South Korea

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Book Review: Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First Century by Kyung Hyun Kim

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/06/2022 - 8:58pm in

Tags 

Asia, South Korea

In Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First CenturyKyung Hyun Kim explores the global rise of Korean popular culture, using the concept of ‘hegemonic mimicry’ to examine how it has adapted American sensibilities and genres. This is a valuable and significant contribution to studies of Korean popular culture with an interdisciplinary approach that will appeal to scholars across different academic disciplines, writes Beyza Dogan.

Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First CenturyKyung Hyun Kim. Duke University Press. 2021. 

Hegemonic Mimicry coverHegemonic Mimicry discusses the rise of Korean popular culture, ‘hallyu’, in global settings. As author Kyung Hyun Kim aptly presents, popular culture in South Korea is formed through two identities – hegemonic American culture and local culture. Amid the strain between the two, the mimicry and adaptation of American culture have enabled the creation and success of hallyu (29). Depicting a clash of two cultures, Kim scrutinises Korean popular culture by drawing on several examples and theoretical concepts, including from K-Pop, K-Cinema and Korean television, although K-dramas and K-games are not included in the spectrum.

With the recent global popularity of Korean cultural products and the growing number of fans around the world – such as the K-Pop group BTS and its followers, ‘the Army’ – academic studies of Korean popular culture have increased in number. Some of the existing literature published on Korean popular culture has examined various dynamics in the sector, such as fandom and government subsidisation, drawing on real-life cases and examples (see, for instance, The Korean Wave edited by Yosue Kuwahara). Kim has approached this growing topic through previous academic books and articles, focusing particularly on Korean cinema, where he is also active professionally as a producer and scriptwriter.

The common theoretical approaches used in academic studies of Korean popular culture are cultural diplomacy, soft power and transnational cultural flow. In Hegemonic Mimicry, although Kim mentions such theories, he mainly explains his argument through the concept of mimicry, which South Korea also uses in other sectors to innovate, as outlined in Chapter Six, ‘Korean Meme-icry: Samsung and K-Pop’.

The book consists of seven chapters and a lengthy introduction. The chapters are interrelated but not sequential. In the preface, the author introduces the concept of ‘mimicking the west’ by explaining how Korea dealt with COVID-19 by creating its own pandemic control system after it redeployed Western medical technology (X).

The book opens with an imagined reversal of the history of the American army in Korea. Here, Kim describes a hypothetical dystopian world in which America is in the place of Korea, war ravaged and struggling economically. Then, a transoceanic army of Koreans comes, and their culture and identity surpasses anything American (2). This scenario creates a hook for the reader, much like in a fiction book, and enables readers to empathise with the position of Koreans.

For those who have recently developed an interest in Korean popular culture, the introduction gives a comprehensive overview with plenty of background information. Kim argues that, dating back to the presence of the US army in Korea, Korean identity has been situated between white and black identities, defined by Kim as an ‘off-white/blackish’ positioning. Korean identity finds itself defined by twoness – by hegemonic American culture and local culture (29) However, the author argues throughout the book that Koreans are redefining ‘becoming minjok’ (Korean national ethnic identity) through popular culture that mimics American culture but also competes with it globally.

Poster for new album of now disbanded K-Pop band, KARA

Image Credit: ‘KARA 4th ALBUM SHOWCASE’ by m-louis .® licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

Korean popular culture is based on the Korean language and does not take its power from the diaspora or cultural proximity based on the consumption of media from or close to one’s own culture (19). It has become hegemonic, but it is mimicry by nature. Hence, hegemonic mimicry differs from other cultural theories that explain the spread of one country’s culture, such as flows from the Global South or media imperialism. This conceptual framework provides readers with a method to analyse popular culture and mimicry in nations positioned between two identities.

In Chapter One, Kim broadly elaborates on the history of Korean popular culture. He starts with the example of K-Pop, emphasising that it has formed through the impact of African-American hip hop and J-Pop from Japan. The spread of K-Pop is explained with the examples of the singer PSY, who opened the door to America for K-Pop, and the group BTS, who grew with the fan force called ‘the Army’. Kim points out that K-Pop is seen as key to the export of other goods. Kim also briefly gives information about the ‘slave contracts’ that K-Pop idols have with their management companies. Kim could expand upon this discussion of the conditions for creatives in Korea and the struggles they face during trainee processes and afterwards, though he does present some details in Chapter Six.

Kim then describes K-Cinema as ‘Asia’s Hollywood’, with films mainly revolving around the topics of North Korea, period dramas and gender war comedies. It is interesting to read that K-Cinema admissions are growing and it is regaining its audience through local productions. Kim here also briefly states the relationship between K-Cinema and China and the possibility of the absorption of the former by the latter. The topic of K-Television is discussed by introducing over-the-top (‘OTT’), online video streaming platforms, like Netflix and Hulu, and their negative impact on TV viewing. In this part, Kim focuses on reality shows instead of K-Dramas.

In later chapters, Kim elaborates on K-Pop, K-Cinema and K-Television through an analysis of specific examples. Chapter Two argues that Korean rap positions itself differently than K-pop and takes its essence from both p’ansori – a Korean critical storytelling tradition – and African-American rap/hip-hop culture. Although Korea does not have the physical space of ‘the ghetto’ to inspire rap music, the education system and other social problems have influenced the development of Korean hip-hop culture.

Chapters Three and Five examine topics surrounding K-Cinema, such as body switch films affected by digital age surveillance and the significance of food and eating in recent movies. Extreme Job (2019) and Parasite (2019) are analysed in detail in Chapter Five to suggest that K-Cinema is starting to reflect real-life problems, such as class divisions and social inequality, through laughter and food. In both chapters, the author uses different concepts drawn from the works of W.E.B. Du Bois, Gilles Deleuze and Frantz Fanon. In spite of this, the descriptive aspects of the chapters outweigh the theoretical parts, as the author does not explain the concepts in detail. Thus, as a reader, I found it difficult to relate the concepts to the examples.

In Chapter Four, focusing on K-Television, Kim elaborates on ‘The Running Man’, a TV variety show, through his term ‘affect Confucianism’. This refers to a value system that incentivises hierarchy in social structures, but differs from capitalism by promoting collective identity instead of dividing people into winners and losers (143). Although Kim also draws on the idea of ‘transmedia storytelling’ – the dispersal of a story across multiple media tools – to explain the global success of ‘The Running Man’, the explanation of how it contributes to this remains weak. Later, in Chapter Seven, ‘Muhan Dojeon’, another Korean TV hit, is analysed in terms of its similarities with madangguk – a satirical theatre that emerged during the minjung movement, a 1970s pro-democracy project that criticised the government for leaving the public out of economic, political and cultural fields.

As mentioned earlier, Chapter Six approaches mimicry from another perspective by focusing on Samsung. The author emphasises the similarities between K-Pop and Samsung in their approaches to innovation, production and working conditions while becoming hegemonic. It is argued that the working conditions of Samsung factory workers who became seriously ill are similar to those of K-Pop idols who have experienced mental health problems and have even taken their own lives in some cases. This topic needs to be debated further to explore what the success of K-Pop takes from a generation.

Although hegemonic mimicry is introduced as the overarching theoretical framework for this book, the chapters adopt different concepts that are sometimes not directly related to mimicry. Further explanation of the quotes and concepts used in these chapters would help the reader make connections between the analysis and the examples.

Nevertheless, Hegemonic Mimicry is a valuable and significant contribution to the literature on Korean popular culture studies by introducing the concept of ‘hegemonic mimicry’ in detail and approaching Korean popular culture in an interdisciplinary way. This feature of the book will attract scholars from various academic disciplines as well as university students from different backgrounds.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

Book Review: Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography by Sander Hölgens

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 8:16pm in

In Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography, Sander Hölgens immerses body, board and camera lens in Seoul’s skateboarding scene to explore local variants of the ethos of authenticity that shapes skateboarding as a global subculture. While the book could situate itself more within broader academic research on skateboarding in different contexts, it is nonetheless full of fascinating and lovingly researched content, writes Duncan McDuie-Ra.

Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography. Sander Hölgens. University of Groningen Press. 2021.

For most skateboarders, even at the professional level, the draw of skateboarding is being able to live in joyous delinquency for as long as possible. Skateboarding’s ethos of authenticity is a counterbalance to cyclical periods of popularity — such as its inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games — and periods of disinterest — when corporations and mainstream culture desert skateboarding. To put it another way, the subculture, not the sport, is the core. Skateboarding in Seoul: A Sensory Ethnography reminds us that skateboarding is a global subculture.

Author Sander Hölsgens immerses body, board and camera lens in Seoul’s skateboarding scene and its global connections to deliver rich insights into the local variants of this ethos of authenticity. Immersion is common in skateboarding research as the bodily and sensory experiences, semiotics within and across spoken languages and ways of gazing at the urban landscape to identify objects and surfaces of desire are difficult to comprehend without participation during research and, in many cases, in years prior. Hölgens participates in the Seoul skate scene as a skater, researcher, but also as a filmmaker and as a collaborator with a local skate brand affording unique experiences and encounters.

South Korea is a liminal node in skateboarding’s global subcultural cartography. It is neither part of the cultural core — though it is moving closer as Hölgens demonstrates in this book — nor is it a peripheral space where skateboarding is in its infancy and where spots to skate, equipment and instruction are scarce. Indeed, Hölgens suggests that skateboarding in Seoul is characterised by abundance: of skate shops, skate equipment (to ride and to film/photograph), skateparks and skate spots throughout the ‘city of pristine surfaces and polished granite’ (9).

Person on skate ramp

Image Credit: Photo by Erik Hansman on Unsplash

Skateboarders in Seoul navigate tensions between skateboarding as escape, the chance to recast oneself as an outsider, and skateboarding as a planned activity in planned space, the city’s numerous skateparks. Hölgens’s explorations of these tensions are the strongest contributions of the book. Many of the skateboarders featured in the work seek escape (talchul) from parental and social pressures (Hell-Joseon) through skateboarding, ‘proposing marble instead of hell’ (15).

Most fascinating is that the skaters resist both the pressures of state/society/family and the common ways that young and not-so-young Koreans cope with these pressures. Hölsgens writes that, sharing a conversation with one of the local skaters, ‘skaters perform a subtle critique of Hell-Joseon by valuing their well-being, by resisting socio-political pressures that would limit their life, by taking care of one another, such that there is an escape from societal misconduct and pressures’ (53).

The unexpected flipside of individuality, independence and expression are the ways in which skaters in Seoul enact these desires in the skatepark rather than the streets. In other nodes of skateboarding, especially the US, Europe and Australia, skateparks are seen as vital yet inauthentic spaces for street skateboarding. They are legitimate training grounds and meeting sites, but street skateboarding gains legitimacy by being performed and captured (as video or image) where it is not supposed to, activating surveillance, security guards and hostile architecture such as skate-stoppers. Furthermore, it is skateboarding in the streets that reproduces the ethos of the subculture, constantly on the edge of illegality.

In Seoul, skateparks are an extension of the home on the one hand, but also an escape from the familial home on the other. They provide skaters with ‘an idealised conception of what homes can be, through a communing of space […] where one can take a nap or prepare dinner, without having to conform to the set of socio-cultural norms that relate to either decisively public or private life in South Korea’ (58). Hölgens connects this to spatial cultures in South Korea, where public spaces are not only used for what is generally accepted as public behaviour but also include meetings, cooking, eating, sleeping and singing, among other activities. Skateparks thus take on a sense of domesticity, care and inclusion that draws skaters of different backgrounds, genders, sexualities and skill levels.

The unexpected challenge for skate brands in Seoul is getting talented skateboarders to take their skills out of the skatepark and to the streets, primarily to produce content with a global resonance. Hölgens explores the ways globally connected skaters, magazines and filmers try to implore skaters to explore the city and find spots, particularly in the magazine Unsung (87-89). There is a disjuncture between the ways a mobile class of global skateboarders sees Seoul, as a city of perfect granite and marble spots that can be visited with filmers and photographers to produce content for sponsors, and the ways many local skaters turn their back on the urban wilds in favour of the certainty of the city’s skateparks.

However, global aesthetics do travel, and Hölgens goes into depth on Korean skate videos, notably Hunger (2016), that emulate the look and feel of classic skate videos from the US and elsewhere, including the use of the VX1000 camera favoured by skate filmers in the 1990s and 2000s. Skate filmers in Seoul draw direct parallels to the look and feel of classic skate videos in the book, and they create a ‘mimetic world, in which the old is made new and lived experiences are undermined, or at least retold, rearticulated, and rigorously choreographed, so as to mimic a glorified idea of what skateboarding ought to look and feel like’ (101). The use of the VX1000 in an urban landscape associated with cutting-edge technology suggests these aesthetic choices ‘construct a tangible affinity between skateboarding in Seoul and the practice elsewhere’ (105).

Skateboarding in Seoul offers fascinating insights into the ways skateboarding travels as a subculture and displays elements of ‘mimesis and alterity’ in different contexts. Overall, however, the book forgoes opportunities for deeper analysis. The main argument of the book is expressed as a series of ambiguities at different points along the way. Thus, we learn that skateboarding in Seoul is ‘both formalised and fragmented, imposed and self-initiated, societal and individual, anti-establishment and middle-class, competitive and revolutionary’ (16); later, ‘situated and universalist, static and on the move, affectionate and rigid, well-outlined and spontaneous’ (106). The idea that skateboarding is multifarious within and between contexts is not exactly a surprise, and indeed readers attracted to a book on skateboarding in Seoul will likely share this starting point.

By the book’s end there is a strong sense of what skateboarding in Seoul is like, but not much on why this scene matters in affirming or challenging the ways we think about skateboarding, subcultural mimesis, class and consumption, or youth more broadly, whether in South Korea, Asia or beyond. This relates to the light-touch treatment of prior academic research on skateboarding in the book. While existing works are mentioned, the book lacks in-depth discussion of how different authors, disciplines and interdisciplinary fields have approached skateboarding in different contexts, the questions they ask, where they direct their focus and the ways their arguments align with — and depart from — this study. An additional chapter would not be too arduous for readers in what is a short book overall. Some risk-taking in the argument and in drawing together the book’s broader significance would bolster Skateboarding in Seoul’s otherwise fascinating and lovingly researched content.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

 

Where does Korea’s basic income movement go next?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 12:58pm in

On March 9th, 48.56 percent of Korean people voted for Yoon Seok-yeol of the People Power Party which won only 0.7 percent more compared to 47.83% for Lee Jae-myung who pledged to implement basic income. With less than 1 percent difference in his loss, there is the local election coming in two weeks and another general election in two years. Where will Korea’s basic income movement go after Lee Je-myeong ‘s defeat?

Basic Income Takes a Hit in Korea

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/03/2022 - 9:17am in

On March 9, South Korea took to the polls for the 2022 Presidential Election. Former governor of Gyeonggi province, Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party lost by a narrow margin of less than 0.7% to Yoon Suk-yeol from the People Power Party. This election outcome will likely stunt the development of basic income in […]

Democracy & Profligacy: Will MMT Destroy the World? Part II

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 1:52pm in

[Continued from Part I]

In Part One I ask:
Name examples where peacetime, politically stable countries (with no foreign-currency denominated debt) have ever spent themselves into inflation?

I received a first potential case, the so-called “Barber Boom” in the UK in the early 1970s (which of course segued into the global inflationary spikes of the the two oil supply shocks that affected just about every country in the world).

Later, someone else gave three possible cases and then three more when I suggested that three cases is not very statistically convincing.

Barber Boom

The first Serious Response: I received (again, see my various posts on why hyperinflation, Weimar/Zimbabwe etc. “examples” are not relevant) was the “Barber Boom” in the UK.

But looking into the Barber “Boom,” it was primarily due to an ill-advised tax-cut in a “hot” economy. “In the 1972 budget, the chancellor Anthony Barber made a dash for growth – with large tax cuts against a backdrop of high economic growth.” ( Source). Combined with the same “liberalisation” of the banking system that was the beginning of the beliefs that would eventually lead to the S&L scandals in the US and the 2007 global financial meltdown. “In the revamped [Barber] regime, bank lending rose from £71 million to £1.33 billion.” (Source). As we will see, this same “liberalization” (which is just the polite way of saying control fraud) was at least part of the cause of one of the other proffered examples.

At any rate, the whole “Barber” affair is hardly of great significance to begin with, and clearly had many forces behind it other than simply government spending leading to inflation. I certainly wouldn’t want to base an entire (neoclassical) “spending-leads-to-inflation” belief on it.

I continued to ask the question any time the “spending→inflation” connection was brought up by an economist.

The usual answers were again the irrelevant currency collapse situations I mention above (Zimbabwe etc.) if any response were given at all. No one ever gave—not once (besides the discredited Barber Boom example) another case where government spending in a peacetime politically stable economy had led to problematic inflation.

Not once.

Finally, Chris Edmond, an “FTPL” type at the University of Melbourne, gave 3 more possible answers (the twitter thread itself, due to the condensed nature of tweets, was a little confused, in the sense there is a difference in a belief in “debt” ratios, which involve taxation as well as spending [and taxes drive currency], or just spending.)

Before continuing it is important to note that in addition to the peacetime, stable government criteria, I exclude the twin supply-side (real economy) global price level spikes in the ’70s/early ’80s (1973 Yom Kippur/OPEC and 1979 Iranian Revolution). These clearly were supply-side shocks (and made worse by Volcker, and only finally reduced by supply-side fixes (by the Texas Railroad Commission/Jimmy Carter in 1978) and technological/social and supply change).

So: what were Edmond’s examples? The question came up in an exchange with Steven Hail (University of Adelaide):

Edmond replied to me; his first three possible examples were:

  • New Zealand throughout the 1980s
  • France in the early 1980s
  • Israel mid 1980s hyperinflation

When I mentioned that 3 examples was hardly the alluded-to “history littered with counterexamples” he added 3 more:

  • Spain in the mid 1960s
  • Portugal late 1980s early 1990s
  • South Korea 1990

I think in three of his examples he “misspoke” on the dates (granted, it was just a twitter exchange; but that is half of his examples[!]) I discuss the latter three examples here. Part III discusses the first three examples).

South Korea

South Korea had no serious inflationary problems in “1990” and the inflation problems they did have in the 1970s are clearly the same twin spikes from the real-resource (oil supply shocks) that caused inflation worldwide, regardless of all the varying fiscal and monetary policies across countries.

South Korea Inflation Rate 1960-2021:


South Korea Inflation Rate 1960-2021 | MacroTrends

Portugal

Similarly with Portugal: we see the 70s spikes from the oil shock we see globally, (and related to the hyperinflation articles mentioned above, the 1974 Carnation Revolution: political instability is often the cause of currency instability). We’ll discuss the relatively more mild “late 1980s early 1990s” episode below.


INFLATION AND MONETARY POLICY IN PORTUGAL BEFORE THE EURO (psu.edu)

 

The”late 80s and early 90s” period seems to be due to the shocks to the Portuguese economy from its entrance into the EU.
Maior queda nos bens e serviços transaccionáveis aconteceu entre 1988 e 1993 (tsf.pt)

Spain

On Spain, I wonder if Edmond also “misspoke,” in meaning the mid-1950s, not mid 1960s. There had been significant inflation in the 1950s, with another similarly sized spike in the 1960s (and note, as always, the oil shock inflation of the 1970s being far worse).

It is true the Spanish economy was very “hot” in the mid-1960s to the point of becoming inflationary. But it would be hard to blame government spending for price rises in literally the second hottest economy in the world (“During the 1960s, Spain experienced further increases in wealth. International firms established their factories in Spain: salaries were low, taxes nearly nonexistentSpain became the second-fastest-growing economy in the world, alongside Brazil and just behind Japan. The rapid development of this period became known as the “Spanish Miracle”.  (Remember: “Taxes drive currency”). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francoist_Spain. Many things contributed to inflation, but extreme economic growth not directly caused by government spending does not seeem to support an argument that government spending leads to inflation.

In the 1950s, it seems some of the inflation was of the classic exchange rate variety: “The growing demands of the emerging middle class—and of the ever-greater number of tourists—for the amenities of life, particularly for higher nutritional standards, placed heavy demands on imported food and luxury items.” These are the downfalls to tourism as a basis for the modern developing countries that Fadhel Kaboub explains so well here and here. (I could not find a chart showing inflation prior to 1958, already as high as the peak inflation of the 1960s). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_Spain#The_Franco_Era,_1939%E2%80%9375

Part III continues with Edmond’s first three examples:

  • New Zealand throughout the 1980s
  • France in the early 1980s
  • Israel mid 1980s hyperinflation

PS On the above examples, especially with Spain and South Korea, there are few developing countries in the world who wouldn’t love to be in the situation they were in during the time period Edmond mentions. That is, even if some of the inflation were coming from government spending, they were doing something right, becoming industrial powerhouses (South Korea) or stable affluent societies (Spain and Portugal). Thus my mention always of “problematic.”