"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, December 19, 2013

speak now #33: my problem with k-obsession

Now Playing: Acapella by Karmin (now you're talking crazy, saying that you 'made me', like I was your Cinderella)

My problem with k-obsession:

- Most k-fans have no Korean heritage, little contact with people of Korean descent, no concept of Korean society or culture and don't know the Korean language beyond the lyrics of their favourite songs. The Korean entertainment industry, like all entertainment industries, presents a very skewed, airbrushed depiction of Korean society and I don't think this is actively recognised by non-Korean fans.

- As a half-Korean feminist, sex positive peer sex educator and social justice activist I don't think it's healthy for people to idolise a society that is rampant with sexism, sex negativity, class conflict, domestic violence and alcohol abuse. Korean society is incredibly misogynistic, patriarchal, ageist and classist and is not a safe or healthy environment for women, young people and/or queer individuals. The discussion of sexuality is extremely limited and problematic, especially female sexuality. Obviously as a Korean I am very proud of Korean talent and the entertainment industry and I have seen many examples of using popular culture as a medium for social criticism, but a lot of that criticism and subconscious reflection of problematic attitudes and behaviours is lost on a foreign audience.

- Having recently come out of an emotionally abusive relationship, the way in which many romantic relationships are depicted in Korean popular culture is extremely concerning - they are almost exclusively heterosexual, the 'good' ones are almost entirely sexless, they reinforce rigid gender roles and patriarchal thought and are almost always emotionally, physically or sexually abusive

- The depiction of men - both heroic and villainous - is extremely concerning, especially given that the target audience of Korean popular culture is young heterosexual women. Men are portrayed as being hypermasculine (sometimes disguised or juxtaposed with metrosexuality) and that wounding his fragile ego is a crime that deserves punishment - normally as a row between a couple, abuse or public humiliation. It is the duty of women in Korean popular culture to protect the fragile egos of men by being physically small and weak, as well as docile and accommodating. Male violence towards women is normalized in Korean popular culture, and is sometimes even part of the humour, and the overuse of the 'oppa-dongsaeng' relationship - without the fine nuances of this relationship being explained for a foreign audience - further establishes the archetypal female in Korean popular culture as childish, weak and in need of protection. This kind of gendered interaction is extremely dangerous to be mindlessly broadcast to vulnerable young women, nor is it healthy to encourage them to idolize violent, maladjusted men with extremely fragile egos.

- Obviously the vast majority of K-stars are tall, slender, attractive, with Western or Westernized features. I have firsthand experience of this limited depiction of Korean appearance as influencing social thought in Western societies on how East Asians are 'supposed' to look. Korean popular culture also reflects the obsession with physical appearance and materialism prevalent in real-life Korean society, but this is absorbed rather than analysed by both domestic and foreign audiences.

Of course, these problems are not isolated to Korean society or Korean popular culture, nor do I think that these problems necessarily inhibit the production of quality entertainment or enjoyable consumption. My worry is that K-mania has reached the heights of stupidity and that these social problems are being absorbed or ignored by both domestic and foreign audieneces - it is much easier, as someone living in a Western society, to be critical of Western popular culture; I have seen countless analyses of whether or not the Game of Thrones franchise is feminist/sexist, but almost no discussion of the treatment of gender and sexuality in Korean popular culture. An unfortunate side effect of political correctness is that many people feel unable to criticise non-Western media, and non-Western cultures are often idolized in lieu of open criticism. Korean society and popular culture will continue to grow and develop and evolve and I am confident that the more pernicious aspects of it will fade away in time - but it is important to remember to analyse media and the messages depicted in media as well as enjoying an consuming popular culture.

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