be presented more thoroughly in a drama or a novel or a volume of manwha.

What's "Taiwanese Wave" in Korean?

Boy Band F4 Invites Korean Fans to Taiwan

I thought that this article provided a nice counterpoint to the readings on Hallyu we did for this week. Sung Kim talked about anti-Hallyu and how various Taiwanese groups and media people have tried to end the "one-way" cultural exchange that Korea seems to be promoting and enjoying. I would say that using a Taiwanese boy band to promote Korean tourism to Taiwan is an example of subtle anti-Hallyu sentiment, but I do think it also evidences that the Taiwanese are trying to follow successful Korean examples. Korean stars have been used as spokespeople for various products quite profitably, and there is no reason to think that Korean fans of F4 can't be convinced to do whatever their idols tell them to do. Sang-Yeon Sung discusses in "The Hanliu Phenomenon in Taiwan: TV dramas and Teenage Pop" how Taiwanese media sources place Taiwan at the center of the "Korean Wave." So, it would be interesting to see if F4, which emerged in 2000 and found fame in Korea in 2002 (5 years ago!), could possibly spark a "Taiwanese Wave" in Korea. Will they be able to get Korean youth to spend their parents' money on Taiwanese cultural products? Will they be able to convince Korean housewives to take tours in Taiwan of places featured in TV dramas that F4 members themselves have starred in?

These (here and here) are unrelated to our discussion of Hallyu, but I thought I would link to them because I love Turkey (the country, not the meat, although I also love turkey meat)! Turkey and Korea must share some sort of special bond. I swear my dad is half-Turkish because he looks like so many of the men I saw in Istanbul. And, the way that the Turkish cook their fish tastes exactly like how my mom (and, therefore, all Koreans) cooks fish. Genius!

Some thoughts on Sung's The Hanliu Phenomenon in Taiwan: TV dramas and Teenage Pop

My obsession for Korean dramas started with a conversation with my second-cousins in 2002. They had (then) recently visited Taiwan and was raving about two Korean dramas A Bright Girl's Success Story and My Love Patzzi both by Jang Nara and commented on how funny and adorable they were. Filled with curiousity, I went back to download the dramas and have been obsessed with the Korean romantic comedy genre ever since. Yet even though I loved the dramas, I never really got into the kpop as much as I'm into cpop and jpop. Thus I found Sung's analysis of Hanliu in Taiwan one that I can easily relate to.

When asked why I like Korean dramas, the number one reason I'd mention is the good looking actresses and actors. As Sung mentions visual imagery is an important factor in the Hanliu phenomenon and also explains why though Kpop stars are popular in Taiwan they're albums don't sell well since fans would rather buy posters and join fanclubs than buy the albums.

As Sung states with the exceptions of CLON, kpop artists have trouble suceeding in TW. This brings me to another memory back in the late 1990s. My dad and I love to watch Taiwanese variety shows, especially the one called 龙兄虎弟 that would invite popular starts and have them perform and play games. I remember one time CLON was introduced on the show. Though they weren't really attractive, I found them very interesting in their dance and rap style. The fact that one of them had his head completely shaved left a very strong impression on me. In fact I can still remember a small part of the melody to they're song tho I had no idea what they were singing about. Yet with the exception of them, I can't really thing of any other Kpop artiests that were popular in Taiwan with the exception of BoA, Rain and, Kang Ta who is a duo with Vanness from F4。

More intersting tho' the type of Kpop albums that Sung mentions that actually sell well in Taiwan, that is, the OSTs. Tho' I'm not sure about Korean OSTs I do know that OSTs to Japanese anime and drama was what got me interested in Jpop in the first place. The song First Love by Utada Hikaru is one I remember especially well b/c it was in the drama Majo no Jouken, thus I agree with Sung's assertion that listening to songs that were in the drama can remind the viewer of the feelings they had when watching the drama. Though, I can't think of any Kdramas songs off the top of my head, I am able to recognize the theme songs when/if they are parodied in other dramas or if I hear them somewhere else. My Girl and Full House's theme songs especially are kpop songs that left deep impressions on me.

Now below are some videos to enjoy!

CLON - Bing Bing Bing (the song for the performance I saw on the variety show)

First Love by Utada Hikaru (My fav jpop song tho' it seems to based on an english song)

Scandal - Kang Ta and Vanness (Korean version)

Scandal - Kang Ta and Vanness (Chinese version)

(and for good measure)


Rain - I Do (with english subs!!!)

Hallyu doin' on TV?

Hello Class. Today's post is about how Korea might dominate in Hallyu products like Korean dramas but regular Korean TV stations are having trouble globalizing like its drama counterparts. The lack of interest found out through Japanese viewers is that Japanese viewers aren't interested in "English-speaking" broadcasts. Although the Japanese channels later found out the importance of English speaking for globalization of their channels, interest in Korean channels are still minimal in the Land of the Rising Sun. Hence, I dont see a future for Korean TV channels in Japan since they will probably make programs of their own in English to expand upon. China just wants to piggy-back off the roads that the Korean dramas have made which doesn't surprise me. Basically, in the end, I don't see a bright future for regular Korean TV channels in other countries. The only reason why people would watch Korean TV would be for the Korean news which would be predominately Korean audience and maybe the funny gag shows like X-Man. However, people from other countries wouldn't understand the humor behind these shows since they don't know the celebrity status of the stars that appear on the show. I think most Americans would just kind of laugh at the ridiculousness of the games played and then they would get bored of the show. This brings up the problem of the type of Humor that is applauded by Koreans vs. the rest of the world. Sure, dramas can be subtitled and dubbed to evoke the same emotional turmoil that these shows are supposed to elicit in the viewers, but i'm not sure how effective korean comedy or korean news would appeal to the masses. So yea, check out the article here. Happy Easter everybody.


One-way ticket?

After reading Sung Kim's paper about backlash against Hallyu, I thought about the question of whether or not the Korean Wave is a "one-way" cultural and economic exchange. Kim quotes Samuel Kim saying that Korean production companies in China give the impression that they are only interested in exporting goods and do not share their "know-how" with locals. I was slightly confused by this because their "know-how" was not really explained but I assumed it meant their marketing and prodcution techniques. At any rate, why would Korean production companies want to share their strategies with local Chinese production companies which are international competitors. This is more of an example of modern capitalism than a way to justify the notion that the Korean Wave is a "one-way" exchange. I would argue that Hallyu is not simply 'Korean popular culture' clearly penetrating foreign markets for a variety of reasons that we have discussed throughout the semester.

From post modernist theories we learned that we can not think of Korean pop culture as something stable and singular in meaning. We learned about cultural quotation in pop music in particular so Korea often exports music that quotes foreign styles. Furthermore the meanings of songs are not created through production alone. Individul consumers approach and consume popular culture in different ways depending on their individual preferences and/or country of origin.

Sang-Yeon Sung's paper for example talked about how the youth in Taiwann have been notoriously discriminative towards Korean popular music. The paper mentions that Korean lyrics are difficult to listen to but that the Taiwanese valued lyrics greatly. There is no doubt that Korean production companies have had to modify their products to make them more consumable. This illustrates that Korean pop culture is not simply imposed on foreign consumers. There is in fact a give and take relationship between the two parties involved. It is a cultural battlefield in a sense where this constant negotiation and a multiplicity of meanings.

Hallyu Push for Food

After reading about all the recent backlash to Hallyu, I was a bit worried that things might be slowing down... but never fear! A quick Google search revealed that Hallyu is alive and well with ever more backing from the Korean government. One article I came across which I thought was particularly interesting was entitled, "S. Korea chooses its dishes to broaden its marketing concept." In an effort to redefine the Hallyu wave in 2007 (presumably in response to the backlash we've been reading about), the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has placed its top priority on promoting new "content," which will include, among other things, food.

The government plans to spend 78 billion won (or $8.7 billion) over the next four years to globally promote Hansik (Korean food). The plan is to choose ten dishes that best represent Korean food culture, standardize the recipes, and distribute them to Korean restaurants overseas. In addition, the Ministry will offer consulting to overseas Korean restaurants to help restaurant owners better manage their businesses, and will offer scholarships to Korean chefs to go abroad and help teach their foreign counterparts to cook "tastier" Korean dishes. Finally, the government plans to produce commercials and documentaries about Korean food with the hopes of airing them on foreign TV networks.

I think this is definitely a step in the right direction for the Korean government's Hallyu strategy. As we saw earlier in the class, many of the popular dramas (especially Jewel in the Palace) created a demand for Korean food, so there is definitely a market out there for people who wish to consume and learn to cook Korean food. In addition, capitalist markets are all about creating new products to fulfill consumer desires, and while I doubt that the market for TV dramas and movies is saturated, I think that food is a great new arena for the Koreans to promote. After all, who doesn't love food??

My only qualm is with the Ministry's decision to try to standardize some popular dishes. One of the things that makes restaurants great is their individual takes on classic dishes. If every restaurant tasted the same, all the fun would be taken out of exploring new places and new foods. Also, I would imagine that there are some regional differences in Korean food, and standardizing recipes would destroy that uniqueness. While I think the government is right to promote certain dishes and offer a base recipe, I don't think they should be encouraging every restaurant to make the dish the same exact way. Granted, there's no way the Ministry can enforce this abroad, so I'm sure that each restaurant will do it their own way anyhow, but I just think it's unrealistic and counter-productive to even try to institute such rigid standards.

Regardless, overall I think this is definitely a positive push from the Korean government. I, for one, am certainly looking forward to the day when I can flip on the Food Network and find a Korea cooking show (even better if they make it something a la Iron Chef!). In my experience, the stomach is the key to anyone's heart (not just a man's as the old saying goes), and I think that Hallyu is wise to use this strategy.

Full text of the article is below:

S. Korea chooses its dishes to broaden its marketing concept
Mar 15, 07 , 12:03 pm
By Satish Gupta l eTN Asia

Even as Korea reiterates its focus on cultural marketing, the government authorities have decided to reach out to taste buds of people across the globe by promoting Korean dishes.Food along with traditional clothing, traditional home, rice paper and music has already been recognized as main tools for promotion of Korea. Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism has decided to place top priority on nurturing the fast-evolving content business and redefining “hallyu” or the Korean Wave in 2007.

Now Korean dishes are broadening Hallyu by expanding their presence in the international arena. As per the information available with eTurboNews, from next year onwards, Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will spend 78 billion won, or roughly 8.7 billion dollars, over the next four years to globalize Hansik. The decision to promote Korean food (or “Hansik”) comes at a stage when variety of Korean foods is gaining popularity globally.

There are plans to choose ten food items that can best represent Korea and promote them by creating standardized recipes for the items and distributing them at Korean restaurants overseas, according to the Ministry of Culture & Tourism Republic of Korea.

Further, ministry officials are acknowledging the need to upgrade Korean restaurants abroad to instill a better image of Korean food. It will offer consulting on how to successfully manage the restaurants and how to cook tastier Korean dishes. Furthermore, the ministry will designate an institution in Korea to invite chefs and managers from Korean restaurants abroad to train them.

The Korean government plans to produce TV commercials and documentaries about Korean food with the aim of airing them on foreign TV networks.

WoW!!! Starcraft Military Service? O.o

As an addition to our topic discussion last week on the internet and how gaming in Korea has become a huge profession rather than a mere hobby, I found this article that talks about a new special unit that will be developed in the Korean Air Force. This article talks about how the KAF will now have a unit that is specialized in gaming and will be the test subjects for flight simulators and other various technological advances. I just think it's very interesting, yet unfair, that the majority of Korean males have to endure a long 2 year service of hardcore military training while the members of this small, but growing unit get to practically play games as their 2 year service. The members of this team are indeed the best of the best when it come to professional gaming, but does that mean they deserve this much special treatment? In short, this new unit is a slap in the face for many Korean stars/singers/maybe politicians. I know that Korean soccer players receive special treatment when it comes to military service, but starcraft gamers?? Super famous actors and singers still have to partake in the 2 year military service alongside everyone else, but basically Korea has put these gamers on a pedastool and has ranked these gamers as the top of the heiarchy. What do you guys think of this situation? Can there be any positive influence from this new special unit?

By Wohn Dong-hee Staff Writer April 4th, 2007

Korea’s Air Force is now going to have an entirely new unit, composed of people who are experts at playing computer games.The Air Force insisted that its plans were not a joke when it said on Sunday that it would create its first professional e-sports team. By coincidence, the announcement was made on April Fool’s Day. Yesterday, the official launch ceremony for the e-sports team took place at the Air Force Headquarters.This is the first professional gaming team to be created within the Korean military. The air force gaming team had previously participated in a couple of public events, but not as a professional team. There are many different categories for e-sports, but the Air Force unit will mainly focus on StarCraft. Developed by the American company Blizzard, StarCraft is a war game in which players acquire resources, such as minerals and gas, that are required to make progress. The name of the team is ACE, short for Airforce Challenge E-sports, and is made up of eight members. They include StarCraft legend Lim Yo-hwan, Kang Do-kyung, Seong Hak-seung, Choi In-gyu and Cho Hyung-geun. The young men are not new to computer games. They all had experience with professional gaming teams before they began their two-year mandatory service. Lim and Seong were teammates on SK Telecom’s pro-gaming team, T1. All team members joined the Air Force to focus on computer-related activities, not flying. Until now, they tested war simulation games and helped organize StarCraft tournaments as a form of entertainment for the soldiers.ACE’s schedule begins immediately, starting with the 2007 season Pro League championship, which is hosted by the state-run Korea eSports Association.The professional gaming team Pantech EX will also be participating in the Pro League championship this year, with the help of special funding from the Korea eSports Association. This group, which was funded by the cellular phone manufacturer Pantech, was scrapped by the company on the last day of March because the firm is undergoing financial difficulties.The association, however, came to the rescue after a series of emergency meetings. The association announced that it will take the initiative in searching for a company that will take over Pantech EX.

one-way street


One of the biggest criticisms on Hallyu is based on economics. In Sung Kim's essay on Hallyu and an article that I found both suggest that the "one-way" culture of this wave as one of the sources of the Korean wave backlash. This accusation that Korean production companies are only interested in making money rather than engaging in a cultural exchange seems unfair. The companies are companies. They are the machines that propel capitalism, they stay in business by making profit. Their primary goal is to compete in the global market. Sure, the promotion of one's culture can tag along as the companies try to lure audience into their "product" -- Korean dramas and celebrities. However, the fact that the critics are blaming these tycoons for making the Korean Wave too economically driven seems like finding a scapegoat.

Yes, capitalism has been seen as the whore of the city of Babylon along with industrialization and whatever challenges conservative values. If capitalism is guilty of everything, why pursue? Because communism only works in theory. People are greedy, they are out to make profit, and step above everyone else. There is no doubt that people engage in humanitarian causes, but altruism is not a natural phenomenon. I'm not suggesting that everyone's corrupt and insincere. That's not the piont here. What I'm suggesting is that economic exchange should not be the core of one's argument in criticizing the possible pitfall of the Korean Wave. Who isn't out there to make monkey, seriously?

If Hallyu started as Sung Kim's paper suggests, then it makes a whole lot of sense to put emphasis on the economic issues. Besides the economics, the heavy involvement of the Korean government has surfaced as one of the criticisms. What I don't understand is why wouldn't the government step in? If the government officials saw possible opportunities to generate revenue to robust the country's economy, why would that deserve such harsh criticism? Sure, the government's overt reaction might have been a shock to foreign countries. It should have been more sensitive to other countries' government's needs. However, this was an unprecedented phenomenon. It should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

Although the thrust of the Korean Wave seems to have subsided, that should not dismiss Korean Wave as a ephemeral phenomenon. The possibility of resurgence remains as the producers of these shows venture out into different areas such as Southeast Asian countries.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gender as a question of Nature vs. Nurture

I want to cite the source I referred to in today's discussion of gender, as defined in the Queer Theory section of John Storey. I got my timeline somewhat confused, but I located the article about the male being raised as a female: it is the case of David Reimer (1965-2004). His story is tragic, and this information should be used to prevent such mistakes from occuring in the future. I am posting the article from "CBC News" (May 10, 2004).

I preface the article with this quote from Storey. See if you agree after reading this article.

"Therefore, the distinction between sex and gender is not a distinction between
nature and culture: 'the category of "sex" is itself a gendered category, fully
politically invested, naturalized but not natural'. In other words, there is not
a biological 'truth' at the heart of gender; sex and gender are both cultural


Summer 1965. In a Winnipeg hospital, Janet Reimer's lifelong dream comes true as she gives birth to twin sons, Bruce and Brian.

But within six months, both boys develop difficulty urinating. The doctors suggest they be circumcised.

On April 27, 1966, Janet drops her boys off for the routine procedure and her dream turns into a nightmare.

The doctors had chosen an unconventional method of circumcision, one in which the skin would be burned. The procedure goes horribly wrong and Bruce's penis is burned so badly it can't be repaired surgically.

Over the next few months, the Reimers consult with countless doctors. None can offer any hope. Bruce Reimer would have to live with his non-existent penis.

One night, the Reimers see a television profile of an American doctor and his theories on sex and gender. Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore argues that boys – caught early enough – could be raised to be girls. Nurture and not nature determines a child's gender, the doctor argued.

Janet Reimer thought it was worth exploring. The family went to Baltimore to see Dr. Money, who decided that Bruce Reimer was a perfect candidate.

At the age of 21 months, Bruce's testicles were removed. What remained of his penis was left, not to interfere with his urinary tract. When Bruce was released from hospital, his parents were told to raise him as a girl. The family was told not to divulge anything to anyone. They went home with a girl they called Brenda.

"We relatively quickly came to accept that," Janet Reimer told CBC News in 1997. "He was a beautiful little girl."

Janet Reimer did her best to raise Bruce as a girl. She dressed him in skirts and dresses and showed him how to apply make-up. But the transformation was anything but smooth. Bruce Reimer didn't like playing with the other girls – and he didn't move like one either. He got into schoolyard fistfights. The other kids called him names like "caveman," "freak" and "it."

In an interview with the CBC's The Fifth Estate, Reimer said it got so bad he didn't want to go to school anymore. He felt picked upon and increasingly lonely.

By the time Bruce turned nine, the Reimer family was having serious doubts. Not John Money. He published an article in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour pronouncing the experiment a resounding success. It became widely known in medical circles as the Joan/John case.

Money wrote: "The child's behaviour is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother."

The twin brother, Brian, remembered it differently: "The only difference between him and I was he had longer hair." "I tried really, really hard to rear her as a gentle lady," Janet Reimer said. "But it didn't happen."

By the time Bruce was reaching puberty, it became increasingly clear the experiment was not working. He started developing thick shoulders and a thick neck.

At the same time, the Reimers were under pressure from Money to take the final step: allow surgeons to create a vagina.

But Bruce rebelled. He protested that he didn't need surgery and threatened to commit suicide if he was forced to make another trip to Baltimore to see Money.

That's when his father broke down and told him everything.

Bruce Reimer said he had one thought at the time: to go to the hospital and track down and shoot the doctor who had botched his circumcision. In the end, he was unable to exact his revenge, but turned his anger on himself.

He attempted suicide three times. The third – an overdose of pills – left him in a coma. He recovered and began the long climb towards living a normal life – as a man.

Bruce Reimer left his Brenda identity behind. He cut his hair and started wearing male clothing again. He changed his name to David.

Earlier, the Reimer family had sued the hospital where the botched circumcision was performed. They settled for about $60,000, which was held in trust for David until his 18th birthday. By then, the settlement was worth about $100,000.

Initially, David Reimer only told his story from the shadows – he refused to talk about it if his identity were revealed. That changed in 2000, when American author John Colapinto wrote As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl.

A whirlwind of media exposure followed, across Canada and the United States.

Around the same time, research was sounding the death knell for the nurture vs. nature theory. Two studies – released by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center – concluded that it's prenatal exposure to male hormones that turns normal male babies into boys. The studies "seriously question the current practice of sex-reassigning some of these infants as females…"

Janet Reimer said it was a difficult thing for her son to go public with his story, but he wanted to help other children facing a similar fate.

David Reimer underwent four rounds of reconstructive surgery to physically make him a man again. The surgery enabled him to enjoy a normal sex life, but he was unable to father children.

"I'm not going to cry a river of tears over that, because I've got three great kids. I've got a wonderful wife. I've got a good home," he told CBC News in the wake of the release of the book.

Recently, David Reimer's life had taken another turn. He lost his job and was separated from his wife. His mother said he was still grieving the death two years ago of his twin brother.

David Reimer committed suicide on May 4, 2004. He was 38.



This is a very interesting, although tragic, natural experiment. If the experimental treatment is raising a male as a female, there is even a control: the brother being raised as a male. Although every influence was conditioning this child to be a female, nature could not suppressed.

Here we see a failure of the gender theory put forth by Judith Butler. Culture undoubtedly has some determination in what defines "male" and "female", but nature always holds the trump card. Butler invoked biology in the defense of her theory, but in reality biology lends no support whatsoever. Remember that human beings are animals, and we are first and foremost subject to the laws of nature. Sex is not the result of intermingling political and cultural forces, but rather the more mundane explanation of simply the set of chromosomes in each cell.